By Joe Iley and Shepherd Laughlin for Protein Journal
It’s no secret that, with the economy being what it is, career prospects are not what they were a decade ago. Millennials are the generation faced with the most inhospitable employment market this side of the 1950’s. However they’re a plucky bunch, and are unwilling to throw in the towel just yet. In light of dwindling opportunities, millennials are carving out new career paths and creating new models of employment that fly in the face of the conventional career ladder.
To explore these dramatic cultural shifts, last year Protein conducted the Risk Survey, an investigation into how Millennials approach work and taking chances in an unpredictable job market. What we discovered was significant, and suggests that in light of the challenges they now face, Millennials are re-writing the employment rulebook.
A career is no longer the lifelong commitment it used to be. Where previous generations felt the ideal plan was to pick a career path and stick at it until you retired, young people today feel far less allegiance to a singular occupation. 84% of the respondents of our Risk Survey said that they’d prefer to have 10 jobs that each lasted two years rather than a single job that lasted 20 years. “They saw their parents get laid off from corporations that they had devoted many years to,” says marketing expert and author Bill Connolly. “As a result, Millennials don’t have loyalty to companies like their parents did.”
Another factor that differentiates them from previous generations is the hugely inflated debt they carry. Student debt in the US is $1.2 trillion and shows no sign of decreasing. As a result, young people are postponing ‘life events’ such as buying a home, getting married or saving for retirement for longer than their parents. The flipside of this sustained adolescence is that many remain free from financial dependents for longer. Our Risk Survey found that 46% felt they didn’t have any responsibilities at all. “There’s an expectation of having some time to figure things out on your own,” says Leslie Forman, an international career expert and entrepreneur based in Santiago, Chile. “What might be seen as an adult decision such as getting married or buying a house, I think for many people is seen as something you do after you launch your career.”
But freedom doesn’t mean a great deal when you don’t have the finances to support it. With their sub-average incomes Millennials are having to tighten their purse strings and seek value in new places. “Meaning is the new money.” Explains James Wallman, author of Stuffocation. “Rather than show off through physical goods, like previous generations used to, they are expressing their identities and getting status through experiences they can share through social media.” And the results of our Risk Survey support this, 62% of the respondents to our Risk Survey said that they’d quit their job tomorrow for a life changing adventure. They’d rather have the holiday of a lifetime than the sports car in the garage. Essentially how well they keep up with the Joneses isn’t about comparing the length of your driveway, but how many Instagram likes your holiday photos are averaging.
This reprioritization of finances has lead to a new attitude towards business ventures. With work being uncertain at the best of times Millennials are far more open to the idea of taking a chance and starting their own businesses. In fact a third of respondents already own and run their own business. This fearless entrepreneurial spirit is enabled by the increased connectedness of their constantly online lifestyles. Finding investors and supporters of a new project is easier than ever as crowd sourcing platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are capable of drumming up fiscal clout in a matter of days, just so long as you have the ability and nous to generate a bit of buzz, something this generation has in spades. And it’s not just strangers that are helping them make a living. Social media serves as constantly growing well of contacts that can serve as a safety net, should their traditional routes to employment fall through. Austin Kleon, author of Show Your Work!, puts it this way: “Imagine if your next boss didn’t have to read your résumé because he already reads your blog. Imagine losing your job but having a social network of people familiar with your work and ready to help you find a new one. Imagine turning a side project or a hobby into your profession because you had a following that could support you.”
In spite of uncertain prospects and the real possibility of failure, Millennials are embracing risk and turning to entrepreneurship like no previous generation. It’s a fundamental part of Millennials’ lives and careers, and they’re not waiting around for that to change.