Gen Z Career Outlook After COVID-19

Written by: The College Finance Team
Updated: 6/22/20

COVID-19 has affected almost every facet of our daily lives, from the way we work to how we think about the future going forward. And when we consider who might be most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is clear on the demographics who are at higher risk than others when it comes to the health-related consequences of coronavirus. 

But while young Americans and millennials still have to worry about the physical impact of the coronavirus, an even younger generation may be dealing with the lasting impact of this health crisis far longer than the rest of the country. According to some experts, Generation Z (those born after 1996) may be the hardest hit by the economic brunt of COVID-19

With so many of Generation Z either still in school or coming out into the workforce for the first time in the midst of what has now been classified as a recession, we surveyed over 1,000 to explore how COVID-19 has affected their career and job outlook. Read on as we explore how many Americans believe their careers are forever changed by COVID-19, how many are thinking about switching industries, and where Generation Z fits into the workforce equation, compared to older generations. 

What Comes Next?

In a world where Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has earned over $24 billion as a result of the global health pandemic, not every industry or employee in the U.S. is managing the economic burden of COVID-19 the same way. Compared to 13% of people believing their job or planned career path was more stable since the COVID-19 pandemic began and another 42% who felt COVID-19 hadn’t impacted their professional outlook at all, a majority of Americans weren’t as lucky. In fact, 46% of people said their jobs or career paths were less stable now than they’d previously expected.

While roughly half (49%) weren’t expecting to change their jobs or careers as a result of COVID-19, many others were less confident. Along with 21% who identified being unsure, 31% of Americans surveyed expressed positive sentiment toward looking for new jobs or career paths. Roughly 1 in 5 employed people said they would also consider going back to school to change their professional trajectories despite the potential costs. Employed people with student loan debt (27%) were more likely to express an interest in going back to school than those without student loan debt (14%). Those open to the possibility of going back to school were willing to take on more than $15,000 in additional student loan debt for extended education. 

Concerned About the Future 

The notion of a “new normal” has been a popular topic, both at the height of COVID-19 and as cities and states enter various phases of reopening. Still, analysts maintain that some industries and institutions (including education) will be forever changed by the impact of the health pandemic.

People most commonly considering a change in their professional landscape were working in education (62%), technology (57%), and construction or manufacturing (56%) during the pandemic. While 78% of people working in hospitality and hotel services considered their industries unstable as a result of COVID-19, just 46% of Americans employed in hospitality were considering a career change. Similarly, 60% of retail employees considered their industry impacted by the virus, but only 1 in 4 were thinking about transitioning to something else. 

Ultimately, of those considering a career change, 40% were interested in moving into essential worker jobs, including 47% of millennials. In comparison, Generation Z was the least likely to express interest in essential career roles (27%). Technology (16%), health care (10%), and finance and insurance (8%) were the most popular potential industries people were thinking about switching into. 

Looking Ahead 

As a result of COVID-19, 65% of Gen Z Americans are contemplating going back to school or staying in school longer due to the economic impact of the virus. Among those currently employed, the most common industries included retail (16%), as well as hotel, food services, and hospitality (14%). Overwhelmingly, 66% of Gen Zers felt their planned career paths were less stable than previously expected, perhaps based on their early job experience after the COVID-19 outbreak.

Since the pandemic started, 34% of Gen Zers have experienced job interviews being canceled, a reduction in their hours at work (30%), reduced pay (19%), or being furloughed (12%). Just 29% of employed Generation Z Americans said there was no impact on their jobs as a result of COVID-19. For these young employees, the average salary decrease before and during COVID-19 was $6,000. 

Job Outlook and a Second Wave of COVID-19

In order to gauge any anxiety regarding the near future, we asked respondents if they considered the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 and another shut down of offices and public buildings. Here are some of our key findings: 

  • Of those employees whose job stability was not affected by COVID-19, 26% said they would seriously consider changing their job or career should a second wave of infections occur. 
  • Around 60% of employed Americans fear that a second wave of COVID-19 would negatively impact their employment, with around 23% fearing layoffs. Around 71% of Gen Zers entering the job market fear job instability due to a second wave of COVID-19. 
  • Employees with on-site hospitality, food, and beverage roles feared a second wave of COVID-19 layoffs and furloughs most (77%), followed by those working in on-site retail roles (66%). 

And while many parts of the country are actively entering phases of reopening and returning to “business as usual,” the reality of a second wave of COVID-19 presents a lingering concern for many Americans. 

Sixty percent of employed workers worry a second wave would negatively impact their jobs, including 23% worried about being laid off. A vast majority of Generation Z Americans (71%) entering the job market for the first time fear job instability related to a second wave of the virus. More than 1 in 4 Americans whose job stability was not affected by COVID-19 would strongly consider changing careers if a second wave of the virus occurred. 

Adapting to the Changing Economy 

For many Americans, getting back to “normal” following the COVID-19 pandemic may be far easier said than done. Many indicated feeling differently about their career path as a result of the virus, forcing some to consider making a permanent shift in their professional life in an effort to find more stable industries. As we found, this also included many Americans (including those in Generation Z) considering going back to school or staying in school longer while awaiting job markets to improve. 

At College Finance, we’re passionate about helping you put your best foot forward where your education is concerned. Whether you need support planning ahead, you’re looking to borrow, or you’re wondering what your options are for repaying, we have access to all of the information and resources you need in one convenient location. Our mission is to help you get the most from college and that means being equipped to make the best decisions about your finances from day one. Visit us online at CollegeFinance.com today to learn more. 

Methodology and Limitations

We surveyed 1,007 people to explore how COVID-19 has affected career and job outlook. We surveyed people from the ages of 18 to 70 with an average age of 34 and a standard deviation of 12 years. Our survey respondents included a sample of 189 people identifying as Generation Z in order for us to explore their outlook on jobs and interview or job application experiences since the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Certain limitations apply for survey data due to self-reporting; these include telescoping, exaggeration, and selective memory. We did not weight our data or test our hypotheses for this analysis. 

Fair Use Statement

Your readers may be thinking about what’s next in their careers after COVID-19. Help share the findings in this study for any noncommercial use by including a link back to this page as credit to our creative team for their work on the data found here.