This is what the future looks like for Gen Z and their careers

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted each and every age group differently. From disproportionately killing older Americans to forcing children to learn completely online, no cohort has been unaffected. Generation Z is a group that is particularly affected by the pandemic and the social distancing measures put in place to slow the spread of the virus.

Members of Generation Z are those born after 1996, meaning the oldest of Gen Z is 23-years-old. Members of Gen Z are largely dealing with online learning, but the very oldest of them are graduating college (virtually) amid the pandemic and either entered the workforce last year or are attempting to enter it now. Either way, Gen Zers are dealing with both a global health crisis and an unprecedented economic downturn at the very beginning of their careers. Ladders spoke with experts to find out how the coronavirus pandemic will affect the careers of Gen Zers, both in the long and short term, and find out advice on how members of Generation Z can navigate these difficult times.

How the coronavirus pandemic has already affected members of Generation Z

Brainly, an online learning community, and educational technology company, recently surveyed 3,102 of its users. It’s Generation Z users who answered questions about their summer internships and the state of their employment.

Here are the main findings from the survey:

  • 50% of respondents said they lost their summer job due to COVID-19
  • 56% of those respondents said their jobs will be in-person
  • Nearly 58% of respondents said their internship has been canceled due to COVID-19
  • 41% of respondents who still have an internship said their internships will be held in-person
  • Due to current pandemic, 37% of respondents have anticipated making up to $2,500 this summer
  • 13% reported “employment” as a source of anxiety during the pandemic

Lessons from the Great Recession

According to research done by Lisa B. Kahn, an economics professor at the University of Rochester, recessions have long-lasting impacts on the careers of recent college graduates.

The Great Recession shrank the U.S. workforce by 8.8 million jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor StatisticsWhen the recession came to a close in June 2009, the unemployment rate of college graduates ages 20 to 24 was 10.8%, which was higher than the national rate of 9.5%, according to Federal Reserve Economic Data. In April, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the unemployment rate of college graduates was 17.2%.

Employment during a recession has various struggles. Even those who do land jobs in a recession after graduating are at disadvantages. With extremely limited opportunities, professionals will start in jobs that are a worse fit for them. After the recession ends, they will compete for jobs with professionals who have more experience than them. Entering into the job market during a recession also tends to make you more afraid of risk in your career. Kahn’s research demonstrated that people who graduate into a recession don’t change jobs as often as people that graduate into an economy boom, and it is widely known that changing jobs is one of the best ways to receive a pay raise.

In even more unfortunate salary news, those who become employed during a recession tend to start at lower salaries than those who started in the same job during good economies. Even further, their salaries don’t catch up quickly when the economy returns to a good state. Kahn’s research found that white men who graduated during the 1980s recession received lower wages for a decade or more.

A recession will affect how Gen Z is able to pay off student loans and save for retirement

Between struggling to find a job and earning less than they would have in a good economy, Gen Zers who have just graduated are going to have a hard time catching up financially. This isn’t speculation, as history shows Millennials who graduated during the Great Recession are still feeling the effects of the poor economy in the country at the time.

Researchers at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College have illustrated how Millennials who were hit particularly hard by the recession of 2009 are now less financially secure than young adults from the previous generations. Millennials not only have more student debt, but they have less money in their retirement plans, and their net worth is less than that of Baby Boomers and members of Generation X. Additionally, fewer Millennials own homes.

More than 50% of Generation Z has significant student loans that they will need to pay back, according to Christine Cruzvergara, Vice President of High Education and Student Success at Handshake, a leading online career community for college students,

“Depending on what type of job they’re getting, and what your income looks like, that can make payback of your student loans look very, very different,”

Gen Zer’s ability to get a job and get paid a fair, non-recession amount will impact how quickly they are able to pay back their student loans, which will impact their abilities to save for retirement, buy homes, and build equity.

Summer internship disappearances will hurt their chances of getting full-time jobs after graduation

Many full-time job offers come directly from internship experience, and as Brainly’s research showed, almost 58% of students said their summer internship was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Of those who have internships, only 41% will be in-person internships, meaning that 59% of students will miss out on the benefits of an in-person internship.

“More than half of them have lost those internships, and they’ve lost that opportunity as well to learn about the business and show that they would make a great full-time employee,” said Eric Oldfield, Chief Business Officer of Brainly. “So there’s no question this is going to impact those students’ abilities to find full-time jobs when they graduate.”

The good news is that as employers adapt to remote work, they will be able to provide a better virtual internship experience for students.

“We’re seeing a lot of employers really embrace the notion of the virtual internship and they’re trying to make the most of that by figuring out how to ensure students are still going to get the same learning,” Cruzvergara said. “They are still going to be able to build those relationships and make a good impression and impact on the company and have a good time while they’re in that experience as well.”

While a remote internship may not be the most ideal situation for a student, it will help them build skills that will be necessary in order for them to thrive in the world of work.

Remote learning builds skills for remote work

“There’s been a huge move to online learning…out of a requirement,” Oldfield said. “The way we’re seeing this is that it’s really accelerated adoption of online learning technology. We’re seeing this translate directly from the school year into summer jobs, and from graduation into the workforce.”

As a result of online learning, and as the first generation to have the internet as a tool for their entire lives, Generation Z will be well equipped for the world of remote work.

I think it very favorably positions this generation for whatever the new world brings,” Oldfield said.

In addition to online learning, remote internships will also help Gen Z students build the skills that they need in order to thrive in the workplace, whether remote or in-person. In particular, students who have the opportunity to participate in a virtual internship are learning invaluable communication skills that will stay with them throughout their entire career.

“In a virtual environment or remote environment, communication, both verbal and written, becomes 10 times more important because it is literally your connection to others…it’s your connections to your supervisor, it’s your connection to your team, and it’s your connection to your clients,” Cruzvergara said. “Your ability to do that well, to speak clearly, to be able to communicate succinctly, and to be able to express your ideas in a way that creates buy-in … those are skills that are going to be massively important.”

Of course, good communication is a skill set that employers look for before the pandemic began, but it will be even more important now that many employees across the country are working remotely.

Advice for members of Generation Z who just graduated college

“My biggest advice for someone who just graduated is to make sure that you are taking control of everything within your sphere of influence,” Cruzvergara said. “You can’t control the economy, you can’t control the pandemic, but you can control what you do right now in order to address those things.”

Here is what Cruzvergara recommends that members of Gen Z who are looking for jobs do right now:

  • Stay active in your job search
  • Use the resources (like career services) that your university provides to you
  • Use platforms like LinkedIn and Handshake, but make sure your profiles are complete
  • Reach out to your peers and alumni
  • Attend virtual events
  • Be proactive in responding to messages from employers

“Make sure that you fill out your profile and have a cohesive narrative of who you are and what you bring to the table,”  Cruzvergara said. “We know through our research that a student who completes their Handshake profile is 80% more likely to get a message from an employer. That’s huge, and you definitely don’t want to miss out on that opportunity against your peers.”

Most job opportunities come from a person referring you to that job or company, so now is the time to be building connections. Cruzvergara recommends reaching out to contacts to ask them for advice and information, not for a job. Here are some examples of questions that you can ask your contacts:

  • What does it mean to work in this industry?
  • How did you get where you are today?
  • What advice do you have for me?
  • What are the pain points that your company or this industry are wrestling with right now because of the pandemic
  • What needs do you see emerging because of the pandemic? “Those types of conversations are going to give you not only a chance to build relationships, but really amazing insight on how you might need to reinvent yourself, what new skills you might need to teach yourself, and how you might want to reposition or frame the strengths that you can bring to the table,” Cruzvergara said.

In addition to the above points, it also might be necessary to change to focus on your job search. Many companies, and entire industries, are currently going through a period of freezing any new hiring. As a result, it is your responsibility to evaluate your skill set and see where it is able to be used at the moment.

“For students who were initially interested in going into, say, the airline industry, food, and beverage, or hospitality, and they’re now finding themselves without many opportunities in those specific industries, they should think about what are adjacencies where they can really use the same skills, but in a different way?” Cruzvergara said.

“Maybe they wanted to go into hospitality because they really love the interaction with people and they love to be able to create a positive experience, Cruzvergara said. “That could actually be replicated in a number of other positions such as customer success in a tech company. Technically your job is to ensure that somebody is successful, and they’re having a good experience with your product or your platform. It’s a very different setting, but you’re ultimately still going after some of the same goals and you’re going to use a lot of the same skill sets in order to achieve that.”

Figuring out how might you apply the skills you learned in college and have built through internship experience so far in a new way within one of the industries that are hiring is how many Gen Z professionals will get hired right now. According to see Cruzvergara, there are five industries in particular that are still actively hiring on Handshake: education, nonprofit, government, healthcare, and technology.

“These are extremely broad industry areas, and you can use your skill sets in so many different ways across all the various types of roles that are available in those industries,” Cruzvergara said.

Advice for Gen Zers who are still looking for summer work

“The first piece of advice I would give kids who are looking for summer work is like to stay safe,” Oldfield said. “Don’t put yourself at risk, wear a mask wherever you are going, and maintain social distancing.”

When. it comes to finding an actual position, Oldfield recommends looking at the tech sector, at customer service remote jobs, and internships for digital companies.