The Stats Guy: Career advice for Gen Z that’s driven by the data

Getting into your preferred profession helps you feel fulfilled. But don't stress if it doesn't happen instantly.

Getting into your preferred profession helps you feel fulfilled. But don't stress if it doesn't happen instantly. Photo: Getty/TND

Hey Gen Z (born 2000-17), are you thinking about your career?

Maybe you aren’t sure which degree to pursue. Should you even bother with university? Which industry, which profession should you seek out?

There are just so many options. It’s hard to know which path to take.

Well, it’s your lucky day. I am handing out free demographic career advice.

Let’s talk about passion first.

I wrote about the meaningful work trap before. Yes, having a meaningful job that you are truly passionate about is better than not having such a job.

How likely is it that we will be able to match the 13 million jobs in our economy with the passions of 13 million workers? It’s impossible.

Of course, we should aim for at least a fair chunk of workers scoring a meaningful job. But most folks simply won’t have a meaningful job. That doesn’t make these jobs bad jobs.

Good jobs provide a stable (and high enough) income, provide a welcoming and inclusive work atmosphere, feature decent bosses, and don’t actively make the world a worse place (don’t work for Landmine Inc.).

Your job doesn’t need to be meaningful for you to live a meaningful life.

Friendships, family, partners, travel, community service, art, religion, or sport can all provide you with joy and meaning in your life.

Gen Z presents with bad mental health outcomes. I think this has to do with the search for meaning.

For you as an atheistic generation the meaning of life can’t possibly come from God, neither can it come from looking after your family if you didn’t form your own family (yet).

It makes sense that you look for meaning at work it’s the place you hang out at the most and all those Ted Talks you watched subtly planted the idea that you failed at life if you don’t love your job.

My advice is to not stress about meaningful work just yet. Start your career in a field that is somewhat interesting, stay agile, stay mobile, move around between jobs, and allow yourself to gain skills. Passionate work is possible, but it’s extremely rare to be part of your early career.

Automation isn’t all bad news for jobseekers. It presents opportunity too.

Now a bit of good news for your career

Your Gen X parents (born 1963-81) were part of a tiny generation – the introduction of the contraceptive pill in the early 1960s, the establishment of no fault divorce in the early 1970s, and low migration in the 1970s made sure of that.

Your parents also had kids at a lower rate than their parents. This made you a tiny cohort. You are now entering the workforce as a large cohort (the Baby Boomers) exits the workforce. How lucky you are!

This results in a skills shortage (further intensified by two pandemic years without immigration and Millennial workers going on parental leave at scale now and throughout the 2020s) and record low unemployment figures.

As businesses struggle to find staff, you can essentially ask for whatever you want. You should see high wages and generous benefits. If an employer doesn’t offer these, their competition surely will.

What industries should you focus on?

Official employment forecasts might give you a clue. Anything in healthcare will be booming throughout your whole working life as Australia ages at breakneck pace.

All types of knowledge jobs (IT, consulting, engineering & Co) will also be booming. Should you therefore shy away from sectors with slow growth like agriculture? Not at all.

Agriculture is being transformed into a more data-driven, and automated industry. A very exciting opportunity.

Technology advancements in agriculture can be taken advantage of.

Many farms will not be taken over by the next generation and will be up for grabs. A great decade to enter the industry if you so desire.

If income is your main motivation, you should simply get as educated as possible. The more educated you are, the more money (statistically speaking) you will make.

Doctors and lawyers will continue to earn money. Mining is by far the most economically productive industry in Australia. Big stable careers are possible in mining. Considering the environmental impact of mining, sustainably minded Gen Zs might want to become mining engineers to ensure we extract and use resources in the most efficient way.

Don’t discount personal skills

In a world where technology is omnipresent where AI, robotics, and automation are part of most jobs what skills are most important?

Sure, you should be tech-literate, maybe even learn a programming language. However, you could say the subject in high school that will best prepare you for the workforce is theatre.

Technology will take over repetitive and technical tasks in many jobs.

In your working life an ever-growing share of tasks will be interpersonal in nature.

In a tech-heavy world it’s not the tech skills that set you apart from the crowd but your interpersonal skills. Theatre teaches you communication and collaboration skills.

All industries and businesses strive for improved gender balances. Maybe you might want to pick a career where your gender is currently underrepresented. As I argued previously, female plumbers will be in high demand.

So … Dear Gen Z, I think you have prosperous careers ahead of yourself.

You are the beneficiaries of the skills shortage. Keep educating yourself. Don’t stress about meaningful work but keep looking for meaning.

These days workers keep changing jobs and keep reinventing themselves.

You too can do this. Your first job is just that. A first job. It doesn’t lock you into a specific career or lifestyle.

Keep exploring, keep learning, don’t stress about your career too much – you have a nice demographic tailwind working in your favour.

Demographer Simon Kuestenmacher is a co-founder of The Demographics Group. His columns, media commentary and public speaking focus on current socio-demographic trends and how these impact Australia. Follow Simon on Twitter or LinkedIn for daily data insights. To reach Gen Z he also posts on TikTok.

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