THE ZOOMER SKILLS THAT (WILL) PAY THE BILLS
WHAT ABILITIES DOES GEN Z THINK ARE MOST IMPORTANT FOR LAUNCHING THEIR CAREERS? TO FIND OUT, WE ASKED THEM.
Compared to previous generations, Gen Z stands out for overwhelmingly embracing skill development as what they want out of a career.
Maybe it’s a product of being data natives who have been continuously connected to a vast world of information since birth. Maybe it’s just due to their well-documented natural curiosity and creativity.
If Gen Zers want skill development in their careers, what skills do they need to launch those careers in the first place? To find out, we figured we’d ask those who know best – SAS interns, the ones putting their skills to use in the real world.
In what is admittedly a small sample size, a clear pattern emerged: Soft skills are extremely valuable to the next generation of professionals.
We talked to 31 interns from a wide variety of job roles – 11 in sales, 10 in consulting, five in R&D, four in marketing and one in IT. The responses were geographically diverse, too, coming from a dozen different countries.
Maybe this comes as a surprise at a technology company, but of the 88 skills shared in survey responses, 74 were soft skills and just 14 were technical skills. “I'm not surprised because it's human nature to have soft skills,” says Karabo Rabina Banda, an intern in Johannesburg, South Africa. “Even if I go out tomorrow and learn a new skill to build a TV, I’m still going to need people.”
Amir Dizche is an intern with the SAS machine learning R&D team in the US, yet he listed teamwork as the skill he found useful – beating out machine learning itself. Why teamwork? Because at previous internships, he’d mostly been left to complete projects on his own, whereas his most recent experience left him struck by the effect collaboration had on his work.
“It was a very big deal for me, especially because I started about a month late because of some onboarding issues,” he says. “I was eager to learn to do things very fast so I could finish the project, and the team was very helpful in getting me set up. I never experienced that type of positive cooperation between team members.”
Of course, technical skills are still critical to workers in technical roles – and even some of those in nontechnical roles, like the sales intern who listed “coding” as a top-three skill for succeeding. This is also relatively unsurprising in a generation of digital natives.
Still, there was no denying that emotional intelligence and self-improvement hold high value for Gen Zers.
Open minded (16), Communication (13), Help seeking (10), Curiosity (8), Code (6), Collaboration (6), Flexibility (5), Creativity (4), Organization (4), Critical thinking (4), Authentic (3), Problem solving (3), Confidence (3), Data (2), Dependable (1)
One intern had a unique perspective on the results: Jennifer Lambert, a 44-year-old intern in technical support who changed careers after 20-plus years in the veterinary field.
She says it was her decades in the workforce that taught her the thing her Gen Z intern cohorts seemed to innately gravitate toward despite their relative lack of experience: Soft skills matter more than you think. That’s why she listed “not being afraid to ask for help” as her top skill.
“I took on a new career, and I knew I had a lot to learn,” she says. “When I can’t find something, it’s helpful to have other employees that are more than willing to help.”
Lambert also noted that she is well aware of the difference between what it was like trying to find answers or do research on her own growing up Gen X versus the world of information that’s at her fingertips now – and has always been at the fingertips of the digital-native Gen Z.
That advantage is not lost on them, and it goes a long way to explaining their emphasis on nontechnical skills as key to their success at work.
“I still think there is some emphasis on learning the technical skills, but a lot of what we’re taught in school is how to learn rather than what to learn,” says Kevin O’Donnell, a US-based intern. “Instead of just the material, it’s more about ‘this is how you approach a problem in general to solve it,’ and I would like to think that has a positive effect on our generation and how we approach work.”
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