Preface to Our Book, by Suzanne Skees
The World You Were Born Into—and the Pandemic You Graduated Into
You Entered a World of Trauma
You entered life during the Great Recession, watching your Millennial and Gen X/Y parents lose their jobs, homes, and an average 45 percent of net worth; perhaps that’s how you turned out so frugal. Now, unlike your predecessors, you earn your own spending money—even as a teenager (77%). You exhibit self-reliance and a drive to earn money that surpasses any earlier generation.
Your earliest memory may be the 9-11-2001 terrorist attacks on the New York City World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and Flight 93—or, perhaps you’re too young to have a conscious memory, but its history is written deep inside you. Front of mind may be the Parkland High School and far too many other mass shootings, as well as the “Me Too” movement. These pivotal events shaped you during your formative years.
You literally grew up with post-traumatic stress already in your bloodstream. No wonder your top priorities for your career are finding personal stability and creating global impact: You wish to be safe and secure and make the world so, as well.
You Graduated into an Era of COVID
Now, whether you’re navigating unemployment forms, online coursework, or drive-through commencement ceremonies, you’ve suddenly been propelled into a global reality you might not have believed prior to 2020: the COVID era. You may have moved home from college or retreated deep into your room, hoping the pandemic would quickly pass, only to discover that the virus morphs and invades not just every geographic area but every aspect of your life.
Nearly one third of Gen Zers aged sixteen and up have lost a job this year; many students cannot find part-time or summer work. Because so many of you worked in high-risk industries such as hospitality and transportation, you’ve been hit disproportionately by the loss of jobs that may never return. Gen Zers face accompanying depression, isolation, and—I would proffer—powerlessness in the face of what used to seem like your future.
The good news is, you belong to a generation unprecedented in its creative adaptability and problem-solving skills.
Adaptive Coping Skills for a Head-Spinning World
What Gen Z Values
Despite your natural savvy for technology, you still prefer real-life, in-person interactions. You value communications and problem-solving (as contrasted with Millennials’ reading and math skills) as the top two assets needed in the workplace. Often, you turn to YouTube (85% viewed at least one teaching video this week) to learn new skills. And why not? It’s free and often, far more relevant than a college course that costs a lifetime of debt.
When seeking employment, you value a fun environment and flexible work environment over training, promotions, and paid time off.
The Demands of Constant Adaptation
The work world to which you must adapt changes almost too rapidly for you to keep pace. And you face challenges far beyond your predecessors:
- Artificial intelligence
- Constant online connectivity
- Globalization versus nationalism
- Rising cost of living, looming recession, and unbearable college debt
- Irrelevance of academic study to actual job skills needed
- Climate change and weather crises
- School and public-venue shootings and pervasive lack of safety
- Income and job instability
- Gig economy and the need to work several jobs
- Lack of benefits such as medical insurance and retirement pensions
- Outdated workplaces run on bureaucratic tradition over innovation
Always Having To Hustle
Career options have shifted from industry and service to technology and marketing; now it seems that jobs are all about the gig economy—cobbling together enough contracts to pay the bills—and the hustle—selling yourself and/or your idea or product.
No Safety Net, from the Office to the White House
No Job Security, No Retirement Funds
An astonishing one in ten Gen Zers (as young as 14) have already begun to save for retirement. You hope for but don’t expect supplemental government experience. The numbers have transposed when it comes to debt: Millennials accepted college debt as a part of life, but one in five Gen Zers wish to avoid personal debt of any kind.
There is no security, no guarantee that your job will last; people rarely stay sixteen years in one job as I have with Skees Family Foundation, or forty years as my father did with Standard Register. There is no safety net of decent insurance or retirement plans. I think workers feel far more isolated and stressed because of this.
The workplace mirrors the family in that there is no web of support, no integral system of mentors and cohorts to see you through the changes of time, talent, parenting, health issues, financial hardship, and life milestones.
Gen Zers Feel They’re on Their Own
As networked as this smaller world has become through instant online “connection,” our careers and personal lives offer no guarantees for the future and no positive reviews of our efforts. It’s as if each worker strives alone on a little boat in an increasingly lonely ocean.
The Surprising Shift in Gen Z’s Views
Proclivity Toward Authentic Interactions
Perhaps Gen Zers will shift their way of working back to being in-person—even if onscreen across space—sharing tea and stories about their gym workout or human-rights march last weekend, praising each other’s efforts and inspiring one another to try harder, and creating ways of being community in profound and lasting work-relationships that will fulfill team members even as we build better products and services.
They resemble Boomers—their parents/grandparents—in that they’re earnest, hardworking, and driven by traditional views of success (money, education, career). However, this generation is writing new rules that favor liberal – almost radical – viewpoints on things like race, gender, identity and sexuality.
“They have views that look a lot more like parents and grandparents, probably older generations, Gen X, in their attitudes, but then they have hyper-connectivity. It’s sort of this intersection of mobile first, mobile connected but traditional views, traditional values,” reports Jeff Fromm, partner at Barkley advertising agency and author of Marketing to Millennials, which did a study on Gen Z along with FutureCast. Pointing out that GenZers grew up “post-digital,” without the need to adapt to technology, they conclude that this is a generation of “old souls in young bodies.”
Success Comes from Hard Work, Not Luck
Also opposite of Millennials, 63 percent of whom believe career success depends on luck, 69 percent of Gen Zers attribute success to hard work.
Who’s in This Book, and Why
Research on Versus Feedback from Gen Z
We found substantial material on how to market to Generation Z. Why? Because they’re a goldmine: the largest consumer base on Earth. However—partly due to their youth, which means most are just embarking on their careers—slim pickins’ turned up on the topic of Gen Z at work.
So, we decided to ask: Who are you, what are your dream jobs, and where are you now in relation to those dreams?
I realize that, given my rather advanced age (I’m in my fifties), I’ve been listening to “job stories” for as long as Gen Zers have been alive. Hundreds of laborers, farmers, teachers, artists, designers, factory workers, activists, accountants, and others of all ages and nationalities have shared with me what it’s really like to do the work they do. Because I work for a nonprofit with a mission to create dignified jobs to end global poverty—i.e., to provide training for and equal access to jobs with fair wages that enable individuals to provide for themselves and build a prosperous life—I view a job as far more than a way to earn a paycheck.
Hundreds of interviews and articles, and now three books, have convinced me that our jobs have the power to build or shatter our self-esteem and wellbeing; what we “do” influences our identity; and what we earn ripples out far beyond our own bank accounts, into our families and communities and even our nations’ GDP (gross domestic product, a measure of wealth).
What Do We Have in Common?–Jobs
If we don’t have a job, our risk for both physical and mental illnesses skyrockets, while our self-confidence plummets. Conversely, if everyone who wants to work and/or needs the income has empowered choices about what they do, our society runs like clockwork with all the roads and buildings, hospitals and schools, entertainment and services, well supplied.
What I discovered when listening to people’s job stories is that they have the power to unite us, because everyone has, had, or will have a job. We’ve all worked long hours without recognition, striven extra hard to meet a deadline, benefited from camaraderie among our coworkers, endured a horrible boss, and celebrated a promotion or raise. Despite differences in gender, politics, culture, and religion, sharing our job stories unites us as human beings.
The Story of a Job = The Story of a Human Life
What has surprised me in my work to support job creation and document job stories is the way that every single person I’ve interviewed has opened up to share far more than what they do at work. Humans are multidimensional, after all: We take our whole selves with us to the office. Our family dynamics, early trauma, romantic attractions, fears and dreams, all come to work with us and impact our workplace. Sometimes, we know our coworkers more intimately than those at home. Always, we discover our potential through the challenges, injustices, and feedback that we get on the job.
The Complex World Gen Zers Face
Because I know and love many members of Generation Z in my personal life, I became intrigued by the way they approach work. I wondered how they would react to the gig economy, robotics, artificial intelligence, über-rapidly developing technology, and globalization. Even for Gen Zers still in school, it seemed their career choices could seem paralyzingly complex and the work-world frighteningly competitive. I wanted to learn more—not just about them but from them.
Statistics Compared to Our Survey
Turns out, the results of our Gen Z survey aligned with industry statistics on Gen Z (what makes you unique and how you approach work) and provided insight into where young people clock in right now, en route to their career goals or—often—already in their dream jobs.
Witnessing the Power of Gen Z
To Sanam and me, these extraordinary, unknown Gen Z ers prove that anyone reading these pages can aspire to and reach their dreams. And just to amplify that message—and provide further inspiration—we’ve also highlighted Gen Z ers in the media who’ve earned fortunes and fame, invented companies and products, and wielded influence and impact in their communities and far beyond.
The power and influence of the largest portion of Earth’s population and workforce may also be our brightest hope for the future.
This post comes to you as a portion of the book:
MY JOB Gen Z: Finding Your Place in a Fast-Changing World
(c) 2021 by Suzanne Skees and Sanam Yusuf
An open-source, narrative nonfiction book full of true stories of jobs along with best practices for how to make your dream-job come true.
Note from the authors:
Join us each Tuesday and Friday as we release highlights from our new book, that will be FREE to our community members.
Share with your friends and followers; it’s FREE, open-source, and available to everyone.
No one makes a penny on this book project, which is intended to inspire and empower Gen Zers to launch their careers and land their dream jobs. Suzanne and Sanam have volunteered their time, and we’ve chosen this platform to transmit our book so that YOU don’t have to pay for publication costs.
However, if you feel inspired to help someone in poverty to have access to dignified work, jump here to donate directly to the nonprofit job-creation program of your choice–all vetted and supported by Skees Family Foundation.
Thanks for being with us! We’re excited to share our book with you.
–Suzanne & Sanam