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Last month, a class of grad­u­at­ed into one of the strangest job mar­kets in mod­ern Amer­i­can his­to­ry. Every year, the Nation­al Soci­ety of High School Schol­ars con­ducts its Inter­est Sur­vey, which asks high-achiev­ing high school and col­lege stu­dents what they plan and hope for in their future careers. This year, in the midst of the pan­dem­ic, 14,000 stu­dents respond­ed to the sur­vey — 72 per­cent of whom were women. Although this doesn’t quite match up to the gen­der demo­graph­ics of those who attend col­lege, it is true that 56 per­cent of col­lege stu­dents are now women, and that num­ber is grow­ing. 

Gen Z includes any­one born after 1997, and with 90 mil­lion mem­bers, it’s big­ger than the gen­er­a­tions pre­ced­ing it. Gen Zs have lived through 9/11, the 2007 reces­sion, the COVID-19 cri­sis and now the cur­rent move­ment around racial jus­tice. Their lives have been marked by eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal tur­moil, and their pref­er­ences about employ­ers reflect that. “This is a group of empow­ered young adults who intend to shape the prob­lems and oppor­tu­ni­ties they face, not stand on the side­lines,” says James Lewis, the pres­i­dent of NSHSS. “They told us human rights was their pri­ma­ry con­cern, fol­lowed by health­care and edu­ca­tion. Gen Z will be bring­ing their social jus­tice agen­da to the work­place — they expect future employ­ers to reflect their con­vic­tions, includ­ing hav­ing women and racial­ly diverse indi­vid­u­als in posi­tions.” Read on to find out more about what Gen Zs will want from their employ­ers.

Medical careers are top of mind

Across the gen­der spec­trum, high-achiev­ing Gen Zs show a big pref­er­ence for STEM careers. “Many stu­dents are plan­ning ahead for STEM careers, with health (30 per­cent) and sci­ence (29 per­cent) as their cur­rent or intend­ed under­grad­u­ate majors, fol­lowed by busi­ness (18 per­cent),” the study’s authors write. “The top three fields stu­dents expect to work in the future are medicine/health (37 per­cent); sci­ences (17 per­cent); and biology/biotechnology (17 per­cent).”

“STEM-med­ical was over­whelm­ing­ly cho­sen as the most pop­u­lar field of study, and jobs in hos­pi­tals were the most desired places to work,” Lewis says. “As a nation, we have made strides in mak­ing STEM a pri­or­i­ty, but we need to raise the bar and sup­port all young peo­ple, and par­tic­u­lar­ly women and stu­dents of col­or. Gen Z women are twice as like­ly to attend med­ical school.”

Relat­ed: 41 Per­cent of Gen Z‑ers Plan to Become Entre­pre­neurs (Info­graph­ic)

No separation between work and politics

This will be the most vocal and politi­cized gen­er­a­tion to enter the work­force yet, and they will expect their employ­ers to take a stand on issues they care about. “In a world over­whelmed by the cur­rent racial cri­sis, glob­al pan­dem­ic, cli­mate change, #MeToo, and more, Gen Zs want their employ­ers to reflect on their social jus­tice con­vic­tions,” the study’s authors write. “A major­i­ty (62 per­cent) sug­gest it is extreme­ly or very impor­tant to have women in lead­er­ship posi­tions, and 63 per­cent believe the same of racial diver­si­ty in lead­er­ship. Human rights (40 per­cent ), healthcare/health (39 per­cent), and edu­ca­tion (37 per­cent) are the issues they care about most.”

Skills, skills, skills

It’s safe to assume that most of us had a job or two out of col­lege that boiled down to push­ing paper. But Gen Zs are not keen on the idea of work­ing to col­lect a pay­check. The num­ber one thing Gen Zs are look­ing for in an employ­er, with 72 per­cent of sur­vey respon­dents in agree­ment, is their employer’s invest­ment in their devel­op­ment of tan­gi­ble skills. “The main dri­ver for future will be where they can acquire the skills they need to advance in their careers,” Lewis says.

Money matters

Gen Zs are anx­ious about their eco­nom­ic prospects. They are con­sci­en­tious about going into debt for edu­ca­tion, with 90 per­cent of high school­ers say­ing they plan to apply for schol­ar­ships, even as 48 per­cent say­ing they expect to leave col­lege with more than $10,000 in stu­dent loans. “Near­ly two-thirds (65 per­cent) expect to have a job while in col­lege,” the sur­vey authors write. “While opti­mistic about find­ing a job with­in one year of grad­u­a­tion (84 per­cent), over half (56 per­cent) expect to be liv­ing at home when they begin that job. It is impor­tant to note that this sen­ti­ment exist­ed at these lev­els pri­or to COVID-19.”

Relat­ed: Gen Z Brings a Whole New Dynam­ic to the Work­force

Benefits or bust

Inter­est­ing­ly, while Gen Zs are very finan­cial­ly aware, they have been privy to the ongo­ing debate around health­care and wit­nessed the sys­tem over­whelmed dur­ing COVID-19. All of this has giv­en them the per­spec­tive that hav­ing good health insur­ance is more impor­tant than receiv­ing a high salary. “This might be the first gen­er­a­tion to say that health­care ben­e­fits mat­ter most in a job,” says Lewis, “even more than salary or flex­i­ble work sched­ules.”

The job hunt is not on social media

Much had been made of Gen Z being the gen­er­a­tion that lives on social media, but they seem to have more tra­di­tion­al ideas on how to find jobs and fig­ure out if they’re the right fit. “While a company’s web­site is the go-to source for infor­ma­tion, these stu­dents want human inter­ac­tion —  with their school’s career coun­selor (51 per­cent) or by attend­ing job fairs (48 per­cent). Social media was not a pri­ma­ry chan­nel for career research.”

In employers, they want balance and belonging

Once you’ve checked the big box­es like sol­id health­care ben­e­fits and a social jus­tice mis­sion, Gen Zs want their work­places to be bal­anced and wel­com­ing places. “When con­sid­er­ing employ­ers,” the study’s authors write, “stu­dents look first to work/life bal­ance (61 per­cent), then to a wel­com­ing atmos­phere (43 per­cent), and friend­ly col­leagues (33 per­cent).”

Big Tech companies are no longer the hottest ticket in town

Every year, respon­dents rank their 100 most desir­able employ­ers, and 2020’s top three were all med­ical facil­i­ties: local hos­pi­tals, St. Jude and the Mayo Clin­ic. Walt Dis­ney Com­pa­ny is No. 4, and Google comes in at No. 5, a demo­tion from its No. 2 spot in 2018. That sets the tone for the rest of the list. “Com­pared to 2018, schol­ars sur­veyed in 2020 show less inter­est in being employed by Big Tech, social media and bev­er­age giants (Coca-Cola, Star­bucks), and more inter­est in sports, gov­ern­men­tal agen­cies and enter­tain­ment orga­ni­za­tions.”

Relat­ed: Smart Brands Won’t Gen­er­al­ize When It Comes to Gen Z

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