Who do members of Gen Z want to work for most in the future? Themselves.
According to a recent survey conducted by EY Ripples and JA Worldwide of 6,000 active and former JA Worldwide participants born between 1997 and 2007, 53% hope to run their own business within the next ten years. That proportion increases to 65% for those who have already entered the workforce.
This extremely favorable view of entrepreneurship is the result of a confluence of push and pull factors. On the one hand, the traditional pathway to career success—namely higher education and climbing the corporate ladder—has never felt more out of reach or less certain. At the same time, startup costs are plummeting, the pool of resources entrepreneurs can tap into is ballooning, and casual experimentation with entrepreneurship has never been easier.
“The results of the survey show that this generation yearns for careers that enable ‘original thought and ideas,’ which ranked higher than any other characteristic for Gen Z in describing elements of their ideal career,” explains Asheesh Advani, the CEO of JA Worldwide. “Entrepreneurship delivers on this promise of creative control.”
The DIY generation
As a generation born with the internet and raised with mobile technology, Gen Z has grown accustomed to seeking solutions and answers independently.
“Gen Z was more digitally connected than any preceding generation during their formative years, so it’s perhaps not surprising that the survey respondents said they feel technologically adept, with a high degree of self-sufficiency,” explains Julie Teigland, managing partner of EY Europe, Middle East, India and Africa. “The digitally driven educational landscape of today means that Gen Z is gaining exposure to the empowerment of entrepreneurialism at a very early age, and they can start applying those skills right away.”
According to Jonah Stillman, a 21-year-old author, speaker, and cofounder of the Gen Z research and consulting firm GenGuru, access to information has created a sense of independence for young people; one that makes entrepreneurship seem far more attainable.
“In the book that I coauthored with my dad, Gen Z At Work, we identified the seven key traits of Gen Z, and one of those traits is DIY, the ‘do it yourself generation,'” he says. “We’re a generation that has an intense belief that, in entrepreneurship or in general, we can do a lot of things on our own, and that stems from access to information.”
A lower barrier to entry
The millennial generation, loosely defined as those born between 1980 and the mid-1990s, was also raised on the internet, but felt less empowered to start their own business compared to Gen Z, due to financial constraints.
According to a 2016 study conducted by EY, those between the ages of 18 and 34 at the time had similarly positive perceptions of entrepreneurship—with 78% considering entrepreneurs successful and 62% admitting they had considered starting their own business. However, 42% of respondents said they lacked the financial means to do so.
“The barrier to entry is drastically lower now, ” says Stillman. “In today’s world if anyone—whether they’re in Gen Z or not—wants to start a business they can take all necessary steps independently, and within 24 hours.”
Stillman explains that aspiring entrepreneurs have the tools to build a website, register an LLC, open an online store, or join an online marketplace in a matter of hours, often at little or no cost. There are also a range of tools and services that can help them manage various aspects of their business, such as accounting, marketing, and business management software.
Furthermore, while entrepreneurship was historically considered a full-time pursuit, the rise of the “side hustle” and more casual entrepreneurial opportunities allows individuals to run an independent business while maintaining a full-time job or studies.
“In today’s world you can very much do both, and it’s realistic—not just for overachievers,” says Stillman. “You can take on less risk, less cost initially, and start your own business with the goal of just trying it out, and if it works, your side hustle can become your main gig.”
Rejecting a broken model
Another key driver of Gen Z’s interest in entrepreneurship is a growing skepticism over the model of career success enjoyed by previous generations. The skyrocketing cost of education, coupled with the experience of the 2008 recession, has caused many to doubt the notion that higher education leads to stable, long-term employment.
“A lot of these 10- to 14-year-olds saw their parents getting laid off, they saw their brothers and sisters and relatives getting laid off, and they were like ‘I’m not going to let this happen to me,'” says Bernhard Schroeder, a senior lecturer and director of the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center at San Diego State University. “There’s an independent streak about Gen Z in taking care of their future; they don’t have it all figured out, but they don’t see the point of working for a big company for any number of years when they can just lay you off with the snap of a finger.”
Schroeder explains that the pandemic and its economic fallout have only further eroded the previously held belief that full-time employment was the best path to financial stability.
“The pandemic has shown this generation of entrepreneurs A.) You don’t need a corporate headquarters; B.) You’ve got to think global; C.) You’ve got to think decentralized; and D.) The future is really going to be remote,” he says. “That gives them a real sense of freedom, that ability to run everything using technology while living the kind of life they want, which isn’t just driven by money, but also lifestyle.”
Implications for employers
The heightened interest in entrepreneurship might suggest that this generation will be more difficult to recruit into traditional roles, but that isn’t necessarily the case. While the majority want to pursue entrepreneurship in some capacity in the next ten years, it isn’t necessarily a replacement for traditional employment. The findings of the EY study and others like it, however, provide some insight into how employers can best attract and manage members of this highly independent generation.
“When I think about entrepreneurship, for me it doesn’t necessarily mean starting a company,” explains 24-year-old Alex Heintze, author of The Generation Z Entrepreneur. “I think about entrepreneurship as more of an entrepreneurial mindset, where people can embrace entrepreneurship, even within organizations.”
Heintze explains that Gen Z workers will expect a high degree of independence and autonomy in whatever environment they’re in. That includes flexibility in terms of where, when and how they work, as well as the ability to have some ownership over their work, whether it’s for themselves or as part of an organization. “It could mean that the workplace changes slightly to allow for more entrepreneurial thinking, more innovation in the workspace, to allow people to take more ownership over their work,” he says.