Generation Z: after the big broadcast, the beginning of the Great Escape?

Gap year, world tour, cycling trip, way to Compostela… This year, many young people have decided to take to the open sea. After two years of Covid and a bleak environmental outlook, all are looking for intensity. And movement, as if you had to quickly take advantage of a world threatened by chaos. Like the big show, Generation Z would be tempted by the great escape.

“The future is dark. Chaotic. We no longer project ourselves ten or twenty years into the future. We want to live in the moment”. So between a very interesting job and her desire to travel the world, Jo, who is finishing her degree from Science Po, has chosen. “I declined a great CDI offer, not because I didn’t like the assignments, but because at 22, I don’t imagine myself locked into an office routine. As long as I’m young, I’m looking for an intensity of life that I don’t have in the traditional professional setting”.

Pierre-Louis, also a graduate of Sciences-po, is starting the harvest this week in a wine estate near Bordeaux. First step before setting sail in January 2023 towards Morocco and then Latin America. His diploma in hand, he has only one desire: “To travel”. And to insist: “Without time limit”.

Louise, 25, is flying to Asia, after two years of apprenticeship in a major media.

Like them, many young people from Generation Z, those born in the second half of the 90s, dream of exodus. And especially among the graduates of the courses taken. As if the ambitions drawn from the childhoods of a good student no longer had much meaning. Or as if they had been engulfed, under the advice of their peers, in prestigious courses without real interest.

Those who have managed to put money aside, between two courses, at the end of their studies, imagine discovering the world and getting away from the daily rhythm for a while; sometimes without date of return, limiting especially that of their entry on the labor market. The younger generation wants to escape.

The journey to provide perspective and meaning

“The end of studies is the right time to leave,” says Timothée, who has just finished his master’s degree at Sciences-Po. “It’s much harder to leave when you are inserted into the world of work”, judges the young man of 22 years. What does he want to do next? “I don’t know. I would like a useful job, but it’s difficult to project yourself”.

Despite prestigious studies, and a final year on a work-study program supposed to facilitate integration into the job market, none of these young people, who have graduated from courses that are popular with employers, have been able to project themselves into a concrete professional project. Moreover, Pierre-Louis very quickly understood that he would not evolve in this direction.

These great departures were once rare in France, CVs should not leave any line vacant. You had to go through good studies in prestigious stages to find a good job.

But since the development of Erasmus exchanges, with nearly 100,000 French students, who leave for a year to study in another country, a new culture has taken hold, valuing each long trip during the studies.

The schools have also arranged these gap years. Many now offer a paid option to “reserve” your place between the bachelor’s and the master’s degree and leave for a year with the security of resuming your training. At Edhec, for example, a gap year is provided for in the Grande Ecole program “which is overwhelmingly chosen by students”, according to the business school.

Feeling of wasting time

Difficult to establish precise figures on this phenomenon of escape or to estimate the number of young people launched in this kind of adventures. In France, around 20% of 20 to 24 year olds were neither in employment, nor in education, nor in training (NEET) according to INSEE in 2019. In the United States, the trend is similar. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the US Department of Labor, nearly a quarter of young Americans between the ages of 20 and 34 were neither working nor seeking to work in fall 2021.

Through these desires for the open sea, we can grasp a weariness – even a rejection – of the current world of work among the youngest. A major change, a direct effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced the world to stay at home for months. According to a study on Generation Z and work conducted by the platform TalentLMS and the technology company BambooHR in early 2022, more than 20% of young Americans surveyed will leave their jobs in the next twelve months. The main reasons being unsatisfactory pay, a lack of balance between work and personal life, and a lack of interest in their work.

This last reason, Romain, 22 years old, experienced it during his work-study year in a company responsible for CSR policies in SMEs. “I was asked to do summaries,” he says. “It’s not very rewarding. And then I expected to do more. I could have done the work that was asked of me in 15 hours”, remarks the young man who also leaves for Latin America at the beginning of the year 2023. “It worries me for the 40 years of career that await me”.

Investing in the ecological transition

Pierre-Louis wants to cut with his course at Sciences-Po and with the institutions. “It was too heavy, too political, I don’t want to be an executive,” he admits. “I need land and I like agriculture for that”. His trip will be used to discover the different modes of agricultural exploitation in the world, for, “why not take over a farm in my own way”, he thinks. Romain also does not imagine “doing abstract things on a computer”. He wants to invest in a concrete cause, “find the usefulness” of a project, in particular in favor of the climate.

For Timothée, it’s already found everything. He is part of a cycling tour of Europe and wants to develop a project to raise awareness of ecology with children. “It’s a way of seeing something else after five years of theory,” he says. He has already set up his association and tried to collect donations for the primary schools of Libourne, in his native town. “I’m not counting on this project [pour trouver ce que je veux faire]but I am counting on this year to open up other perspectives for me”.

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