How to Help Teens Feel More Optimistic About Their Future Jobs

6 min to read
A student and learning coach

While teenagers are generally notorious for angst, recent studies show that there is more going on with Gen Z – teens and young adults born between 1997-2012 – than teenage moodiness, especially when it comes to developing work readiness skills and their outlook for the future. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 42% of Gen Z youth generally have persistent feelings of hopelessness. In one recent survey, 36% of Gen Z respondents described their mental health and emotional wellbeing as “poor” or “fair” and only 41% reported that they were thriving. For comparison, 60% of millennials said they were thriving when surveyed at the same age. 

With the oldest members of Gen Z graduating and starting their career journeys, many of them are entering the workforce concerned about the stability of their employment and anxious about their ability to retire or own their own home one day

Developing a Growth Mindset and Work Readiness Skills

It's not just members of Generation Z that don’t believe in themselves. Another survey found that 40% of business leaders believe that older Gen Z graduates are unprepared to enter today’s workforce and lack critical work readiness skills. 

Pessimism and feelings of hopelessness are often tied to students not believing in themselves and feeling like they don’t have the right skills or knowledge to succeed. Today’s teens may feel like they have no control over their future, so they have no choice but to accept whatever happens to them. 

While caregivers and Learning Coaches can’t change the external factors that impact today’s teens, they can work with their students to change their outlook of the future and help them build the job readiness skills they will need once they leave high school by working with them to develop a growth mindset. 

People with a growth mindset believe that they can improve their abilities by working on them rather than believing difficult things are out of their control. Students with a growth mindset believe they can get that A on an exam, they can excel in a class on an unfamiliar subject, and they can land that internship by setting goals and pushing themselves to do the necessary work to achieve them. 

Developing a growth mindset can lead to a more optimistic view of the future for teens who feel overwhelmed by a negative outlook. 

Studies show that optimistic people are more likely to achieve career success and find contentedness throughout their lives because people with a growth mindset are typically confident in their ability to meet challenges and overcome barriers.

A pair of online school students prepare for the workforce by volunteering in their community.

5 Ways for Teens to Build a Growth Mindset for Future Career Success

People with a growth mindset know that putting in the work is critical to finding success; they need to study, practice, and follow an action plan to achieve what they want out of life. 

But if a student lacks confidence in themselves because they feel like their future is out of their hands, they might have a harder time doing the necessary things to prepare for the workforce.  

Here are five ways students can gain confidence in their skills and gain more optimism for their futures while also preparing for the workforce.

1. Take a variety of electives in high school.

Elective classes are the perfect opportunity for students to step outside of their comfort zone and try new and different things. They can also provide opportunities for career readiness in high school by allowing them to explore their interests and expand their horizons. 

Encourage your student to try new subjects in school to help them overcome the fear of the unknown. Trying new things helps them believe that they can learn new skills and find success in areas where they have no experience.  

While figuring out their class schedules with your student, review the list of electives at their school and choose subjects that sound interesting or fun. If you don’t have any electives that interest your student, try looking around for other extracurricular groups your students could sign up for.   

2. Get a part-time job or internship.

In 1978, 45.1% of high school students held part-time jobs. That number dropped to 30.5% in 2021. While teens today have more extra-curricular activitiesmore extracurricular activitiesmore extracurricular activities that prohibit them from working, carving out time to work part-time while in high school can help give students confidence in their work readiness skills. Building Gen Z working skills is crucial. In addition to 40% of surveyed business leaders not believing Gen Z are prepared to enter the workforce, 39% of business leaders have fired a Generation Z employee. The top reasons were lack of communication skills and poor work ethic. 

Taking a part-time job in high school exposes students to a real working environment and requires them to build and practice the soft skills they will need for career success in the future, including time management, collaboration, communication, and accountability.  

3. Volunteer.

Volunteering, much like holding a part-time job, can build confidence and work readiness skills. Students who volunteer can give back to their community or favorite cause, which can also boost their confidence and improve their outlook because they feel like they are making a difference. 

Volunteering can expose students to different roles within an organization, providing on-the-job training on a wide range of functions and activities. By the time student volunteers reach the working world, they can develop more confidence in their abilities because these skills will no longer be unknown.

Encourage your teen to think about how they would like to help their communities. Reach out to organizations including food banks, hospitals, animal shelters, and civic organizations to explore volunteer opportunities. Check websites like to find organizations that work with teen volunteers near you.

4. Choose a school with career enrichment opportunities.

Some schools, including some Connections Academy-supported schools, help students with early career preparation by offering credit-earning opportunities, mentorship experiences, or focused training often in the medical, business, or STEM fields that can help students start their careers earlier.  

By earning certifications or exploring early job training while still in school, students can hone their skills, build a resume, and start establishing industry connections before graduation.  This can help students who know what they want to do in their careers to take charge of their futures and feel a bit more in control of what to expect from the working world. 

5. Enroll in community college classes.

Many high schools offer dual enrollment with local community colleges, giving students the opportunity to take college-level classes on a variety of subjects while still in high school. Students will be challenged to meet higher expectations and complete more advanced coursework, which can get them out of their comfort zone, help them get used to handling a higher level of responsibility, and get them interacting with other students who are coming to class with a wide range of experiences, much like they would experience in the working world.

An online high school student showing off her job readiness skills before an interview.

Beware of Overconfidence

While confidence is a critical element of a growth mindset, overconfidence can work against Generation Z. The survey of business leaders noted that many in this generation need to be more self-aware of their abilities and to take constructive criticism, which is meant to help them grow. When people are overconfident, they may blame others when things don’t go as planned instead of reflecting on their own role in what happened. Overconfidence can also lead students to stop learning, practicing, and trying new things. 

For Learning Coaches supporting teens, help them build a healthy sense of confidence and develop a growth mindset by working with them to set realistic goals and brainstorm how to handle tough situations if things go wrong. This can help them overcome overconfidence and help them focus on what is truly obtainable.

Generation Z has many exciting opportunities available to them as they prepare for their journey after high school. With an optimistic outlook, they can achieve anything they set their minds to.

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