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8 Ways COVID-19 Will Forever Change the Future Workforce

This is how the Coronavirus is changing how Generation Z approaches work, views employers, and pursues education.

In a matter of seven days, COVID-19 has reoriented our relationships with each other, the media, technology, and the work we do. Humanity has never experienced such a swift and universal shift. 

Friends are hosting live parties on Instagram

Teachers are uploading lessons to YouTube for the first time. 

Doctors are utilizing FaceTime or Google Duo for telemedicine services with patients. 

Musicians are live streaming concerts on Facebook. 

Consumers are using Apply Pay to purchase essential services remotely.

Workers are using Teams to digitally collaborate with colleagues. 

The unfolding pandemic and the toil back to “normal,” will leave education, jobs, and industries changed in its wake. But perhaps the most change will happen to the future workforce, Generation Z.

Gen Z (those born after 1998) grew up in a post-9/11 world and during the Great Recession. And now during the most formative time of their lives, they face a challenge like no generation before them. This unprecedented event will have an indelible influence on their behaviors, decisions, and expectations.

Despite many headlines about how younger generations are disregarding the threat of the virus, 93 percent of Gen Z and Millennials are being impacted by COVID-19. Additionally, 74 percent of middle and high school students have stopped going to school. Anxiety and cautious are the top two emotions that Gen Z and Millennials are having about Coronavirus and only 19 percent of Gen Z and Millennials feel prepared during this pandemic.

After 9/11 air travel and airports were different. After COVID-19 the future workforce will be different.

8 Ways COVID-19 Will Forever Change the Future Workforce

1. Deeper Dependence on Technology

While humanity strives to create physical distance from each other, the world turns to digital platforms and tools to remain socially connected. 

Established generations forced to connect digitally are now discovering that technology has gotten a lot easier to use while they were ignoring it. And if Gen Z wasn’t already using their phone to pay for groceries, coffee, or lunch they are now due to social distancing.

Established generations new found appreciation for technology (e.g. the ease of using Zoom or Slack to work remotely) coupled with Gen Z’s existing digital intelligence, will escalate the adoption rate of new technology at work. 

2. Unconventional Educational Backgrounds

Due to the pandemic, 290 million students around the world and 4.9 million U.S. students have been impacted as tens of thousands of schools close. Forced into virtual learning, teachers find themselves in unfamiliar territory as 70 percent of teachers have never taught a virtual course. Yet students find themselves in very familiar (and often preferred) territory as 62 percent of Gen Z would choose no college degree and unlimited Internet access over a college degree and no Internet access.

In addition, only 26 percent of Gen Z perceive education as a barrier to workplace success and 90 percent of employers say they are more open to accepting non-traditional candidates that do not hold four-year college degrees. 

As long-held beliefs of higher education begin to erode for students, parents, and employers, expect to see the future workforce to have unconventional educational backgrounds with a constellation of nano-degrees, certifications, and digital portfolios that better position them to thrive in tomorrow’s high-flux marketplace.

3. Entering Careers Sooner

Because there are more college alternatives available today than ever before, Gen Z might consider forgoing a traditional college education entirely to go work for a company that provides college-like learning and development. In fact, 62 percent of Gen Z are open to the idea of entering the workforce before completing a college degree according to Generation Z: A Century in the Making by Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace.

Jenn Prevoznik, the Global Head of Early Talent Acquisition at SAP, says she is “all for” Gen Z skipping college to come to work for SAP because what really matters are their skills and willingness to learn not necessarily their degree.

The age-old model of learn to work is shifting to work to learn. 

4. Enhanced Value on Learning and Development

When Gen Z enters the workforce sooner than previous generations or with an unconventional educational background, they will be looking to their employer to provide the necessary training to gain the hard and soft skills Gen Z needs to perform well at their job and grow professionally.

Eighty-four percent of Americans say their career path will be significantly different from their parents. The idea of working at one company or in one industry or in one role is old-fashioned, especially for the future workforce.

Employers who deliver learning experiences that Gen Z actually uses, enjoys, and applies will win over the future workforce.

5. Revised View of Employers

Before COVID-19, work and life were blending like never before. Because of mobile technology, workers were bringing more work home and more life to work. Workplaces became workspaces. During COVID-19, work and life fully merged.


For Gen Z, it’s becoming difficult to distinguish where work stops and where life starts so to them it’s all just life. Work and life are in harmony.


The future workplace isn’t where work happens, it’s where life happens. Expect Gen Z to view their employers as a community where support, wellness, education, and more are extended.

6. Uncommon Career Paths

Gen Z service workers are losing more work hours than any other demographic and 29 percent of Gen Z workers (18-24 years-old) have been put on leave compared to only 13 percent of previous generations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given these numbers, it’s not surprising that Gen Z is interested in diversifying their sources of income. In fact, given a choice, 53 percent of Gen Z would rather work a gig job than a full-time job and 46 percent of Gen Z are already participating in the gig economy.

As work cycles spin faster and faster—truncating the need for full-time employees—and gig work becomes more accessible and lucrative, expect uncommon career paths to be commonplace for the future workforce.

7. Demand for Emotionally Intelligent Leaders

In addition to being a highly anxious and stressed generation, Gen Z is also the loneliest generation. More than half of Gen Zers identify with 10 of the 11 feelings associated with loneliness. The most common feelings experienced by Gen Z are feeling like people around them are not really with them (69%), feeling shy (69%), and feeling like no one really knows them well (68%).

After the uncertainty and social isolation of COVID-19 passes, Gen Z will thrive from the connection, assurance, and empathy delivered by emotionally intelligent leaders.

8. Greater Global Unity

Not only has Gen Z grown up gaming in real time with strangers from around the world but they are now experiencing a global health crisis together. The number of Gen Zers who identify more as a global citizen than as a citizen of their country (42 percent) is likely to increase considering that shared hardship bonds people together. 

The future workforce will have a greater sense of global unity and as a result will demand more diversity and inclusion from their employers and leaders. 

Ryan Jenkins is an internationally-recognized keynote speaker and author on the topics of leadership, generational differences, and the future of work. He is the co-founder of SyncLX, which creates lasting learning experiences for companies’ #1 asset, their people.

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