The students of the future won’t get normal jobs or have normal careers. Instead many will focus on creative lifestyle design – finding ways to craft the type of lifestyle they want with supporting jobs and non-traditional careers. The traditional path of getting an entry-level position, climbing the ranks, and devoting a career to one company has become a thing of the past.
Climbing corporate ladders doesn’t look attractive for a number of reasons. Pensions have disappeared and employee loyalty is at an all-time low. New jobs seekers are skeptical of “at-will” employment contracts that guarantee little security. Another reality is that many students just can’t get jobs right out of college – either because of a shaky economy or because the skills they learned don’t translate directly into a position. Students who pursue technical or specialized professional degrees will still enter directly into those fields, but a majority of college students don’t fall within that group.
The New York Times recently published an article about the group of students who have graduated between 2006 and 2010. The article profiles a number of recent college graduates who couldn’t get jobs within their chosen career paths after college so they opted for other opportunities. They became bartenders, bloggers, or legal aides. According to a May survey from the Heldrich Center at Rutgers, 14 percent of students who graduated from 2006 to 2010 were still looking for full-time positions.
One trend that highlights the shift towards creative lifestyle design is the company startup wave, where recent graduates or those still in college are opting to start their own companies, because the barrier to entry is low and funding is hot. A February 2011 survey of over 1,000 college students from LegalZoom.com and Buzz Marketing revealed 21% of students had started their own companies because they were unemployed when they graduated. An additional 36% have started business while still in school.
Entrepreneurship is an essential element of creative lifestyle design. Over the past five years, with both the rise of the Internet and more readily accessible business services, the barrier to entry for launching a company has become very low. Students have noticed, entrepreneurship is thriving, and universities are listening. According to the Kauffman Foundation Report on Entrepreneurship in Higher Education, “Entrepreneurship is one of the fastest growing subjects in today’s undergraduate curricula. In the past three decades, formal programs (majors, minors and certificates) in entrepreneurship have more than quadrupled, from 104 in 1975 to more than 500 in 2006.
Many of the people who I graduated with at The University of Chicago opted to start their own companies or work as assistants at local businesses, coffee shops, or bars so they could live the lifestyle they wanted. Some even got lucrative consulting offers right out of college, but decided to find more creative ways to live in places like San Francisco, Denver, or Europe.
So how can The College of 2020 support these students? First, help them cultivate a greater understanding of what life can look like after college and provide support for students launching their companies or projects. Also, develop programs that naturally help students cultivate their own ideas about life after college. The most important thing is to foster this type of conversation both inside and outside of career planning offices. On campus, instead of asking, “What type of career are you looking for?” try, “What do you want to do?”