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Survey Unveils Career Interests and Motivations of Generation Z

Guest Contributor


Parents today, especially parents of teenagers, face unique challenges in raising kids in a digital era that's dense with endless exposure, opinions and perspectives.

The level of decision-making can feel overwhelming. But with these changing times comes greater opportunity to explore which pursuits will offer the greatest meaning and fulfillment in young adults' lives. And that’s exciting for parents as well as young people.

Among the most interesting and widely-discussed groups is Generation Z, or "Gen Z" for short. As the demographic cohort that follows Millennials, Gen Z is made up of people born between the mid- to late-1990s and mid-2000s. Today, this generation (your kids!) is in high school or college and starting to think about and plan for their future careers.

Understanding the Career Interests of Gen Z

The National Society of High School Scholars, or “NSHSS” for short, is an organization deeply immersed in both the academic and career interests of this blooming demographic cohort. 

Each year, the NSHSS sets out to discover and share the most current research on the preferences, attitudes and goals of high-achieving high school and college-aged individuals in areas of education, employment, international experience, career planning, and social and civic dedication.

The resulting in-depth Career Interest Survey provides a focused look at Gen Z and offers a useful resource for employers seeking to engage and retain diverse talent who promise to bring distinct skills and expectations to the workforce.

The survey is also a great resource for parents who'd like to understand their Gen Z students' mindset and how to best support them through the next stage of their lives.

The most current edition of the survey reports findings from 2018, which are summed up in this infographic and elaborated upon below. Keep reading!

Survey Unveils the Career Interests & Motivations of Generation Z

About the 2018 NSHSS Career Interest Survey

The 2018 Career Interest Survey offers the most current research on Gen Z and provides an encapsulated glimpse into the most formative period of pre- and early professional growth for young people.

Born between 1996 and 2004, this generation ranges from those entering high school to those completing undergraduate college, and accounts for 61 million people in the U.S., which is larger than Gen X and Millennials. It is an emerging workforce that holds great promise, significant expectations, and new challenges.

While Gen Z is entering the workforce with a distinct set of hard and soft skills, there has been significant growing interest in social justice and activism. In short, this generation has high expectations for themselves, their employment journey, and their employers.

The Career Interest Survey highlights four distinct and notable themes about this emerging group:

  1. Economic security
  2. Politics and purpose
  3. Technology and STEM
  4. Career path

Themes Shaping Gen Z's Decision Making and Worldview

When assessing the driving factors behind the promising young adults of today, four main themes emerge: economic security, politics and purpose, technology and STEM, and career path.

First, it's immediately clear that Gen Z cares about the timely sociopolitical issues of the day.

#NeverAgain, #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter and #ClimateChange are not "someone else’s cause" but also personal reflections of the worldview of a generation motivated by purpose. Also personal are the views they have on how work and career should play in their lives. 

Second, Generation Z hold themselves and their employers to high expectations.

They anticipate that they will find themselves in meaningful employment within six months of college graduation. They're also a fiscally pragmatic group, having grown up amidst the lasting economic impact of events like the Great Recession and the student debt crisis that have taken real tolls in the lives of their families and friends. They feel the financial pressure of the era they are born into, and are making plans accordingly.

Third, Generation Z was born into technology.

Unlike Generation X and the Millennials, members of Gen Z have been using digital technology since a young age, and are highly proficient with the Internet and using social media. They live their lives with instantaneous and persistent communication loops available across endless devices. As a generation born into a world of technology, they are the first to report a distinct shift toward STEM-related fields of study.

Putting the Spotlight on Politics and Purpose

Generation Z is described as fundamentally rational across many areas, and activism follows that theme. They describe themselves as very interested in social justice. They are civic-minded and politically engaged.

Many say they have experienced issues like bullying, gender inequality and racial inequality firsthand. Virtually all cite awareness and care about timely social issues of race relations, police brutality, gun violence and more. 

They use their mobile connections to give their voices to these causes against the juxtaposition of polarizing politics, “fake news,” “witch hunts,” trolls and more. They are shaping history as a committed, vocal generation.

For these high-achieving Gen Zers, volunteering to support causes of personal importance and voicing their beliefs on issues may translate into action on a larger scale, but their desire to hold political office has diminished. The majority of scholars (63%) say they aren't interested in running for office, compared with 61% in 2017.

However, this does not point to apathy. While most aren’t interested in running for political office, 83% plan to be somewhat or very involved in politics in the coming years. 

For more information about the 2018 Career Interest Survey, see the full report

Chris Everett is a content marketing specialist for the National Society of High School Scholars. Chris is also a family man with two young children of his own who he raises alongside his wife Erin in Atlanta, Georgia.
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