The past few years brought about major shifts in our society, from working and learning at home to consuming more content than ever before. One of the most significant shifts however, is students’ perception of higher education. A recent survey done by Snapchat showed that 47% of US students who had defined paths are now re-assessing their options and about half of today’s Gen Zs and Millennials want a non-traditional career path, compared to less than a quarter of Gen Xs and Boomers.
Today we’ll take a look at why this shift is happening, how influencers and creators are adding to this shift, what types of career paths the younger generation is looking for, and how brands can capitalize on this information.
The Perception of Higher Education is Changing
Historically, the path that has been laid out to students for lifelong success is this: graduate high school, go to a 4-year university, get a degree, and enter the corporate workforce. And while this path is necessary for a laundry list of career paths (i.e medical professionals, lawyers, scientists, etc) there are career paths out there that do not require higher education in the traditional sense.
Many young students have shifted their perspective on what a “desirable” job is, with many of them looking to take a more non-traditional route. This can mean a few things. Maybe higher education isn’t a viable option from a monetary standpoint, perhaps they want to start an entrepreneurial venture, some are looking to go into a creative field that isn’t necessarily taught well through higher education, maybe they want to freelance, or school may just not be for them. Whatever the reason, the shift is happening and influencers and creators alike are playing a role in how young students view higher education and the workforce.
Creators are Adding to This Shift
For many Gen Zs the internet has been an integral part of their lives. This generation grew up online, watching YouTube, consuming content, and following their favorite influencers with a very close eye. A 2018 study showed that becoming a social media star was the fourth most popular career aspiration for Gen Z, ranking well above actor or pop star. With this heavy focus on influencers and creators, many young people will learn how to create and edit content and amass large followings before they even think about applying to college.
Not only are creators showing young people that content creation is a viable career, but they are also proving that it is a fruitful career. Many of today’s youngest and biggest internet stars are too young to have even thought about college yet they are out earning even the most educated professionals. Ryan’s World, a YouTube channel for children aged 2-6, featuring 10-year-old Ryan Kaji and his siblings has over 30.7 million subscribers. The family recently launched Ryan’s Toys, a line of toys with Walmart, and have raked in $30M alone from the product line on top of being one of YouTubes highest paid creators.
Similarly, the D’Amelio family has built a multimillion dollar family business out of their daughter Charli’s TikTok stardom. Charli is too young to even think about college and her sister Dixie decided to forgo college and move to Los Angeles with her family to pursue her music career. In making these decisions the family was able to build multiple businesses off of their social media success and in turn built profitable careers for their children.
Influencers have a very important role in guiding the daily lives of Gen Z, they are without a doubt the celebrities of this generation so it’s no surprise that young people look at this as a desirable career path. It’s also important to note that smaller creators are making great money too. Because of all of the monetization options out there smaller creators are earning money from ads, brand partnerships, affiliate marketing, selling their content, and even with their own courses or brands.
What Other Factors Play a Role?
Money + Time
The first factor to consider is the price of higher education. The average cost of a 4 year degree in 2021 in the United States is $43,775 at private colleges, $28,238 for out-of-state students at public schools and $11,631 for state residents at public colleges, according to a recent survey. In addition, the earning potential in certain fields is capped, traditional careers require strict 40 hour weeks, and work-life balance is nonexistent.
The younger generation is beginning to push back against this format and seek out career paths that allow them to have more balance and flexibility in their life. Earlier this year the below TikTok went viral, almost as a Gen Z anthem.
The World of Freelance
The freelance world is another huge factor that is at play here, and saw significant increases in the past few years. Younger generations likely know someone who picked up freelancing as a side hustle and turned it into a full time career, many of which are self taught. Gen Z attitudes toward work are driving a change in the perception of what it means to have a career. It is estimated that the number of freelance workers in the United States will increase from 65 million in 2020 to 90 million in 2028.
Alex Fasulo, who is well known on TikTok as @alexfasulobix, openly shares about her journey as a freelance writer on Fiverr. She joined the site in 2015 and began charging $5 per writing gig. Now almost 7 years later Alex is consistently making six figures on the platform and bringing in an average of $37,000 per month. She shares her journey on TikTok, giving her audience advice on how to do the same, best practices for working with clients, and the benefits of working as a freelancer.
Online Education Options
The last factor, and maybe most overlooked, is that there is education happening all over social media and via education focused brands. We’ve talked a lot recently about Fin-Influencers, or influencers who create content around financial topics. Those creators are sharing skills that are easily applicable and allow young people to make money from home. There are also a multitude of brands that bring education to their customers in one place like Masterclass and Skill Share. These platforms allow you to take classes and learn an array of topics and skills from the comfort of your home and on your own time.
Education platforms can sometimes be costly, but let’s not forget the OG learning and tutorial platform, YouTube. So many creators share content around teaching their audience a skill or topic and the amount of information is endless.
So What Careers are Students Pursuing?
The recurring theme here is that influencers and creators are having a huge impact on our society. More young people are creating social media accounts and posting regularly in hopes of pursuing careers as influencers, whether that is on YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok. A report from Morning Consult found that about 86% of young Americans surveyed said they’re willing to try out influencing on their social media platforms, 12% of young people said they already considered themselves one, and another 20% of young people said they know an influencer personally.
If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught Gen Z anything it’s that the shift to working from home isn’t going anywhere. This concept is fueling the younger generation’s desire to to start their own businesses and build a career for themselves. Gen Z is without a doubt the most entrepreneurial generation in history, a recent study found that 54% of Gen Zers want to start their own company, 89% have considered an education path that looks different than college, and 77% of people in grades 5 through 12 want to be their own boss. Whether they want to build a brand or create a freelance business, Gen Z is going to be the generation of entrepreneurs.
Brands, Take Note.
There is a huge message in here for brands: pay attention to the younger generation. For one, education brands have a huge opportunity here to support students in learning the way they want to learn. Making sure that you have learning materials available to help young people learn the topics and skills that they are looking for is vital.
If your brand typically targets college students specifically or reaches your audience on college campuses, it might be time to freshen up your strategy. It’s going to be key to not alienate parts of your target audience simply because they aren’t going the traditional schooling route.
For non education brands, messaging is everything. It’s important to stay informed on how the younger generations are approaching life as you think about how to best reach them. Knowing that a good portion of Gen Z isn’t looking to pursue classic education and career paths will allow you to tailor messaging the speaks to them and makes them feel heard.
We’re Here to Help
Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are an education brand looking to expand your influencer marketing or if you are a brand curious about refining your messaging to reach this audience more effectively.