Why Gen Zers are rethinking their careers outside of corporate life

- April 8, 2022 7 MIN READ
Photo: AdobeStock
We are witnessing a radical change in how Gen Z jobseekers across Australia & New Zealand think about their careers. 

In the US, many of the best and brightest students flock to Silicon Valley to join or build transformational companies like Tesla, Khan Academy, Coinbase & Discord. 

Meanwhile in Australia, our high achievers have traditionally their sights set on banking, consulting, corporate law & professional services. 

But the world is changing. 

Crises in climate, inequality and social inclusion are highlighting major flaws in how our society operates today. 

Meanwhile, technologies like AI, Web3, and AR/VR are literally creating new worlds of opportunity. 

With so much transformation on the horizon, the allure of traditional career pathways is fading. 

Increasingly, young people are disenchanted by the feeling of insignificance in a corporate environment. 

Many of us spend the majority of our weekday waking hours at work, and yet for so many of us, we go into careers based on extremely limited information about what’s out there. 

From here, many end up in a situation where they don’t feel fulfilled by what they work on. Worse, they dread their day jobs, work crazy hours and end up burning out. 

With all this talk of the great reshuffle, where will we see more young people head?


The Careers of Tomorrow

We define the careers of tomorrow as those that enable high impact on the future through an openness to bold, new ideas and the velocity to rapidly turn ideas into action

Disproportionately, we believe that these sort of career opportunities can be found across the spaces of tech, startups and social impact. 

Each of these three gives someone the chance to work on genuinely unsolved problems, whether it be driving transformational technology forward, tackling pressing global risks, or making a more equitable & just society. 

In particular, the past five years have bared witness to the incredible rising tide of Australia’s startup ecosystem, with billion-dollar scaleups like Canva, Airwallex, Zeller, Rokt, Immutable, SafetyCulture, Culture Amp & Go1 amassing top talent & funding at an unprecedented rate. 

With each success story, young Aussies looking to dream big are beginning to realise they no longer need to travel halfway across the world to create cutting-edge companies & products, and build a career that aligns with the things they care about most. 

But with the rise of remote work, there is a more urgent gap for social connection between young professionals than ever before. 

Early in your career, it’s hard to know what companies & roles are out there, what skills to cultivate, or decide what problems to work on. 

For future-focused careers, it’s especially challenging, with someone joining a scrappy, fast-paced company or building something from scratch. 

You’re often building your own learning curriculum, there’s no clear pathway to steady promotions, and it can be lonely without a traditional ‘grad cohort’ to grow alongside. 

That’s why Earlywork exists. 

We’re a home for young founders, operators & students that extends beyond just a single company.

Rather than a traditional 2-year up-or-out graduate program, or a one-time, intensive 10-week course, the core need we recognised is a long-term community that will grow alongside each other and eventually create companies & projects together. 


Writing a New Career Narrative 

University campuses today are flooded with events & marketing for the Westpacs and Deloittes of the world. 

But you’ll struggle to find universities actively training growth marketers and product managers, or showcasing fast-growing startups like Ovira, Relevance AI and Vow. 

90% of students go to university to get a job, and yet, after spending tens of thousands on a degree, many lack the knowledge, networks and resources to find a role in our fastest-growing companies. 

When we were at university, there was no single clear place for students to understand roles like these, who was hiring for them, and what skills we need to build to break in.

Two out of three of us ended up stumbling into roles as product managers, but we didn’t have a single product management course in university, despite it being one of the most in-demand startup roles. 

Fundamentally, we believe there is a huge career literacy gap for students & graduates in Australia & New Zealand around future-focused careers. 

Dan Brockwell

This was the core inspiration for the Earlywork newsletter, which began back in September 2020, as a side project with 10 subscribers, to bring visibility to junior roles in tech & startups. 

From day one, we made a commitment to consistently create free career resources, with the goal of democratising the skill of job search that many universities fail to adequately equip their students with. Mike Manoske from Wharton’s Executive MBA program is an exception to the rule, teaching a dedicated class around this skill.

What we’ve seen over time is an opportunity to fill the career education gap around what emerging roles were out there, how to find jobs at future-focused companies, and even the frameworks & tools for young folks to create startups & side projects themselves. 

In accelerating this shift, we began to showcase young founders in a short-form ‘One Minute Hustle’ written interview series, capturing the changing narrative of how Gen Z are shifting from employees to creators themselves. 

From building up an audience of 4000+ young founders & operators across Australia and New Zealand, these are the 3 core principles we’ve noticed in Gen Z founders who have launched successful startups and side hustles: 

  1. Test test test 

What our generation lacks in years of industry experience, we make up for with speed of learning through rapid iteration. 

Several of the best young entrepreneurs we’ve seen have completely pivoted from their original ideas, often multiple times. 

No-code platforms like Pory, Notion, Airtable, Figma, prototypes, and surveys are often key weapons in the experimental approach these founders take. 

  1. Building customers before building products 

Focusing first on identifying a genuine need and creating an audience around that need, before investing deeply in the tech side. 

Content is key here, whether it be newsletters, podcasts, Instagram or even TikTok, and this was the core thinking in how we approached creating Earlywork. 

  1. Anti-stealth 

We still hear people talk about nebulous, vague business ideas, afraid to give away their “secret sauce”. 

But the best young founders w’ve seen actively showcase in-progress work, open questions and planned features with other founders, operators and power users. 

This open, collaborative approach helps to uncover blind spots, crowdsource ideas and get rapid feedback. 


Building a Home For Future-Focused Careers

We believe community is the single biggest gap in education today.

The careers of tomorrow rely on the ability to chart your own path through constantly updating information. 

There is no textbook and no finish line, and it can be an overwhelming journey trying to stay on top of how the world is changing. 

When we reflect on our university experiences, the most valuable learning came not from our classes, but from our social cohort: the peers we co-learned with, societies we joined and projects we built. 

So we started to ask ourselves: 

What if you could build a long-term social cohort of ambitious learners, and allow people to co-learn & grow in their careers without spending tens of thousands of dollars on a tertiary degree? 

In April 2021, after an early experiment with LinkedIn groups, we launched the Earlywork community, a free Slack community that helps young people co-learn and grow together in their careers, regardless of whether they go to university or not. 

We realised that what began as one-way communication with the newsletter had turned into a two-way conversation. 

Fast forward today, and we feel lucky to support a vibrant and engaged ecosystem of 2K+ young people & counting, with ‘pods’ of young people connecting and collaborating in sub-communities like #product, #sustainability, #diversity-equity-inclusion & #crypto. 

By creating a social fabric between these niches, young people can co-learn from each other in how to join and build companies in areas not well-served by traditional university education around employment opportunities. 

We don’t think this change in career appetite is limited by geography. Australia & New Zealand’s startup ecosystem is having a breakout phase, but over time, we envision a dedicated global community platform for the careers of tomorrow, launching Earlywork chapters across the world. 

Age won’t be a barrier either. Our initial focus has been on university students and recent graduates, a life stage where we’ve felt career pain points first hand, and one with pressing decisions about what career path to pursue. 

But in the long-term, we expect to help people navigate opportunities to work on high impact problems as early as high school. 

Already, Australia has organisations like Generation Entrepreneur empowering entrepreneurial education across NSW secondary schools and HEX helping high-school leavers dip their toes into practical entrepreneurship courses sooner than usual. 

Looking further ahead, stronger community & education around mid-life career transitions can help our most experienced talent leverage their wealth of knowledge towards high-impact problems, and startups like New Campus & General Assembly are leading the way in building non-traditional business & tech education. 

Uncovering The Talent of Tomorrow

In bridging the gap between education & careers, one of the most important things we can do is helping ambitious young talent land roles at, and eventually build, future focused companies. 

On the university side, there’s little tracking on whether we end up at McDonalds or Microsoft. 

However, the matching success of students and high-impact roles should be the single most important thing that universities are focused on. 

Looking at the hiring ecosystem today, there is a fierce competition between tech companies & startups for top local talent, with many poaching employees from other startups or resorting to workers overseas to fill the gap. 

Inherently, there is a short-termism in this approach, because it fails to capture a critical talent pool… 

There are thousands of amazing young people who don’t yet have the ‘formal experience’ to be noticed by traditional hiring heuristics.

We believe the tech ecosystem needs to invest in the next generation of talent for their companies, and build talent rather than buying it. 

Our first stab at this problem was the Gigs by Earlywork jobs board, where, rather than jobseekers trawling all the different job boards to find these sort of opportunities, we centralised early-career roles in tech, startups & social impact all in one place. 

But looking towards the future of hiring, there are other opportunities to match talent and companies beyond the standard job board format that could have stronger matching success. 

Our thesis behind Talent by Earlywork is a search engine to help young people land awesome roles without applying, an attack on the all-too-familiar jobseeker experience of submitting dozens of job applications and never hearing back. 

In driving forward the change towards future-focused careers, we’ve partnered with a group of startups, scaleups & social enterprises to filter a pool of active & passive jobseekers across our community, giving unique insight into what young talent wants in terms of problem space, company size and types of roles. 

Over time, we think there are extraordinary opportunities to improve the matching success & efficiency in helping young people find roles they love, from quantifying company culture & values, to measuring qualitative skills, to replacing the resume with a portfolio of written content. 

With all this being said, we recognise work is absolutely not the only important thing in life. 

However, our fulfilment in the work we do permeates our wellbeing in life more broadly. 

We believe there are incredible opportunities for young people to work on something they give a f*ck about, and the tide is rising. 

The onus is on future-focused companies to give young people a share of the rewards (ESOPs), empower them with the bandwidth to start their own projects within the company, and take serious, tangible action on pressing social issues like climate change and diversity. 

Those that do will be in a prime position to leverage the talent of tomorrow.