Kshipra Ajrekar probes why India’s millennials want meaningful purpose in their career choices

Millennials, typecast for popularising the ‘selfie’ and transforming the meaning of the word ‘viral’, are bringing about a historic shift in the reason behind choosing one’s career: seeking a meaningful purpose.

If not now, then when?

We must admit it, our forefathers and mothers had it rough. They lived in uncertain times sometimes on account of basic medical facilities or socio-economic burdens. My grandmother once told me about her uncle, a talented engineer, who passed away due to illness at the young age of 40. A friend’s grandfather, the eldest of 9 siblings, could not complete his education due to being solely responsible for the schooling and marriages of his brothers and sisters. I am sure you also must have come across such accounts of career choices being directly affected, the bottom-line being stability and security.

Times however are certainly changing!

India’s rapidly growing middle class is indicative of a gradually narrowing gap between the extremities of economic classes – according to a 2016 study, the middle class has more than doubled in size from 2004 to 2012, a feat that a McKinsey study had predicted would not be accomplished any time before 2025. As years have passed, Indians have therefore been redefining standards of living as well as career aspirations. While the ultimate goal naturally continues to be satisfaction, it looks drastically different from what it did a few generations ago. This transition has translated into changing priorities while making life choices.

Job satisfaction, redefined

Millennials’ expectations from their jobs are going beyond stability and professional growth. As most of Generation X parents worked hard driven by a need to secure their families financially and educate their children, we are now bearing the metaphorical fruit of being able to expand our sense of purpose from self and family to society as a whole. Millennials are now seeking satisfaction in giving back to society.

A fat pay check is not enough, work culture and possibilities of new opportunities are huge drivers of job satisfaction. Demanding work schedules and high stress levels are leading to burnouts, and a large number of millennials are quitting their jobs to go on sabbaticals to look inwards and explore the purpose that drives them. Traditional 9 to 5 desk jobs are representative of the comfort zone millennials want to escape to experience life differently, and leave the world a slightly better place than how we found it.

Being the change we want to see

Environmentally, our planet has seen far better days – climate change is an experienced reality, with hailstorms that whitewashed Delhi and Noida while Mumbai, not too far away, simultaneously sizzled in humidity. Be it a rising concern for women’s safety across the country, or farmer suicides in rural Maharashtra, there is a growing sense of responsibility of the problems we are collectively facing. Social media has provided a much-needed platform for people to speak up and speak out. And millennials, being a generation that has grown up with the internet, are utilising these spaces to mobilise and enroll people into taking action.

There is a sense of urgency behind the need to do something, which is leading the millennial to ask a question that can potentially alter the job market as we know it: why not integrate the desire for social change into my career ambitions – so that I can earn a living while also giving back to society?

Increasing career opportunities

The image of a person motivated by giving back to society is no longer limited to a khadi-clad, jhola-carrying template of a social worker – an increase in opportunities for inter-sectoral careers, entrepreneurship and start-ups is leading to higher autonomy in choosing one’s career. Millennials are finding themselves to be more in-control of their narrative than ever before, and are not restricted by the nature of their work to pursue their true purposes.

The development sector is thriving, no longer simplistically represented by the singular term “NGO” – with diverse job opportunities in corporate social responsibility (CSR), consultancy, policy and research, and social enterprises, to name a few. Most millennials pan India on the lookout for a career that fulfils their expectations have access to a wealth of options aided by global social networks and internet connectivity, an advantage the previous generations did not enjoy.

By 2020, the average age of an Indian is estimated to be 29 – by sheer number, the millennial will dominate the job market. The millennial’s search for a meaningful purpose-oriented career just might become the new norm, and it is extremely exciting to imagine the wonders it can do for the growth and development of our country.

Kshipra Ajrekar is a student of PGP in Development Leadership at ISDM (Indian School of Development Management).

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