Gen Z Enters the Workforce: What you Need to Know

Hosted by

Nick Schlemmer

Podcast Host

Jack McFarlane

Podcast Host

About this episode

The Play by Play 3 – Gen Z Enters the Workforce: What you Need to Know

Hosts: Jack McFarlane & Nick Schlemmer

Guest: Elan Divon, Founder & CEO, Divon Academy

This week on The Play by Play podcast, Jack McFarlane and Nick Schlemmer talk with Elan Divon of the Divon Academy about Gen Z entering the workforce and how to prepare.

– What is the Divon Academy?

– The role technology plays in the life of a Gen Z employee

– Importance of universities providing real life experiences

– Chasing opportunities vs. climbing the ladder

– How is the American Dream changing?


Thank you for joining the show today!  Remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts!

Transcript follows:

Nick Schlemmer 0:16
Welcome back to the Play by Play on HR Happy Hour Network. We have a great show for you today, Jack, let us know who our special guest is.

Jack McFarlane 0:23
Yes, like Nick said, we have a very special guest. Today we’re talking with Elan Divon. He’s the founder and CEO of the Divon Academy. He’s a Harvard trained author, speaker and the founder of Divon Academy, which is an organization that helps young people develop essential work life and leadership skills that companies want but schools don’t teach. And technology has disrupted at a time where they’re needed most salons clientele includes fortune 500 companies, universities and governments where he works to train and develop the next generation of young leaders and prepare them for fee for the future workforce. Welcome, Elan to the show.

Elan Divon 0:56
It is a pleasure to be with you guys. Hi, Jack. Hi, Nicholas.

Nick Schlemmer 1:01
How’s it going?

Elan Divon 1:01
It’s going good. Getting ready for Thanksgiving, the holidays.

Nick Schlemmer 1:07
Yep. Got a lot of big plans made for Thanksgiving?

Elan Divon 1:10
Not really.

Nick Schlemmer 1:13
All right, well, I’d say let’s just get right into it. One of the main things I wanted to talk about was just tell us a little bit about your academy, what it is, what you do, and kind of emphasize on why you started it.

Elan Divon 1:24
Cool. So the Divon Academy started, I mean, many, many years ago, in my mind, it started with on a personal level. And I won’t get into too many details on the personal side. But I had this near death experience when I was about 21 years old, where I survived a series of bombings shall we say? And I started to think, Okay, I’m alive for a reason. And I wanted to, I wanted to believe I was life for a reason. So, you know, it led me to really follow and honor my sense of purpose. And I was always very interested in the human psyche, and its people to change and transform and perform and do better. And that was always an interest. So I went on to study a lot of different things. I spent a lot of time in the academia, studying sociology, and anthropology and, you know, comparative mythology, and a lot of interesting subjects about the getting to the human mind. And, you know, I think I completed two masters thought I did pretty well for myself, you know, grades were good. And had some work experience, I worked in New York and marketing before I had run my own nonprofit, I had these two master’s degrees, and it was 2008. I go back into the workforce. And I realized very quickly that with despite my lovely degrees and two masters, I wasn’t really prepared.

Elan Divon 2:49
Now, keep in mind, this was 2008, with the whole recession happening. But I realized on my own skin that having a degree even from a really the best school, a great school, Harvard, one of the best schools in the world, arguably the best, yes. And well, that wasn’t necessarily enough to get me to land me good jobs. And I started to realize on my own skin that you know, things you really need in the workforce, just to get a job, let alone on the job are things like your mindset, your emotional intelligence, and relationships and networking and all these other things I didn’t learn in school. So fast forward a little bit, I did spend a lot of time working in in sort of the corporate and nonprofit sector and around 2018, I decided to leave my job in actually in the nonprofit sector working with a big university and launched the Vaughn Academy because I realized something really interesting was going on. I realized that companies as I talk to a lot of companies, companies are really looking forward today. Recruiters companies, employers are looking for these soft skills, shall we say? Yeah, we know these, automating all these all these different skills, and computational skills, analytical skills, it’s really important other soft skills. And yet, I noticed that a lot of younger people in particular, were lacking these skills just by virtue of growing up with screens, because it kind of prevents us from using a lot of these skills and strengthen strengthening them. Yeah, realize that, you know, COVID came along and disrupted the development of these skills. schools aren’t teaching and I said, Hey, we got to do something about this and launch the academy.

Nick Schlemmer 4:34
Awesome. Yeah. So that kind of made me think about one of the main points we want to talk about was, Do you think that kind of our generation growing up with all this technology can kind of suit these roles a lot faster than maybe the millennials are even older than that, what was your take on that?

Elan Divon 4:53
So when you say suit these roles you mean?

Nick Schlemmer 4:55
Just like step into the roles that are coming kind of up these higher these higher roles that are becoming available with just people retiring. And we’re just kind of hopping right into it with, like you said, COVID came into play. And technology has just blown up with Zoom and hybrid work.

Elan Divon 5:11
So let me start by saying I think your generation is, by far the smartest generation, very smart, knowledgeable, has, you know, so much more mature in many ways in previous generations, I think, though, where technology comes into play, is that, especially with COVID, and having to learn remote and work remote, and even now be onboarded, remotely, is that I’m hearing from a lot of recruiters that a lot of smart young people that are getting into managerial roles, say, first time manager roles, but they have no idea how to lead people, they’ve never had social situations where that to exercise these skills. So I do think that technology is playing a role. So I’ll give you an example, dating. Back in my day and age, right, I’m a child of the 80s, the 90s. There were no cell phones, right. So to actually get a date, I had to go into a bar, or into a restaurant or wherever, to sit down. And it’s really awkward to make myself uncomfortable and approach someone I didn’t know, and have this conversation be rejected nine times out of 10. And be okay with that. Day, that is considered as I understand, it’s not even like it’s not a thing anymore, right? It’s all swiping. So one thing that, you know, we used to be able to have to do, and it was like a normal thing, just to get rejected and have that awkward conversation. Today is not even something people think about. And so I think in those ways, technology in ways that sometimes we can really appreciate, is not letting us exercise these skills, which then are applicable and really irrelevant when you’re in a managerial managerial role. When you have to have a difficult conversation with a client or a colleague, for example.

Jack McFarlane 6:55
So you say, you know, it’s hard to get those experiences now, especially with technology. So what do you think, is maybe one or a couple of things that colleges could be doing? Or maybe not even colleges, maybe just kids can be doing in high school to make sure they’re getting those experiences, you know, in new ways.

Elan Divon 7:11
So I’m glad you bring up the point that this is, yes, super practical, like, what can they what can we practically do? Start with colleges? I think and this may be I hope this is controversial, I hope, because there’s this whole notion of safe spaces. I think the whole idea of having safe spaces is antithetical to growth, because we need to be able to, and I think this is probably the problem, broader political issue now in the states where people can’t have conversations on things that they’re not comfortable with. We need to be able to have discourse and conversations and hear people even if we totally disagree with what they have to say. So the notion that we you know, that we have these spaces where when we’re feeling uncomfortable, we go to is not helpful, I think to young people, to then having to go out into the world where they’re going to meet people that have to work with people who think very differently. And now they’re not prepared to have that discourse. So that’s one in high school, and I think caught so both to high school and college, I think what we can do, Jack, what I would encourage is a extracurricular sports. Those are great ways to exercise these skills and to build them. I think taking a year off, certainly the travel and teach, you know, do Teach for America, or just travel or just volunteer, or work. I think that’s an excellent way to kind of get out of your comfort zone, get into a whole new environment, figure stuff out for yourself. I think that’s great. Anytime you have to do something where you’re feeling uncomfortable a little bit, I see that’s a great thing, do it. So yeah, all of those things, and more are good ways to start exercising those skills.

Nick Schlemmer 8:53
Awesome. And so that that kind of made me think about the quiet quitting that I wanted to talk about. Whenever the whenever we get into those tough situations where we don’t exactly know what to do. Nowadays, you just kind of fall back on the two week notice may not even be relevant anymore. And a lot of, you know, just the entry level jobs. So what is your thought about the quiet quitting and how to kind of persuade people not to do that kind of stick it out and see if they can make anything happen with with all those rough times?

Elan Divon 9:29
I think that’s really important that you’re bringing up Nicholas, an important point on sticking it out. And again, I’ll go back to the dating analogy, because I think it is relevant actually, to this, we have all these options. You think about dating, the moment you’re in a relationship with someone, it’s like, ah, they said something I don’t like or they did something I don’t like. Like I got options. I’m out. I’m out of here. I’m just kind of basically quitting either leaving or quitting on the relationship. So we’re kind of conditioned in a way to think that way because all of our different spheres of life are now supporting that. So I think, from a young person’s point of view in in a job if you’re if you’re in a job right now, and it’s difficult, it’s challenging, I say, try to stick with it. Because one reason is you may bounce, you may think the grass is greener at some other company may go to some other company, only to find out, you know what, it was actually better in that last company? Why did I quit, because it was actually way better over there. So when you have some regrets, too, is I think you can start setting yourself apart I think companies are looking for and want people that are more loyal and dedicated, you can show on your resume, you’ve stayed a bit extra, you’ve weather those storms and temptations of leaving, I think a you’re gonna have better chances of being promoted within that company. But then be even when you do leave, you’re going to show you got staying power, we’re going to show you about loyalty. And it’s long term, it’s the right recipe for success.

Nick Schlemmer 10:58
That’s the point that you made on showing that extended length of being with a company, I’ve actually had two different professors mentioned that, yes, staying with the company for an extended period of time, shows a lot of potential for the next step. And then I’ve also heard the other sides of that, too, where nowadays, it’s just more common to talk, you’re only been a year here, maybe six months here, and just you’re just going to kind of have to explain to them what happened. Why did you leave?

Elan Divon 11:30
True? No, I have heard that as well. And then I’ve looked a bit deeper. And I think it may be all right, and there is a lot of data showing that when people quit, they’re gonna get a better offer financially by X percent higher at the next job. And that only be true. I think if that becomes a pattern, and now, you know, over the span of a couple of years, you’ve quit and you’ve gone on to all these different companies, that’s not good if you don’t, once or twice, okay. But I think if that becomes the dominant pattern in your resume, by the time you’re in your 30s, someone’s going to look at you or even, you know, late 20s, early 30s, an employer is going to sit there, I’m gonna say, okay, a year, here are six months, they’re like, Okay, I’m about to invest all this money in recruiting this person going to recruit you didn’t invest in you and I and based on everything I’m looking at, I know you’re gonna leave in six months, or seven months or a year, I don’t want to hire you. It’s not a pattern you want to show, maybe there might be moments where it really makes sense. But big picture, I think it’s a much better bet to stay a bit longer. Yeah. I think a lot of times, also, by pushing through, you know, we think about personal relationships, we can we all have disagreements, you know, we’re the people we love and care about it within our own families, right? So, and you find that when you can weather that storm, and you can push through it together, you push through that discomfort in that challenging period, then the relationship is stronger, you can have a breakthrough in your relationship. So I think a lot of folks will find that, if they just stick through that those moments, they may have an even better, stronger relationship in the company with their team, by just, you know, pulling through and pushing through.

Jack McFarlane 13:10
Yeah, and I think one more factor that might contribute to quiet quitting is kind of, I guess, a snap mindset of this generation with technology. You know, you know, you had tick tock, which is very quick video. Snapchats. Very quick talking. I think it’s very easy for younger people to be burnt out, so to say doing the same thing, you know, kind of over and over again, for even just a month. How do you think you can combat that? What do you think is like the best way to maybe create a work life balance to prevent burnout? Or what should you do if you are feeling burnt out?

Elan Divon 13:42
Yeah, well, burnout is definitely a thing and I think, can’t deny stress. Burnout is real. It’s very real. And I think, you know, the reality is the world that we’ve created, the world that we’re living in is not conducive to like mental health. And this device, as wonderful as it is, it creates a ton of stress. We know that because you’re getting all these messages you feel obligated to respond. Yeah, that you know, you’re inundated with information. So when it comes to developing or trying to have more of a balance, I think one of the keys I know this may not be the most popular answer, but I think it is true and scientists showing it having discipline I think these devices No, I’m a dick. We’re all addicted to the phone, right? It’s like it’s an extension thing in Japan, they call it like the third arm, you know, your third hand. It’s like another hand. But it’s the moment it controls you. Then you’re sucked in and you lose and now you’re just dependent on this device. I think we all need to learn and be better disciplined on alright, I’m shutting off, whether it’s certain time at night, or not looking at it. You know, a lot of us we wake up in the morning. First thing is looking at the phone. And if you’re looking at your news feed or the news or even your Snapchat or whatever, you’re seeing the news. It’s kind of like waking up going to the garbage and like taking a with you know the news and so good news. If so, why would you want to wake up and the first thing you want to hear about in prime your mind and this in the morning with basically garbage are things that are going to bring you down. One way, I think is just having more discipline around our use of technology. second, and third is basically I think, is simple non thing. I think it’s social support, having real time to develop and nurture relationships and be with people. And three is just exercise, you know, Exercise and Movement. Those three things I think are key.

Nick Schlemmer 15:30
And one of your other talking points was kind of mentioning the American dream, I kind of wanted to talk about, do you think the COVID era kind of is ending the American dream? Or having some strong backlash with it for what people think is? Is the American dream, what they want, what they see their goals? Do you think COVID kind of changed their mindset of okay, that’s not normal anymore? What should we be looking at?

Elan Divon 15:58
So I’d love to hear your take on it as well. I think this is this very interesting topic. I think, in general, I think there’s a crisis of meaning, you know, people need a sense of meaning they need a goal and a deeper sense of purpose to work towards. I think when your generation and I listen all generations now housing is unaffordable period, like even renting places. So if you’re in a big cost of living is way up, and wages haven’t gone up to meet that. So I think we talk about the American dream, if the dream is to have a nice own a nice house, and to have the picket fence and the car, and the two kids or whatever, that dream is really becoming more less and less attainable, just because financially, it is really, really difficult, if not impossible, if you don’t have support, how are you gonna buy a house in the city? How are you going to afford to have kids? So I think, you know, I was talking to my cousin in New York, and that’s what he was explaining. To me, it’s like, if you’re just the average person that’s trying to get by, and have a decent job, it is very difficult to attain that dream. So the question is, what is the dream of yours? I’m curious, what what do you think?

Nick Schlemmer 17:10
So personally, I think that whenever COVID had everything changed over well, not everything, but most things change over to kind of the online, working and learning. I noticed that there was a lot of jumpstarts in more online businesses, something kind of that you have that you’ve been producing. But a lot of like our generation has stepped into their own entrepreneur roles on the online side of things. Well, I think that that’s going to maybe help combat that decrease or negative effect that we’ve seen with the American dream, so to say, I think it’ll help a little bit. But I do think that right now, we are still kind of seeing, like you mentioned, like, we don’t really know what we’re what we’re looking forward to, in the future. What we exactly want to what the new normal is.

Elan Divon 18:02
Yeah, and I think it’s true, I think people are becoming more resourceful, independent, starting their own side hustles and businesses. And that’s great. Of course, that can then lead to its own stresses, you know, with a side hustle and this and that and getting your own clients and generating your own money. But hopefully, yeah, hopefully they’ll that that does offer some flexibility to augment the job you have or just to increase your earning power, so you can afford the dream. Yeah.

Nick Schlemmer 18:33
And Jack, what do you think about that?

Jack McFarlane 18:35
Yeah, so I think affording the dream is probably the biggest factor. I know, just yesterday in class, we did a whole whole class session on eviction, it focused on the walkie but it, it also was kind of the story for all of America, I believe it’s about 16,000 people a year getting evicted. The number is rising on people that are spending more than 50% of their paycheck on housing alone when the recommended number is about 30% or less. So I think just the fact that the cost of living is going up so much it really is changing the drain. And also I think technology is changing it you know, especially younger kids, their role models are completely different than someone from 20 years ago with YouTubers and, and podcasters and everything. I think the dream job is changing, which in turn is changing the American dream as well. But sadly, I think it could also get maybe a little overdone. There’s so many YouTubers, so many content creators, and I think, you know, people look online and see the most successful and be like, Oh, that’s what I need to be happy. That’s what I need to be the dream when it’s simply not the case in my opinion. So yeah, I do think it’s changing.

Elan Divon 19:44
Yeah, I think that’s the thing that you know, there’s so many successful sort of successful YouTube stars and social media personalities, but when you actually look at them and you hear about them unfortunately there’s a lot of their life is not as glamorous as it may appear and even say so. So I think when people realize even if they attain that they start realizing, well, that’s not really the dream. Maybe they’re making good money, but it’s still not depends. Yeah. Because it’s I think that this goes back to this crisis of meaning like, what is what is it really about? Like, what are we here to attain? It’s a really deep, fundamental human question like, is having 100,000 followers on YouTube? Is that the dream? Like, not going to make you arrive? Is it having $5 million? Is it? And I think it’s an important question, but the dream is changing. For sure.

Jack McFarlane 20:34
Yeah. So I think we just have one more question for you. We were looking through your website and we noticed the fourth person down is the Chief Happiness Officer. Can you give us a little more explanation on that?

Elan Divon 20:45
Oh, this is a very, very important, shall we say, figure in the company. His name is yeah, he really is the chief I think. Yeah, he definitely is the chief happiness officer in many more ways than one it doesn’t keep a lot it doesn’t take much to keep him happy. Just a few biscuits a few you know. He is actually the CEO’s dog Karen Salama, so his name is Amstar. He’s based in San Francisco. All you know, he does exercise gets exercise. He’s like the models, you know, soft skills, dog exercise every day. He very social, eats well, it doesn’t stress, no stress.

Nick Schlemmer 21:31
That’s awesome. Is he just around the office throughout the day?

Elan Divon 21:35
He is. He loves to just walk around. Talk to people. He is the true apple of our eye.

Nick Schlemmer 21:43
Yeah, I’m sure everybody enjoys having having him around throughout the day. Absolutely.

Jack McFarlane 21:49
Definitely something every company should invest in as a chief happiness officer.

Nick Schlemmer 21:53
More I think, one of the first there.

Elan Divon 21:56
Yeah, yeah. Are you based in the same city? Are you?

Jack McFarlane 22:01
So we are, you know, like, our audience also knows we are students at the University of Nebraska. But we are technically in different cities right now. So yeah. Okay.

Nick Schlemmer 22:10

Elan Divon 22:13
Domination, the Play by Play.

Nick Schlemmer 22:16
That’s right. And just one more thing, before we wrap it up. Was there any other questions or anything that you wanted to ask us anything in particular?

Elan Divon 22:24
Well, you know, I love your perspective. I think your perspective is so important. How do you look at? Oh, you know, do you feel that what you’re learning, for example, I don’t know what stage you are in your degree. But, you know, do you feel that you’re getting everything you need to be ready for that next step? What are your concerns? Or, you know, I don’t wanna say fears, but concerns when you look at the workforce and what you need to do to be ready.

Nick Schlemmer 22:54
Okay, yeah, so I can talk a lot about this. We’re both freshmen in our programs, I was a business major. So I’m actually a junior, but we change to its Professional Golf Management, kind of like the business side of golf. So we’re just now in are just about to finish our first semester working, working with that. But I think that based on everything that they tell us, part of it is internships, we have I believe it’s 16 months of internships that we have to complete to get those real world experiences at a variety of different businesses and or golf courses. So I think that, like you said, mentioned earlier in the show is getting those experiences and facing those challenges in the real world is going to help out a lot for any future jobs that may come up.

Elan Divon 23:44
Interesting. So I think that yeah, the fact that you guys are have 14 or 16 months of internship. Yeah. That’s great.

Nick Schlemmer 23:52
Yep. So we’ll have the school side of things, you know, the normal, what you would expect. And then also, you had the real world experiences, University of Nebraska Lincoln, that’s almost in every major, they emphasize, are huge, and just doing community service or just outside experience that’s involved with every degree that they have there.

Jack McFarlane 24:13
And along with internships, we also do you go to seminars, as a PGA student you are you have to go to seminars, but those are a great way to network. That’s also a huge thing is networking. There are kind of excursions we take one day excursions to like Omaha Country Club and meet with all the executives there. And the last thing is we do a lot of well, not so much yet but we will be doing a lot of like business simulations is that the best way to put it Nick, I think where you run there is a it’s a fake, like made up public course private course and you have to run everything with it like as if it was your core. So I think they’re doing a really good job and getting building experience even when even if you’re just sitting in a classroom. It’s not just like you’re sitting there listening to the teacher talk. It’s it’s very nice.

Elan Divon 25:00
Great, that’s great to hear that that is the name of the game experience. It’s like taking action applying skills. That’s that’s what it’s about.

Nick Schlemmer 25:08
One other thing. Yeah. So like you mentioned in earlier in the show your two masters degrees, but you ended up mentioning that you weren’t fully prepared or for what the next step was going to be, to have everything you needed for that real world experience. I needed more than just the degree that says I completed this. Yes. So my question to you is, based on that, it’s more about who you know, than what you know, do you think that kind of comes into play now?

Elan Divon 25:39
110 million percent! I work with a lot of MBA students. And I’ll tell them, the number one asset of your MBA is your network, like, don’t compete because you guys are competing each other you guys, again, the same thing in college, I think, I’m going to this way, you’re all going to go your separate directions, initially, but a year two, three, and you’re going to have peers and call, you know, fellow students that you may know, who had a company that you’d love to get into, or you’re maybe you’re working at a company, now you want a client, you’re doing a sales pitch to a company that they’re in. People, you know, in the nonprofit world, they say, you know, people don’t give money, they don’t donate money to organizations, they give money to people give money to people. And the same thing with with doing business themselves. It’s a lot about based on likeability and trust. The problem today is there’s so many people, it’s such a busy world, you don’t know who you’re talking to. So if you so there’s no trust. So if someone reached out, which is out you blind, you don’t know Him and trust them. But if it’s coming through a friend or even an acquaintance from college, that hose all the way. So I think absolutely networking relationships is key.

Nick Schlemmer 26:53
Yeah, they just kind of tying that back to our program. They we have like a whole booklet of where every graduate has gone on all their internships. And we’re just basically using that as connections to, hey, he’s went here, we have another student looking to go here. He’d be a great fit, like just having that. That second say for the person that’s looking to hire you is huge.

Elan Divon 27:18
Just give me a thought maybe we need to do one Academy, we’ll have a booklet of our alumni as well. So that’s a great idea.

Jack McFarlane 27:23
Yeah, it is really nice, because then they send out, you know, golf courses will reach out to our program for looking for internships. So then it is nice to know that hey, you know, we’ve had two students from Nebraska, they were really good. Let’s get another one. So I think it is it’s a huge benefit to have that 100%. So I think these were some very good points. Man. We are very appreciative for you joining us. We appreciate your time. And I think we had a great time. I think I speak for both of us. It was amazing.

Nick Schlemmer 27:54
Yes very much, so thank you. Thank you for being here today.

Elan Divon 27:58
My pleasure. It was a pleasure speaking with you guys. You did a great job as hosts and goals and like questions, enjoy the conversation. And we’ll look forward to hearing it seeing it. Where you guys gonna post the podcast?

Jack McFarlane 28:12
Yeah, we post this on, Spotify, and really anywhere you can find your podcast. We just like to thank our audience for listening once again. If you have any questions, please reach out to that email at We really appreciate it. Hope you guys have a great day.

Nick Schlemmer 28:31
And also, thank you for joining us Elan. Thank you very much for being here. It was a great show. And I look forward to showing this to everybody else and thank you.

Elan Divon 28:41
My pleasure. Thank you guys. Great job.

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