Millennials in Search of a Different Kind of Career

According to a new poll, younger workers do in fact care less about money and more about fulfillment.

Robert Galbraith / Reuters

There have been many labels thrust upon the Millennial generation, especially when it comes to their work ethic. The group has been called lazy, entitled, and spoiled—but at the same time the generation has also been heralded for its collective innovation and desire to work for something other than money.

While America may still not know quite how to pin down the drive and desires of this generation, it does seem that their views on jobs and careers differ from their Boomer parents and the Gen Xers who came just before them. The most recent Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll separated respondents into a younger group of those “just starting out” and an older group of participants who were more established in order to determine whether or not these groups saw things differently on a variety of issues. In many instances there are, in fact, generational differences in perspective, but on some questions, Americans aren’t quite as far apart as they might seem.

When asked what their primary concern was during their first job, about 64 percent of older Americans talked about  making as much money as possible or learning new skills. When asked the same question, younger Americans were much more likely to say that their top priority was doing something that they found enjoyable or making a difference in society, with 57 percent choosing one of these options.

George Dimoulas, who is 30,  thinks that there’s a sweet spot between making money and pursuing personal interests. After working in fields of waste-management and energy for about 10 years, Dimoulas is freelancing and hoping to move from New York to New Hampshire so he can  pursue his passion for agriculture. “I worked a lot and then the price of oil fell, so the gig wasn’t as lucrative. I said, ‘I’ll take this opportunity to learn about things I wanted to learn about, and get a wider set of skills,” he says. For now he’s using the money he saved during the past decade, coupled with his earnings from some freelance gigs to give himself some free time to read and learn about new things, including agriculture. “I just want to explore and do something I enjoy,” he says.

Dimoulas’ views on work aren’t out of the ordinary, and neither is his decision to leave an employer for more flexible job options. The poll found differences when it came to what types of employers were  thought to offer the best salary, security, and overall opportunity. Older Americans were slightly more upbeat about the prospects of the public sector, with 29 percent saying that the government, military, and public schools were good places for jobs. For younger Americans, only about 22 percent agreed. Younger respondents however, were significantly keener on the idea of owning their own businesses, with nearly one-third ranking this option as the best employment scenario. Young minorities were significantly more likely than their white counterparts to reference owning their own business as the best job option. The differences likely nod to the fact that both younger, and minority workers tend to struggle with employment more than other groups within the labor force, and the fact that the recession took a particularly hard toll on employment prospects for these groups.

Since the recession, many Millennials have had to start their careers during a time of economic contraction with few traditional, full-time jobs available. And the unemployment rate for black and Hispanic Americans, which is normally higher than the national average, has also been persistently high since the recession. In fact 2015 was the first year since the Great Recession that the unemployment rate for black Americans receded to below the 10 percent mark. It makes sense then, that these groups that have faced especially difficult employment circumstances have their sights set on self-employment.

And while the majority of both younger and older Americans agreed that switching jobs within the same industry was the best bet for success, younger respondents were more likely to say that transitioning between industries in order to start a new career was okay, too. The audiences were more divided when it came to whether or not they had, or should, sit tight at a single company for their entire career. For older respondents, 53 percent said that they thought it would be better to spend the majority of their lives working for one employer. But the largest share of young respondents felt differently, with 49 percent saying that they expected to move from company to company rather than staying put.

“Most people that I know see a job as what my friend would call a ‘transient phenomenon,’” says Dimoulas. “You work for some years at something, but it’s really just a job. In two to five years you end up moving on.”

Carol Driver, who lives in Ohio and has children who range in age from 12 to 25, wants them to be prepared for change during the course of their careers. “Things have changed quite a bit. I am telling them, ‘Don’t always expect that whatever major you choose in college is going to be what your career is based upon,’” she says.

The growing acceptance of changing career trajectories and the necessity of updating skills may be why both older and younger groups largely agreed that going back to school was a worthwhile endeavor—despite the time away from the workforce and rising student-debt totals. Overall, 77 percent of respondents agreed that heading back into the classroom was a good investment.

Another area where both younger and older survey participants are in sync? Which industries they think are most likely to grow in the next decade. Respondents of all ages thought that technology, healthcare, and energy production were the areas most likely to produce an abundance of new jobs over the next 10 years.