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Why JA? And Why Now? A Response to a Changing Work and Career Landscape

The Great Resignation, Quiet Quitting, and the Impact on Employers

Female Construction Worker Smiling

Image caption: Female Construction Worker Smiling

U.S. employers have been struggling with responding to “The Great Resignation,” the large-scale shift of employees who have quit their jobs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.1 According to the Pew Research Center, the reasons employees cite for quitting include low pay, lack of benefits, limited advancement opportunities, and the feeling of being disrespected.2 Pew also found that those with higher education, including four-year and advanced degrees, were less likely to quit, though these groups are not immune to shifting jobs. Younger and less educated workers are most likely to quit. Similar factors are contributing to “Quiet Quitting,” where workers do the bare minimum in their jobs, often while waiting for better opportunities to come along.3 According to Gallup, as many as half of the workers in the U.S. workforce are “Quiet Quitters.”4

The pandemic also exacerbated the existing “skills gap” many industries were already facing. Countless trained and experienced “Baby Boomers” retired during the pandemic. Unfortunately, younger workers often don’t have the same skillset, especially in skilled trades.5 The impact of this shift is not only measured in the opportunity cost employers take on by not being able to meet needs in the marketplace, but in the overall increase in wage inflation as a result of employers pursuing a smaller pool of qualified candidates.6 At the same time, less-qualified workers continue to feel under-compensated by and dissatisfied with their employment situations.

A man sitting at his desk with his head down.

The Purpose Disconnect

As noted, there are many structural reasons people are quitting their jobs, including pay, benefits, feeling under-appreciated and more. But these reasons existed before the pandemic, and people were not changing jobs at historic rates like they are now.

One underlying cause could be a lack of a sense of purpose in work. In fact, research by Gartner shows that the pandemic caused nearly two-thirds of Americans to reconsider the importance of “purpose” in their personal and professional lives7. Additionally, McKinsey found that 70 percent of employees say their work defines their sense of purpose8. Finally, the Harvard Business Review notes that a sense of purpose at work is essential for employee retention.9

The Oxford Dictionary defines “purpose” as the reason something exists, an intended end; aim; or goal. But if the nature of someone’s work doesn’t align with their talents, strengths, or interests, how purposeful can it be?

Research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows that only 27 percent of college graduates work in a field they studied in school.10 Additionally, a study by MidAmerica Nazarene College found that just 25 percent of Americans were in their “dream career.”11

Employees collaborating together.

A few conclusions can be drawn from these statistics. First, there continues to be an inherent disconnect between education, higher ed, and preparation for a job or career. While some could make the case that the goal of education and higher education isn’t primarily to prepare young people for work, recent research shows that 86 of Americans believe that a college degree can help advance a recipient’s career.12 The fact that about one-in-four college graduates end up working in the field they studied puts a spotlight on the disconnect between the perceived value of higher ed and real-world outcomes. 

A second conclusion is that while not everyone can be expected to be in their “dream career,” employee satisfaction is key to retention. Employees who feel they are doing what they intended to do for a living and utilizing their talents and skills to support their interests are more likely to find purpose and satisfaction at work.

A teacher helping students.

Junior Achievement: A Pathway to Purpose and Work and Career Satisfaction

Junior Achievement works with partners in education and the business communities to help ensure young people make more informed choices that lead to greater work and career satisfaction as adults. JA employs a pathways approach to teaching career and work readiness to young people. By “pathways,” we mean that JA programs are designed to engage students on the subject over multiple grades, from their first day in kindergarten to their K-12 years, preparing them for post-secondary education or work transition.

Junior Achievement takes this approach because, in many states, career and work readiness aren’t addressed until later high school grades, which may come too late for students who haven’t given the subject much consideration in earlier grades when they are taking courses which could ultimately affect their academic readiness and ability to pursue specific career paths. Since nearly all of us will work as adults, we at JA believe connecting students with career and work exploration throughout their K-12 journey is essential.

What the Research Says

Junior Achievement’s proven programs are shown to inspire and prepare young people for success. Our approach is demonstrated to give students the tools they need to increase their chances of achieving their potential in work, career, and life.

According to a recent survey by Ipsos,

  • 73 percent of Junior Achievement Alumni who graduated college say they work in a field they studied in college. Research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows only 27 percent of college graduates say the same.
  • 69 percent of JA Alumni say they work in their “dream career.” Only 25 percent of Americans say the same, according to MidAmerica Nazarene College.
  • 80 percent of JA Alumni say their careers are “extremely fulfilling.”
  • 56 percent of JA Alumni who had a JA volunteer say they currently work or have in the past worked in the same field as their JA volunteer.
  • 54 percent of JA Alumni say Junior Achievement positively influenced their work ethic.
  • 46 percent of JA Alumni say Junior Achievement positively influenced their career choices.

Additionally, 4-in-5 JA Alumni credit Junior Achievement for:13

  • Influencing their decisions about further education
  • Impacting their professional and personal development
  • Affecting their self-confidence and belief-in-self
  • Motivating them to succeed professionally

The research also shows that JA alumni are more likely to finish college, start a business, and have confidence in managing money. To learn more about Junior Achievement, visit www.JA.org.

1 The Great Resignation, Investopia, September 14, 2022

2Pew Research Center, March 9, 2022

3 Quiet Quitting, Wikipedia, August 2022

4 “Is Quiet Quitting Real?” Gallup, September 6, 2022

5 “The Skilled Labor Shortage,” Conger, May 17, 2022

6 “The Effects of the Great Resignation,” Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, February 2022

7 “Employees Seek Personal Value and Purpose at Work,” Gartner, January 13, 2022

8 “Help Your Employees Find Purpose or Watch Them Leave,” McKinsey, April 5, 2021

9 “To Retain Employees, Give Them a Sense of Purpose,” Harvard Business Review, October 11, 2021

10 Federal Reserve Bank of New York, December 2014

11 MidAmerica Nazarene College, December 2018

12 “Americans Strongly Agree on the Benefits of College,” Forbes, July 25, 2022

13 Ipsos/Junior Achievement Alumni Survey, August 2022

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