What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

What Gen Z college grads are looking for in a career

The oldest members of Gen Z, the population segment born after 1996, are leaving college and entering the workforce. How do their expectations and outlooks vary from those of the Millennials who have recently reshaped the modern workplace? Economics correspondent Paul Solman and financial journalist Beth Kobliner talk to Gen Z college students as they approach graduation and anticipate careers.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Generation Z, the group born after 1996, is starting to see its oldest members graduate from college and enter the work force.

    While much has been said about how millennials have reshaped the modern workplace, members of Generation Z are beginning to chart their own course, with a very different set of expectations and outlooks for their first jobs.

    Economics correspondent Paul Solman met up with financial journalist Beth Kobliner to try to understand what all this means, and to find out how Gen Z is approaching the world of work.

    It's part of our weekly series Making Sense.

  • Beth Kobliner:

    This is WeWork.

  • Paul Solman:

    WeWork, where, for a monthly toll, you secure a spot in a shared work space for the young, Wi-Fi, free beer, free coffee in inspirational mugs.

  • Beth Kobliner:

    "Always half-full."

  • Paul Solman:

    "Make a life, not just a living." So, this is this whole…

  • Beth Kobliner:

    These are like very much affirmations.

  • Paul Solman:

    And perfect for college grads just moving into the job market, right?

    But is follow your bliss really a good idea at this point?

  • Beth Kobliner:

    I don't know. I wasn't about following my bliss. I was about moving out of my parents' house.

  • Paul Solman:

    But WeWork wasn't designed for old-timers like me or even much younger youth money guru Beth Kobliner.

    Architect Miguel McKelvey, whom I interviewed a few years ago, co-founded it in 2010 for fellow Gen X'ers and millennials.

  • Miguel McKelvey:

    We're a community company.

  • Paul Solman:

    A hopping, hip sanctuary for self-starters built to accommodate any work schedule and the jobs of the future.

  • Man:

    WeWork is the office space of tomorrow.

  • Paul Solman:

    So, is this the future of work for the next generation, Gen Z? We gathered a diverse group of soon-to-be college grads. What's the reaction to a place like this?

  • Man:

    The second I walked in, I was like, wow, this is nice.

  • Woman:

    Because it has so many colors, it would be, like, more thought-provoking.

  • Man:

    Two thumbs up. Good.

  • Paul Solman:

    So the optics appealed. But are high-risk/high-reward startups their dream, like, Fourpost, say?

  • Frannie Shellman:

    Fourpost is a shopping experience for today's family.

  • Paul Solman:

    The 18-person firm runs retail pop-up shops featuring trendy brands like Polaroid — yes, Polaroid has made a retro comeback.

    So, it's like a cool department store…

  • Frannie Shellman:

    Way cool department store.

  • Paul Solman:

    … for smaller brands that aren't going to open their own outlet at a mall?

  • Frannie Shellman:

    Yes, absolutely, or large brands that want test the market, like Marshall speakers is one. Urbanears is a great one, the headphones. You guys are young and cool, so I'm sure you have heard about them.

  • Paul Solman:

    I'm old, and I have no idea what you're talking about.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Frannie Shellman:

    They are candy-colored headphones.

  • Paul Solman:

    OK, cool company.

    But our Gen Z'ers had practical questions for Fourpost manager Frannie Shellman.

  • Saad Kabir, Student:

    Compared to like a larger company, right, do you guys offer like a comparable salary?

  • Frannie Shellman:

    Yes, definitely. So I would say probably in the 50s range. Like, that would be entry level.

  • Beth Kobliner:

    Just happens to be the national average, the national average starting salaries for college graduates, $50,000.

  • Jermaine Cail:

    A typical day of work, how do you — from start to finish, how would that look like for you?

  • Frannie Shellman:

    We get in mid-morning, and then we're usually working through lunch. There's a lot of late nights. That's something to expect with a start-up, but no one here is going to say, if you need to go home for a family thing, you can't go. We have the benefit of being able to work remotely.

  • Paul Solman:

    So, flexible work with the great allure of all start-ups, grow fast, move up fast, the dream of millennials, who consistently rank career success and then a good work-life balance as top priorities.

    But Gen Z'ers? Kobliner set up a game to test their order of workplace preferences.

  • Beth Kobliner:

    Here are five qualities that people look for in a job.

  • Paul Solman:

    Salary, diversity, health insurance, meaningful work, mentorship. We will give you a little time, less than we gave the kids, to guess their choices.

    Well, tied just below the top, a diverse work environment — and Gen Z is the most diverse generation in our country's history — and, big surprise, a good salary.

  • Lauren Quesada:

    When you go to college you, you're like, OK, I need to focus on something that can fund me, my husband, my two kids, my house with a white picket fence. So I think that maybe the anxiety is not in getting a job. It's in getting the right job.

  • Beth Kobliner:

    This school is $70,000 a year.

  • Paul Solman:

    As we saw with Gen Z high schoolers in a recent story, the fear of being stuck on the low road of an ever-more two-tracked labor market always lurks.

    Gen Z suffered through the anxiety of the Great Recession as kids, so small wonder they're economic pragmatists. A UCLA study found that eight in 10 college freshmen, Gen Z's first wave, think becoming well-off is a top priority, the highest level in the study's 50-year history.

    But even more important is securing that first job; 88 percent of graduating Gen Z'ers say they chose their majors with a job in mind, like Saad Kabir, who began, like many of his friends, in engineering.

  • Saad Kabir:

    My brother is a lawyer. And he would tell me the people he graduated law school with, many of them didn't even get a job after law school.

    And it was, like, hard because the market was oversaturated. But if you go to a market where you know that there are jobs, I guess there's no anxiety involved. So, since I did education, I'm not as worried, because, in New York City, we always need teachers.

  • Paul Solman:

    For similar reasons, Lauren Quesada majors in clinical psychology.

  • Lauren Quesada:

    My family always says that I will never be out of work because as long as they're alive, there'll be people with problems.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Paul Solman:

    But here's the answer to the quiz: All but one of our students said their top job priority was meaningful work.

    How many of you guessed that?

    Here's Jacob Clemente, for example.

  • Jacob Clemente:

    Meaningful work for me means like both something that I really care about and really, like, I want to make a difference in and something that I think could make a difference and help other people out.

    It's definitely still important to me that I'm able to make a living and able to support a family someday, but I definitely want to love what I'm doing and not dread going into work every day.

  • Paul Solman:

    Jermaine Cail intends to become a pediatric surgeon.

  • Jermaine Cail:

    If it's not meaningful, what's the point, in a sense? If you're not really into what your patients are really telling you, why are you going into medicine?

  • Paul Solman:

    But that prompted one last question from me.

    So, have all of you been told by professors or parents or whomever that you're going to probably have to change careers?

  • Man:

    Yes.

  • Paul Solman:

    And that caused Beth Kobliner to wonder…

  • Beth Kobliner:

    Where do you guys learn job skills if you realize you haven't learned them in college?

  • Jermaine Cail:

    I would probably go to YouTube or go to some type of Web site that can show me how to do something, like, very quickly.

  • Paul Solman:

    Missy Dreier echoed Jermaine Cail.

  • Missy Dreier:

    I, like, recently was working on my senior thesis. And I had to last minute learn how to code. And I had never taken computer science or anything like that, but I actually found that just kind of Googling was super helpful, and I was able to do it.

  • Paul Solman:

    And maybe this is why Gen Z can prioritize meaningful work, because even facing career impermanence, specific skills are easier to pick up than for any generation before.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," economics correspondent Paul Solman, reporting from New York.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest