The Job-Hopping Generation May Be On To Something
The most recent jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a dramatic drop in unemployment between June 2020 and June 2021. This is an excellent sign that we are finally turning a corner after the toll this pandemic year has taken on the economy.
Now, as we slowly move towards normalcy, what will the post-pandemic workforce look like?
Recent trends among millennial and Gen Z employees show a distinct pattern of changing jobs more frequently than their older coworkers. Three times as often, according to one Gallup poll. According to a Microsoft study, 41 percent of the global workforce will consider leaving their current employer within the next year, with 46 percent planning to make a career change.
Whether it is because the job is a bad fit (two in three workers cite this reason) or employers are simply not engaging them, experts say college grads today can expect to have 12- 20 jobs over a 30-year career.
When I was starting out in the workforce, it was common practice to stay with a company for the majority of your career, moving up the ranks and retiring after decades of loyal service. Much of this had to do with pensions. As a former executive director of the $16.1 billion Indiana Public Employees’ Retirement Fund, I saw first-hand the security a pension could provide, ensuring that even when you had a bad day, you could stick it out knowing that your company was investing in your retirement. It was a safety net that no longer exists today. Most U.S. companies have shifted to 401K retirement plans which because they place more of the burden of saving on the employee, do not engender that same sense of company loyalty. Workers can simply take their money and go elsewhere.
Perhaps more importantly today’s younger workers are also eager to be challenged, to have a sense of purpose in what they do. And after a year of primarily remote working, they are embracing their authentic selves, no longer interested in keeping home and work in distinct siloes. They want their jobs to fit their lives, rather than fitting a life around a job.
The job-hopping culture, then, would seem to point to an increase in mobility as employees move around the country for these new jobs. But that is not the case. According to Census Bureau data, Americans are moving at a slower rate than ever before. This past pandemic year may show a blip in this data only because employees were working remotely and therefore moving was based more on comfort and safety rather than the job itself.
So, if young workers are open to frequent job changes, but they are physically relocating less frequently, where does that leave them?
Innovation districts and, ideally, in the heartland.
When younger talent is picking a city, they are not just choosing a job, but also a space that offers opportunities that align with their career paths. Silicon Valley is so appealing for tech workers, for example, because of the concentration of tech companies and startups. If you want to work in finance, NYC is the place to be. Not only do these opportunities exist, but you can also literally look around and see what is available in these locations.
To compete with these superstar cities, innovation districts, or talent clusters — particularly those in the heartland — are stepping up their games. Ohio ranks 5th in Fortune 500 companies nationwide, with seven in Cincinnati alone. It was also the only state with two cities named in Forbes’ Top 10 Rising Cities for Startups (Columbus and Cincinnati). The Cincinnati Innovation District (CID) is demonstrating how a purpose-built ecosystem of industry and talent is attracting people, innovation, and investment to the Midwest. These efforts are modeled after much research by leading experts, who define innovation districts as localized physical areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators. Whether it is the University of Cincinnati, a Carnegie Level 1 research university, or the Washington University in St. Louis, heartland talent clusters offer an endless pipeline of young talent, along with robust innovation opportunities that are able to attract and retain employees and the companies that covet them.
Because of these connections, talent clusters like those in Cincinnati, St. Louis and Pittsburgh offer an abundance of job opportunities across all sectors. If one company is not working out, these ‘places’ have plenty more available in a similar field. Or in a completely different field if career change is the goal.
So, in checking off the list: innovation districts provide multiple opportunities in a variety of sectors within a convenient geographical space. As the saying goes: location, location, location. Clustering these opportunities, allowing workers to see lots of interesting jobs within the community is critically important.
What else are young workers seeking? If lifestyle is as important as employment for this demographic, the cool factor plays a distinct role. The job may be the initial reason workers move to a new location, but the perks of their adopted city can keep them there. A vibrant arts and culture scene, inventive dining, and fun nightlife options are appealing. So are excellent schools, parks and outdoor spaces all within easy access.
It seems the job-hopping generation really is on to something: pursuing fulfilling careers that allow them to do meaningful work that doesn’t compromise their lifestyles and doing so in a location that has both extensive job opportunities and an alluring environment.
Whether you call it an innovation district or a talent cluster, these hubs can play a key role in the workforce of the future by providing the kinds of compelling work found at the intersection of transformative technology and access to major corporations and startups alike. Without the “stick it out” mentality the promise of a pension once demanded, workers are free to explore their lives and livelihoods as two sides of the same coin. The employee experience, then, is the ultimate driver in attracting the best, most diverse workforce and the heartland is the right place at the right time.