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The Skills Gen Z & Millennials Wish They Learned In School

We asked Gen Z and Millennials about the real-life skills they wish their schools would teach them…

There are plenty of things that young consumers want to learn in 2022, and as two generations of researchers, the majority of Gen Z and Millennials turn to Google, YouTube, and other online platforms, when they want to learn something new. But while they’re adept and eager to use digital platforms to dig into new hobbies, passions, and skills, it turns out there are plenty of these things they wish they were learning in school as well. YPulse’s Self-Taught trend survey takes an in-depth look at where young people are alternatively learning, and we asked Gen Z and Millennials what real-life skills they are interested in learning that their school is currently not teaching. Here are current middle, high school, and college students’ responses:

Mental health is the top skill Gen Z wishes they could learn in school. We’ve consistently shared the importance of mental wellness to this generation, which has been billed as the most anxious and has had to deal with world altering events at young and vulnerable ages. Our recent mental health behavioral data found that 55% of 13-20-year-olds say the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health—and they clearly want help from their schools on how to navigate living in such a difficult and uncertain time. We told you that improving their mental health is a top thing young people are committed to doing in 2022, and during the fall, the government has been working with schools to put mental health at the center of their in-person learning initiatives. In October, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona released guidance backed by a seven-point plan on how schools can properly address students’ mental health needs, which featured a plan with recommendations and resources for for prioritizing wellness for students and staff (like blocking off time for “mental upkeep” or participating in mental health screenings), and how to reduce stigma related to mental health while integrating education and care. He stressed that mental health shouldn’t just be an add-on to students’ education, but an essential part of their everyday learning. Some brands have also been finding ways to support students’ mental health during this time: Ahead of the back-to-school season, Victoria’s Secret PINK launched a  “Back To ___” campaign to prioritize young people’s mental health by giving away $250,000 in a nationwide sweepstakes by entering through a contest via Instagram, hosting mental health pop-ups in select markets, and donating $200,000 to the Jed Foundation’s Set to Go program, which helps students and their parents navigate the transition to college.

Self-defense is the next skill Gen Z tells us they wish schools taught them that they aren’t currently learning about, a potentially bleak reflection of this generation’s view of necessary skills.  This generation has grown up learning that schools are not an inherently safe place, with shooter drills a sad norm for young students today. Students in the suburbs were more likely than students in big cities to say that they wish schools would teach self-defense, and unfortunately, Gen Z females were most likely to say that self-defense is a skill they would like to learn in school, indicating that they feel most vulnerable or unsafe currently. Gen Z female students were also more likely than males to say they wish that mental health was taught in schools.

Survival skills/first aid, cooking, and personal finance were the other top responses among current students. But will these be the skills they wish they had when they are out of school and in the “real world”? Since time offers a new perspective, we also asked Millennials who have graduated “What real-life skills do you wish you learned more about in school?” and their top response was significantly different from current students’:

Personal finance is by far the top skill that Millennials wish they had learned in school, with almost three in five choosing this response. Financial / money management was also the top skill Millennials told us they want to learn in the new year, showing just how much of an appetite there is for financial knowledge among this generation. Millennials have a lot of financial goals they’re working towards, and because they’re at an age where they’re taking their finances and investments more seriously, many are realizing there is a lot they don’t know, or wish they had been taught earlier..

Similar to Gen Z’s responses, mental health, survival skills / basic first aid, self-defense, and cooking are also top real-life skills they wish they would’ve learned while they were in school. Looking at the rest of the list, the other skills that Millennials were more likely than Gen Z to say they wished they learned in school are ones that highlight the different life stages these generations are in For example, household repairs and maintenance is a skill they’re more likely to say they wish they had learned, likely because more of them are starting to invest in buying a house or living on their own and having to fix things themselves. They’re also more likely to say they wish they had learned, likely because they’re more focused on growing their careers and success, or dreaming of starting their own businesses. networking and relationship building.

While it’s important to know what Gen Z wishes they were currently being taught in school, knowing what Millennials wish they had learned gives a stronger sense of the real-world skills students will eventually need to feel successful. Or just help them to get a better handle on adulting. There are clearly a lot of skills that young people aren’t currently learning (or wish they would’ve been taught) that would be beneficial for them in the real world. There are many ways for brands to get involved, whether it’s through partnerships with schools or coming up with their own initiatives to help young consumers obtain the skills they need to thrive post-graduation and beyond.

​YPulse Business users can access the full Self-Taught trend report and data here.

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