Economic Uncertainty is Impacting Gen Z Career Goals

Going into 2019, there was a lot of talk about what the year would bring, particularly for Gen Z, today’s youngest working population. With more than 70 million of these students seeking employment over the summer, and another 220 million still enrolled in higher education, Gen Z continues outpacing its predecessors in size and scope. 

Running parallel to these developments, 2019 brought about trade tensions between the world’s superpowers, a slowdown in economic growth, and a growing air of uncertainty. Now, well into the fourth quarter, it’s as good a time as any to start reflecting on what took place — and how this is impacting the Gen Z worker. 

A 2019 Overview 

When it comes time to write the history of 2019, the books will likely point to unrest around the globe, and without rehashing everything that happened, let’s consider a few pertinent highlights: 

U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping planned and implemented increased tariffs against one another’s country, causing the markets to fluctuate wildly. Japan enacted similar restrictions against South Korea, in response to a court ruling. While the UK danced around a decision, France mulled over the possible employment outcomes of a Brexit deal or no deal. Elsewhere in Europe, Italy saw its public debts rise by 135 percent, while the German economy contracted, due to decreasing demand for the country’s chief exports. Red lights flashing, the Financial Times, covering bank job cuts near 30,000 between April and August, cited failing interest rates, weak trading volumes, and moves toward automation as the main culprits. 

The response to these and other key headlines has sounded an almost immediate call for alarm, Put mildly, 2019 showed signs of political strain and recession at every turn, particularly in the 12 largest economies. 

What Gen Z Thinks About Their Career Prospects 

Having only recently started to enter into the job market, Gen Z approaches the start of their careers with a fresh perspective, free from professional fatigue or personal baggage. That said, they’re not exempt from outside influence and have grown up under their own set of unique experiences. In conducting this year’s World’s Most Attractive Employer survey research, Universum engaged 247,235 business and engineering/IT students to uncover the brands and employment attributes most desired in 2019. Unsurprisingly, the challenges facing the economies mentioned above appeared consistently throughout the results. 

While many of the top brands remained the same, what makes employment attractive is changing. From these two distinct student populations, we identified two unique outlooks about work, displaying very different motivations. Accounting for 35 percent of those students surveyed, Gen Z Entrepreneurs crave a creative and dynamic work environment, one that allows for innovation along with hyper-growth and leadership opportunities. These are the students who want to use their careers to make an impact, even if that means less secure employment, work-life balance, prestige, and pay. These are students inspired by today’s tumultuous circumstances, who wish to be the change the world needs. 

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In contrast to the Entrepreneurs, comprising 53 percent of respondents, are the Gen Z Security Seekers. These are students entering the workplace in search of job security, work-life balance, and a friendly and respectful working environment. In response to economic uncertainty, this suggests the majority of Gen Z students are seeking a safe haven, while the Gen Z Entrepreneurs are taking a more confident, constructive, and proactive route through the challenges they see ahead.

What Gen Z Says About Work 

The two factions aside, Gen Z recognizes that change won’t happen overnight. In response to the ongoing tariff talks or fear of another recession, these students are planning for an uncertain future, one that’s likely to evolve as the economic trade winds blow. 

As a result, they’re showing less interest in working internationally, likely due to growing tensions between counties. The drop, seen in this report over the last three years, corresponds with a general increase in preference for national organizations over multinationals, as evidenced by country-specific data. In China, for example, the report shows a significant decline in the ranking of foreign banks as potential employers, while domestic banks improved their relative position. The finding could be because of the ongoing trade war between China and the U.S. as well as rising nationalism in many markets. Russia also stood out as an outlier, with its participants less in favor of innovation or creative and dynamic work environments. Russian students were also less enthused about popular industries, like automotive. 

Though largely new to the world of work, Gen Z is acutely aware of what’s going on around them, and how a downturn in the global economy could impact their career opportunities. In planning to launch their careers, today’s students are considering these factors before making their move, with a significant divide between those ‘hunkering down’ and those confident in their ability to rise above the turbulence and find their own way.   

Richard Mosley, Universum’s Global VP of strategy, is recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on employer brand management. He brings over 25 years of experience in brand, HR, and recruitment consulting. He co-authored the first book on the subject The Employer Brand (Wiley 2005), followed by Employer Brand Management, Practical Lessons from the World’s Leading Employers (Wiley 2014), and Employer Branding for Dummies (2017). He has led more than 50 employer branding projects over the last 10 years, including EVP development for Bacardi, BP, eBay, Ferrero, GSK, HSBC, JTI, the LEGO Group, Met Life, PepsiCo, Santander, Unilever, and Verizon.

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