The illiterate of the 21st century are not those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. — Alvin Toffler (1991)

Toward the end of the 20th century, late author and futurist Alvin Toffler correctly predicted a 21st-century shift to a knowledge- and human-skills-based economy. Today, nearly three decades later, at the outset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Generation Z is faced with unprecedented challenges including rapid technological change, much of which will replace entire categories of jobs. How do we prepare young people for the complex, uncertain, and dynamic environment they will meet in adulthood?

According to KnowledgeWorks Foundation’s recent education foresight report, The Future of Learning: Redefining Readiness from the Inside Out, work is becoming progressively more grounded in relating and interwoven with learning. A person’s ability to relate to and work with others is increasingly determining employment success. Leading-edge work today is already collaborative, team-driven, collegial, and inclusive. In this new era, career success comes from building social relationships and work communities of all kinds to support learning, collaboration, and innovation. Empathy and perspective of others is critical for building inclusive work environments that are truly collaborative, innovative, and adaptable (Prince, Saveri, & Swanson, 2017). In response to these important changes, camp experiences have never been more valuable to youth education and development. Overnight and day camps prepare children, teens, and their adult mentors with opportunities to practice managing their emotions, cultivating relationships, using executive function skills, and balancing confidence with humility. In camp communities, young people learn the importance of character, integrity, personal and collective responsibility, altruistic contribution, respect for others, and self-respect.

According to Klaus Schwab, chairman and founder of the World Economic Forum, one of the greatest challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is that it must be human-led and human-centered. Technological change can feel overwhelming, and the temptation is to think it is impossible to control or direct and that nothing can be done about technologies influencing behavior. We must resist this limited thinking. In his recent book, Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Schwab says this new age requires that we adopt a new mindset and value human decision-making and agency, designing systems that harness new technologies to give people more choice, opportunities, freedom, and control over their lives. Schwab further notes that this imperative is particularly important given the ways that emerging technologies advance machines that can act without human input and can influence our behavior in overt and subtle ways. Emerging technologies can assess and make decisions based on data that no human can process. They can alter the building blocks of life itself, including human beings yet to be born, and via digital networks they will spread far more quickly than any previous phase of technological development (Schwab & Davis, 2018).

The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production, causing predominantly rural and agrarian societies to become increasingly urban and industrialized (The Economist, 2012). The Second Industrial Revolution used electric power to create mass production of technological advances such as the telephone, light bulb, and internal combustion engine. During this period many preexisting industries experienced growth; and new industries, such as steel, electricity, and oil, emerged (Richmond Vale Academy, 2016). The Third Industrial Revolution, also known as the Digital Revolution, saw technology advance from mechanical and analog electronic devices to digital ones. Developments during this period included many communications and information technologies, among them the personal computer, the Internet, cell phones, and smartphones. These technologies affected many established industries, causing significant elimination of middlemen, and enabled the creation of new ones such as computer hardware and software development, web development, and mobile communications (The Economist, 2012).

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is unfolding around us today, builds upon the technological advancements that emerged during the Third Industrial Revolution to represent new ways in which emerging technologies will become embedded in our organizations, communities, and even in our bodies. According to Schwab, this industrial revolution is characterized by:

  • advancements in computing technologies
  • blockchain technologies
  • the Internet of Things
  • artificial intelligence and robotics
  • advanced materials
  • additive manufacturing and multidimensional printing
  • biotechnologies
  • neurotechnologies
  • virtual and augmented realities
  • energy capture
  • storage and transmission
  • geoengineering
  • space technologies

These technologies will be increasingly wearable, embedded in the world around us, connected to other devices, and smart (Schwab & Davis, 2018). It is important that we teach young people to harness technologies into useful tools rather than allowing technologies to control them. We must coach Generation Z to employ design thinking, particularly human-centered design, and values-based leadership to shape technologies to support more empowered and sustainable communities.

The onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution necessitates that young people today develop a strong, resilient, and reflective inner self to be successful in this human-skills-centered economy. They must have deeply empathic social and emotional learning skills to support learning, collaboration, and innovation in diverse work teams. They must place a high value on the practice of inclusion and emotional safety where they and their teammates feel they can collaborate openly and take risks without negative consequences. Creating trust and psychological safety is essential in a human-centered economy. How does society best prepare Generation Z for this new age?

Overnight and day camps, as well as other intentional, out-of-school, camp-like experiences, are excellent social and emotional educational opportunities for Gen Z youngsters to safely learn the skills that the Fourth Industrial Revolution requires in tandem with their traditional academic learning programs. Intentional camp experiences are well-designed, human-powered, educational adventures that provide immersive social environments in which children, teens, and adults are offered caring relationships, a sense of purpose, belonging, appropriate autonomy, and a chance to challenge themselves and feel powerful. At camp, young people explore their self-identity, try new things, and take positive risks. They learn to be contributing members of a collective group and a larger community. A session at camp is an opportunity to discover their strengths, weaknesses, passions, and emotional patterns. Campers and staff learn to have confidence in what they know, as well as humility around competencies they don’t yet possess and a will to try to figure it out.

At camp, often based in natural settings away from helicopter parents, smartphones, and other technological distractions, children, teens, and adults can focus on their relating, reflection, curiosity, and community skills. At camp everyone learns citizenship skills: sharing responsibility, focusing on team, creating trust and psychological safety, contribution, and altruism. Everyone learns to practice listening more, advocating for their own ideas and learning to agree to disagree without feeling personally violated. Adults and children alike learn greater self-control, managing nonproductive emotions and practicing shifting to more productive emotional states.

Today, Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies are already changing the structure of work, due in large part to the lower costs afforded by the Internet and access to an expanded labor pool resulting from globalization. The Internet is making it increasingly cost-effective for firms to access people with specialized skills on the open market instead of employing people full-time. According to KnowledgeWorks Foundation, these shifts are contributing to shortening employment tenure, the spread of project-based work, and the rise of “taskification.” Taskification refers to the breaking down of formal jobs into discrete tasks, often at lower wages and with informal job structures. CloudFactory and Amazon Mechanical Turk are examples of online, crowd-sourced marketplaces where individuals and businesses coordinate on human intelligence tasks that computers are currently unable to complete. These sites are designed to offer businesses time-saving, global, 24/7, on-demand, scaled access to top talent with no long-term commitments or hidden fees (Prince, Saveri, & Swanson, 2017). As Gen Z enters the workforce, they will increasingly view short-term employment, project-based work, and taskification as the new normal.

The changing nature of work makes it critical for children, teens, and adults to develop an everyday learner growth mindset and become more adaptable and comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. It is not uncommon for young people in Generation Z to seek perfection and avoid mistakes with a fixed mindset. Young people who possess a fixed mindset believe their strengths are innate gifts that can’t be developed and focus on perfecting their abilities. These young people avoid challenges, give up easily, avoid useful feedback, and feel threatened by the success of others. They may have been bubble-wrapped by unknowing, overprotective parents who are fearfully doing their best to parent a physically safe, but emotionally vulnerable child. By learning and practicing a growth mindset, young people discover how to embrace challenges and become more comfortable making mistakes. They become more resilient by learning to persist in the face of setbacks and see effort and strategy as the path to mastery. They find lessons and inspiration in the success of others and embrace criticism. They learn that their strengths can be developed with effort, reaching higher levels of ability and a greater sense of free will (Dweck, 2007).

Overnight and day camps are growth mindset learning communities that nurture psychological safety and healthy risk-taking, where children, teens, and adults are encouraged to reach beyond their comfort zones. Camps are intentionally designed, safe, youth-centered environments where learning from failure is celebrated as a major tool that adolescents use to shape their identities. At camp, children, teens, and adults are surrounded by and immersed in a community that embraces perseverance, passion, creativity, positivity, and purpose. When they make mistakes, their learning, persistence, practice, and grit are celebrated. This reinforces the traits of a growth mindset, which will positively impact the rest of their lives.

How do we prepare Generation Z for the complex, uncertain, and dynamic environment they will face in adulthood? Camps have a tremendous opportunity to empower these young people with 21st-century competencies such as critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, communication, and collaboration. Intentional overnight and day camps are exceptionally adept at teaching and practicing core social and emotional learning skills such as curiosity, initiative, persistence, adaptability, leadership, empathy, and self-awareness. We must endeavor to partner with schools and other out-of-school-time providers to offer empowering camp experiences to every child, teen, and young adult. The skills, competencies, and character values we can teach them will help them mold evolving Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies into systems in which positive, unifying societal values are prioritized and lead to offering future generations greater agency, community support, freedom, and control over their lives.

Photo courtesy of Camp Shalom Inc., Davenport, Iowa.


Tom Rosenberg is the president/CEO of the American Camp Association.