This headteacher is preparing 'homebird' Gen Z pupils for the world of work by bringing in a 12-hour school day

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Gen Z workers came of age during the pandemic—and bosses say it shows. Employers frequently accuse their youngest recruits of lacking basic soft skills and having no idea how to interact with their coworkers. Now, schools are stepping in to help plug the gap.

Take All Saints Catholic College in London. Its headteacher is trialing a 12-hour school day between breakfast time and dinner, as well as bringing in public speaking lessons and a smartphone ban—all in a bid to prepare pupils for adult life.

Headteacher Andrew O’Neill told The Telegraph he launched the pilot program after realizing Gen Z pupils—the youngest of whom are 11 years old—had become “homebirds” that were “not as good at holding a conversation or eye contact” post-pandemic.

“We realized we need to break this and change something,” O’Neill said, adding that he has never seen this level of “apathy” in the 20 years he’s worked with teenagers.

Due to lockdown and the rise of smartphones, teens today have grown accustomed to getting home and scrolling instead of interacting with others—and it’s increasingly isolating them, O’Neill believes.

He added: “They don’t want to turn up, they want to go home, they want to be by themselves, they want to be on their device, isolating themselves from others, and it’s a complete tragedy of our youth.”

As well as being addicted to their phones, the school told Fortune that other issues it identified before launching the program include being distracted, disenfranchised and alienated.

The solution? Extend school hours.

All Saints banned its 900 pupils, aged between 11 and 16, from carrying phones in 2016. However, the 120 pupils taking part in the extended school day can enjoy a broader phone detox while on the premises from 7am to 6:30pm on Mondays to Thursdays.

Instead of scrolling TikTok or BeReal, those extra hours will be filled with activities such as cooking lessons, public speaking lessons, basketball training, and extra time to finish homework—before enjoying an evening meal with classmates where they sit down and talk without a screen in sight.

O’Neill told Fortune that the school will be measuring the program’s success using attendance levels, behavior logs, and homework completion alongside anecdotal evidence from parents, students, and teachers.

Gen Z workers lack ‘basic skills’

All Saints Catholic College isn’t the first school to step in and provide extra support for socially awkward Gen Zers. 

Michigan State University is getting its graduates ready for the job market with lessons on how to handle a networking conversation—including how to look for signs that the other party is starting to get bored and that it’s time to move on—reports the Wall Street Journal.

The university is also asking companies to give explicit guidance on a hire’s first day, including what to wear and where to get lunch.

Miami University even organized a dinner with senior leaders in order to teach proper mealtime etiquette, such as how to engage in conversation on neutral topics. 

Employers are also giving new graduates extra training to get them up to speed. Take the world’s Big Four consulting firms, for example: Deloitte, PwC, KPMG, and EY are all offering incoming junior hires soft skills training, including lessons on how to speak up in meetings. 

“It’s wholly understandable that students who missed out on face-to-face activities during COVID may now be stronger in certain fields, such as working independently, and less confident in others, such as presentations to groups,” Ian Elliott, the chief people officer at PwC UK, said in sympathy with young workers. 

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