Gen Z face an uphill battle in the post coronavirus economy. Get ready.
I dislike generational labels but I am going to relax that rule to make a point. Gen Z (mid 1990s to early 2010s) face one of the toughest markets in recent memory with the economic slowdown brought about by coronavirus, particularly for those who are graduating soon or without jobs. Locked up in your homes today, it may feel like the world will return to normal when lockdown ends. To an extent it will, though it's clear that life won't be the same for awhile. We are in the early days of understanding the impact of coronavirus. It is already obvious that travel and regular social activities are out of bounds for now, beyond that, it is worth thinking about what coronavirus means for your career and what type of economy we will be waking up to.
The last time the economy was in this much turmoil was around the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). The GFC was a significant global economic downturn caused by easy credit, poor lending practices and a housing bubble, among other things. The economy shat itself. There were huge job losses and a massive fall in output. If you want to find out more, ask Google. Though even in the GFC people could visit cafes and restaurants, travel, and go for a walk outside.
Many countries are now in lockdown to control coronavirus with people only leaving their homes if necessary. As I am writing this, New Zealand has been in lockdown a bit over a week. The speed with which we have entered lockdown has caught many by surprise. With businesses unprepared to weather the storm, we are relying on governments to foot the bill or face an even worse economic slowdown.
We can expect a substantial increase in unemployment across the economy. When lockdown ends there will be jobs opening up, but it'll be nothing compared to the number of jobs that have been destroyed from the low demand. With high levels of unemployment, many more will be fighting for jobs. Young people and low-skilled workers will face the brunt of this impact. Governments are increasing spending to stimulate the economy and bringing forward infrastructure spend, but those jobs won't be created over night. We (yes you too) will be paying for that spending for years.
All that will sound dramatic. It's meant to. You should know what you are in for. The job market will be awful, your aspirations may feel unreachable, and the way governments respond today will influence your trajectory for a long time. Here are some thoughts from a millennial who graduated in the GFC. I don't pretend to have all the answers, or that our situations are like for like, but I do have a few tips.
1) Keep studying
If you can afford to, weathering the worst of the post-coronavirus storm by continuing study is actually quite a good way to go about it. By the time you finish your qualification you will have more to offer. Studies show that those with higher level qualifications also earn more - that's possibly correlation more than causation though.
2) Develop in demand skills
"Follow your passions" - sure this works up to a point if you are a star at what you do, but it doesn't work for everyone. Frankly, the notion of doing something because you are passionate about it is a modern miracle. Throughout the majority of human history, we have had to struggle just to put food on the table. Chat to a recruiter or friends working in jobs you could be interested in. Find out what skills are in demand. Learn the skills you like, and try to turn those into a job.
3) Exercise your creative muscles and start something new
Try something new and see where it leads. Creating something new is a great way to learn have fun while you are doing it. If you are looking for a job, make the most of that time to do productive things. It could be programming, building an online shop or learning how to make furniture. Whatever it is, give it a crack. Who knows, maybe that hobby will turn into something great. Even if it doesn't, who cares? Creation is a satisfying process in its own right.
4) Consider jobs outside your field
I understand this isn't popular or something anyone wants to hear but its worth thinking about. The reality of an economic downturn is that jobs will be harder to come by. By passing up opportunities that "don't fit your degree" you can miss out on the chance to gain valuable work experience.
You won't be in the same job forever, and a year or two working in something you didn't expect will still pay a salary. You can still look for other jobs anyway. If you don't stay long in a job, who cares? Frankly, many employers don't worry that much about tenure early in your career. The average tenure for first jobs is actually quite low.
5) Keep sending out those job applications and run your CV by people you know
50 applications? 100? 200? Keep going till you get that offer. I sent out hundreds of applications while looking for a job during the GFC. Without doubt sending mountains of job applications is hard emotionally and it is something you shouldn't have to go through. You never know though when the right opportunity will come along. Make sure you check in with friends and family on your CV and get them to proof read it and make suggestions. Getting those extra view points can be helpful.
6) Network with others and join clubs
Clubs offer an opportunity to demonstrate responsibility and leadership. Connecting in with new people who match your interests is a great way to expand your network and learn new things about something you enjoy. That doesn't mean join any old club or say hi to anyone, look for people with whom you share common ground. Networking is important but it should be done in an authentic way.
7) Travel domestically while flights are down
You may be missing out on your travel fix. With coronavirus its likely that flying won't be an option for quite some time. That holiday you had planned is probably now out the window. Your overseas experience in London is probably postponed. When lockdown is over, take the time to explore more of your own country and find its hidden charms.
8) Do more of what you enjoy to stay motivated
You've probably heard this before but if you are stuck trying to find work, take the time to do something you enjoy. It will help to retain perspective. Go for a run, spend time with friends, watch TV. Whatever it is, try to maintain your daily life and hobbies even when the world gets you down.
9) Don't compare yourself to your parents and others
Trying to follow in your parents footsteps may just no longer be sensible. Young people today have to define what success means to them. For many, a spouse, two cars, a house in the burbs with a white picket fence, three kids and a labrador just isn't realistic. Heck for many of us it's not even what we want.
In the 1970s, Earth's population was ~ four billion, today its more like eight. Cities are much larger today than they were due to rural-urban shift. With more people comes more competition for that prime real estate. Take the time to sit down and think about what success means to you and pursue that. If it is the house with the white picket fence, by all means, go for it. If not, just just saved your own life.
10) Fight back
Get angry. March on the streets (after the lockdown). Mobilise others. Make some noise. Vote. Fight for the world you want to live in. If you are unhappy with the number of doctors, write to your local member of parliament and tell them. If you feel underpaid, talk to your employer and show your value. If you can't find a job, push for stimulus and measures that increase employment. The worst thing that can happen is that you become apathetic.
12) It's mostly on you - follow your own advice
It's easy for me to give advice. But it may not be the right advice. At the end of the day its up to you how you respond to the circumstances in front of you. Consider what you have just read and write down something new that is unique to you.
That list may seem like far too many hoops to jump through. It may help and give you something new to think on, or it may seem like bullshit. Either way, reflect on what you are seeing with coronavirus and have a guess at what it could mean long term. If life throws you curve balls over the following months, or even years, don't panic. Sometimes you can be down on your luck and nothing works. That is reality. Keep moving. We are entering unusual times.
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