Young Aussies put passion first after the pandemic derails their career plans

6 min read
Emma Wardill

From the isolation of lockdowns to the anguish of lost jobs and opportunities, the COVID-19 years have been a rough ride for young Aussies.

Generation Z, Australia’s 18 to 24-year-olds, have revealed the transformational impact of the disruptions of the pandemic, which hit as many were just starting their careers.

New GoDaddy research has revealed the pandemic helped to inspire a new wave of entrepreneurial zeal, as half of young Aussies changed their work priorities and plans.

GoDaddy research reveals a surge in young entrepreneurs

The GoDaddy/Antenna research into the pursuit of career passions amongst young Australians surveyed 1002 people aged 18- to 24-years-old and found an incredible entrepreneurial spirit.

  • One in eight (12%) young Aussies already have their own business or side-hustle.
  • A further 20% plan to start one in the next 12 months, while another third (33%) will wait for at least 12 months.
  • Online businesses are the most attractive with retail and e-commerce making up 18% of the current businesses, followed by professional services (9%) such as marketing, design and photography.

The survey found this generation are prepared to work for themselves and take a pay cut to do so if it means they can have more freedom to pursue their passions.

Pandemic pause

When the pandemic hit in the early months of 2020, it had an abrupt and dramatic impact on work and education, as lockdowns shut cities across Australia. Borders closed, office workers were sent home and industries like tourism, hospitality and bricks-and-mortar retail ground to a halt.

This disproportionally hit young Australians, with young people twice as likely to lose jobs between March and June 2020 than other ages groups, according to analysis from The Australia Institute .

During the 2021 lockdowns, young Aussies bore 55% of the job losses, despite making up just 14% of the job market.

Not surprisingly, the outcome has been seismic – 49% of Gen Z told GoDaddy they have had to change their career or education plans as a result of the pandemic.

Further, 57% said their work priorities, or what they value in a career, are not the same as what they were before the pandemic.

So, what do they value now?

In 2022, the top factor for Gen Z in choosing a career is passion or pursuing their dreams, with 34% saying it’s the most important and 14% saying it’s the second most important.

Coming in second was work/life balance, with 15% of Gen Z putting it top of the pile and 21% nominating it second.

Overall, 58% rated passion and work/life balance as one of the top three most important factors in choosing a career.

Ellie Colquhoun with Musellie product sample

For entrepreneur Ellie Colquhoun, a passion for nutrition and health was the driving force behind her decision to start boutique muesli brand.

Ellie started making muesli for herself in 2017 when she was in Year 12. Her friends encouraged her to start selling the tasty creation through social media and a business was born.

“I’ve always been really passionate about nutrition,” Ellie says.

“When my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago, it inspired us to change our diet and turn to plant-based, organic goodness. As a passionate cook, I started making home-made muesli.

Starting off as a hobby, this soon turned into a side-hustle.

The pandemic presented Ellie with an opportunity to expand her business and she purchased her domain name on GoDaddy and used GoDaddy’s easy online store builder to create a proper online home and store for her growing business.

Musellie website homepage

“During the pandemic, I thought it was time to expand my business so I built my first website using GoDaddy,” she says. “Having no experience in web design, GoDaddy was the perfect tool in helping me create a beautiful and professional-looking website.”

While Ellie says she never set out to be an entrepreneur, she is passionate about her product.

“I’d encourage anyone with a passion, regardless of their age, to pursue it,’’ she says. “Passion is what drove me and made my business as successful as it is today.”

Ellie says working for herself suits her as she can focus on what’s important to her and her values.

Passion trumps pay

It is a sentiment shared with other young Australians, with almost three quarters telling GoDaddy they felt that owning their own business would mean they could better pursue other passions like travelling, time with family and friends or hobbies than in traditional employment.

One in four young Aussies also said they would rather work for themselves than someone else. 

Where previous generations of Australians may have prioritised financial stability or job security, these traits have emerged as less important for young Australians, particularly after the pandemic. Instead, passion is trumping pay.

More than three quarters of Gen Z said they would make a financial sacrifice for something they are passionate about.

One in seven would sacrifice more than 30% of their salary to run their own passion project, while 43% would take a pay cut of between 10 and 30% to do so.

Related: New research reveals power of instincts in business

Worth working for

Already, Generation Z has shown they are prepared to back themselves and pursue their passion into business, with two thirds either running or intending to start their own business or side-hustle.

Ellie Colquhoun with Musellie van

Their willingness to go for it and enter the business market is mirrored in the increase in business activity in Australia last year, despite the economic ructions of the pandemic.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures reveal that in the 2020-21 year, 365,000 new businesses traded, an 8.6% rise on the previous year.

The most popular industries for Gen Z business owners surveyed by GoDaddy are retail and e-commerce, followed by:

  • Professional services (marketing, design, photography)
  • Personal services (cleaner, tutor)

Budding young entrepreneurs are focussing their side hustles also on retail and e-commerce along with professional services and hospitality.

The barriers to starting a side hustle

For aspiring Gen Z entrepreneurs, the biggest barrier to entry is not having enough money (55%) and not having the skills (39%), followed by a fear of failure (34%).

Not having the confidence or the time to start a side-hustle were also key themes in the research.

However, these barriers are not preventing young Australians from just going for it and trying their hand at a side hustle.

It’s clear the pandemic has had a transformational impact on Australia’s youngest generation of workers.

It’s likely the results will be felt for years to come, with the impact from their career and study realignments yet to be fully felt across the economy.

When you consider that businesses like Disney, Airbnb, WhatsApp and General Electric were founded during recessions and global financial crises, the results from a whole new generation of passionate entrepreneurs will be worth watching.

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