Towards tomorrow’s career

A career is not what it once was. 20 years ago the definition was clear: the objective was to become successful within a large organization or to create one’s own success as a self-employed entrepreneur. Often it came down to reaching a leader position, having a high salary, or a prestigious title. In some respects, this definition is applicable today, but only partially and not for everyone.

We asked over 4000 young people about their views on career goals and what it means to have a successful career. The answers show a wide diversity of opinions on what defines “career".

Expertise over leadership

Two thirds of young people revealed that they have career goals today. That in and of itself is not new. Most have some vision of where they want to be in five years, while a large portion of young people don’t really know but take life as it comes to them. What is surprising however is the lack of a clear path towards one’s goals and the large differences in what these goals are. As few as one in five young people have a concrete plan for how to reach their career goals, and the goals that exist today have become increasingly individual and unclear.

Enjoying work, earning money, and having fun; these are more common goals than any particular career title or specific industry. A prospering labor market and thriving cross-border organizations are partially to blame, but another central aspect is the shifting view on leadership, management, and what an attractive workplace is. Only 22% of young people, or one in five, prefer a career in management. Instead, it is a career within expertise knowledge that attracts interest; to be the best at what you do. Perhaps this reflects an effort to become more attractive for the labor market, but more likely it is about avoiding the stress and press that inevitably accompanies a leadership position. 

Pragmatic values in tomorrow’s career

If you compare those born in the 90s with those born in the 70s when they were the same age, clear differences in how they view work become apparent. Young people today value relatively pragmatic matters much higher: generous vacations, normal and convenient working hours, and the opportunity to work from home. On the other hand, what today’s young people value less are fast tempo in the workplace, the ability to take own initiatives, and receiving more responsibility. In retrospect, it appears that the view on career has shifted away from an obvious path towards status and success and become more of an individualistic tool for reaching one’s own goals in life. Perhaps this has to do with adequate wages, but it can also be about having enough time or limiting stress and chaos during the weekday. 

Work is therefore not unimportant, rather quite the opposite. It has more to do with a shift towards seeing work as a tool and not a value creator itself. This goes hand in hand with a trend we’ve seen under a long period of time among Swedes of all ages. Since the 1980s, work has increasingly become less important for one’s own identity and for creating value and meaning in life. Family and free-time are instead what truly dominates today, especially among young people. However, in order to relax and enjoy one’s free time, young people require several things in their career such as job security, both in the traditional sense and in the feeling of a safe and positive atmosphere at work.

Show us the way towards the future – for employees and the world!

The fact that young people view careers differently is causing organizations to work actively with creating a sense of collectivism, culture, and a unified vision among employees. For example, receiving the right support from management and leaders is one of the most important factors for getting young employees to enjoy their work. In other words, leadership is increasingly important simultaneously as fewer young people see management as the career path for them. Also, as work becomes increasingly fragmented and digitalized leadership is both more difficult and more important. Presumably, the right leadership and a healthy organizational culture are keys for retaining young employees in the future, though you have to lure them with benefits in order to become an attractive employer.

In a world where careers are becoming increasingly unclear, the winners will be organizations who can clearly define it. By building long-term strategies and involving employees, the future organization will be those who can offer young people an opportunity to create a future for themselves, simultaneously forming tomorrow for themselves and the world. 

By Rikard Molander