Why More Young People Are Exploring Jobs That Connect To A Greater Purpose


The economic outlook continues to remain uncertain, especially in the wake of the recent banking challenges and continued layoffs in the tech sector. The shakiness in what have traditionally been popular industries for young people to pursue employment seems to be having an impact, with many now considering alternative paths in the formative years of their careers.

According to a February 2023 survey of more than 1,000 Millennial and Gen-Z-aged young people conducted by the workwear brand Carhartt, nearly half (48%) of the respondents expressed uncertainty about their future career paths. A similar percentage of respondents (44%) reported that “finding a job that aligns with my values” was their top challenge in today’s job market.

That same survey also revealed another insight into young people’s career mindsets: 85% of Gen Z and Millennials are at least somewhat open to a job in nature conservation or the outdoors. That stems from the fact that 46% of the young people surveyed reported that having to sit at a desk for 8 hours every day was the biggest downside of a traditional office environment. The lack of fresh air (24%) and the lack of adventure (24%) were also key aspects missing from more traditional office jobs.

“When working at an office job some people might feel like ‘just a number’ and that may not be fulfilling for younger people, many of whom were delayed in entering the workforce due to the pandemic and aren’t as acclimated to the traditional ‘9 to 5,’” says Linda Hubbard, President & COO at Carhartt. “When you think about it, work takes up a third of our lives—possibly more if you are working more than 8 hours a day. That’s a huge time investment. Younger generations, who we’re finding are typically more purpose-driven, are looking at that time investment and questioning how their work contributes to the greater good.” 

In response to this trend, Carhartt has partnered with the National Park Foundation (NPF) to launch a new public awareness campaign called “Outdoor Office” that spotlights Service Corps job opportunities that preserve and protect national parks for present and future generations. The campaign’s goal is to raise awareness for more than 500 jobs among local Service Corps organizations across the country.

I interviewed Hubbard and Lise Aangeenbrug, Chief Program Officer at the NPF, to gather some additional insights into how and why young people might consider skilled trade jobs or a Service Corps opportunity to gain valuable work experience that contributes to the ability of the National Park Service (NPS) to maintain parks and to improve the visitor experience.

Thanks to the pandemic, many of us got used to working remotely. Some young people who entered the workforce at that time may have never even worked inside an office. As a result, they might feel confined now that they’re asked to work in the office.

“Working from home and hybrid office models I think has accelerated this realization for young people who spent a lot of time in front of their computer screen during the pandemic,” says Hubbard. “I believe it’s in human nature to want to move and explore the world around us—and certain jobs, like those with the Service Corps and skilled trades, can provide a means to do that.”

Hubbard says that the upside of working in jobs in the skilled trades is that you are often working on different job sites from week to week.

“Many of these jobs are considered ‘essential’ and contribute to the critical needs of everyday people, whether you’re building the next highway that connects cities, performing electrical work to power an entire neighborhood—or in the case of the Service Corps, building trails and contributing to the preservation of historical sites to keep our national parks beautiful and relatable,” she says. “These jobs are vital, and I think young people will see their value when considering future career opportunities.”

Interestingly, the Carhartt survey found that 3 in 4 (76%) Gen Z and Millennials agree that more young Americans should consider a vocational and technical education over a 4-year college degree.

“Over the years, younger generations have either witnessed or experienced first-hand the student loan debt that comes with 4-year college degrees and how much of a burden that debt has placed on America’s workforce—causing many people to delay big life moments like owning a home, getting married and starting a family,” says Hubbard.

She points out that pursuing a vocational/technical education often comes with less financial investment and paves a way for young Americans to start making money and escape student loan debt right away.

“As younger generations seek more purpose in their careers, they’re looking more into vocational and technical jobs that provide the essential services this country needs to build a better future,” says Hubbard.

When it comes to finding a greater purpose to pursue with their careers, 74% of Gen Z and Millennials reported that climate change and/or the environment is a top concern for their generation and future generations. On top of that, 92% of respondents across all generations agreed that preserving America’s national parks for future generations is important.

“It all comes down to the deep need to live a life of ‘purpose’ and a life that is fulfilling,” says Hubbard. “The environment is an issue that young Americans feel needs to be addressed. So young people are looking at companies that have the resources and shared beliefs to help change these issues that are negatively impacting the environment.”

Most respondents (91%) also agreed that having more young people in nature conservation or the outdoors workforce would have a positive impact on society, while 80% of young people felt that working in conservation-related jobs would be beneficial to their careers.

“These jobs actively support a variety of projects from trail maintenance, cultural and natural resource protection, assisting with field data collection, historical preservation, facilities maintenance, campsite improvements, invasive species removal, interpretation, education, and visitor services, and more,” says Aangeenbrug from the NPF. “Service Corps members learn practical field skills, build connections with peers and local communities, and build confidence as emerging leaders. Following their experience in parks we hope these young people will be inspired to explore outdoor careers and to continue this important work.”

Aangeenbrug notes that the National Park Service also offers many permanent roles for people to support conservation at America’s national parks such as park rangers, maintenance workers, recreation assistants, and education technicians.

“Conservation and other outdoor work, including the work of Service Corps members, help protect and preserve park trails, wildlife, and habitats for generations to come,” she says.

While it’s worth saying that not every young person may want to pursue a job working outdoors, the reality that there are hundreds of jobs available for those who may not see a 4-year college education as their best fit is noteworthy.

We need to meet young people where they are rather than trying to force them down an educational or career path they don’t connect with. They will move forward only when they discover their own personal light at the end of the tunnel—the lifestyle they want to live and the career that makes it possible.

For many young people, pursuing their greater purpose might mean leaving the office behind forever. And that’s a good thing.

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