Eighteen years ago, when I had just gotten my liberal arts degree, I wanted to take the world by storm. But doing what? There seemed to be so many options: lawyer, business titan, author of the next Great American novel, and on and on.
At a gathering of the clan, an infuriatingly old-fashioned family member declared that I should aspire to be a receptionist. Yes, aspire. Yes, a receptionist. I wanted to change the world; she suggested I take dictation. The business world, she proclaimed for all to hear, would always need more receptionists. (I cannot deny that this is true. Good receptionists are hard to find.) It was, she declared, a great career for a woman. (In her defense, she was a receptionist.)
As an ambitious 22-year-old, I found her suggestion discouraging and mildly appalling. However, I now realize that she may have had a subtle point beneath her wildly anti-feministic rhetoric: The best career plans sometimes hit a few stumbling blocks and even the savviest entrepreneurs sometimes fall back on other careers as they regroup to launch their next big successful company.
For many Millennials, a back-up plan may not be such a bad idea. The unemployment rate for this generation hovers around 40 percent. Even Gen-Zers, now in their teens and early 20s, are being slowly edged out of the workforce by more experienced labor vying for traditionally junior roles.
However, according to a recent report by the Conference Board called "Not Enough Jobs to Not Enough Workers," there will be many industries in the next 15 to 20 years with myriad positions to fill ... but with few candidates to consider them.
This abundance in jobs will largely result from baby boomers retiring en masse. The problem will be compounded by the fact that many of the jobs are just not compelling enough to attract applicants. Like myself at 22, these opportunities may fall upon the deaf ears of Gen-Zers.
Influenced by reality TV and educated on the internet, the generation described by many as being motivated to change the world may not find work as a water-treatment operator, steel worker, or podiatrist that inspiring.
"These occupations are not considered especially 'cool' or 'sexy' by the young generation," explained Gad Levanon, author of the study.
"It is rarely their dream job," he added.
It's a problem that may require some creative solutions. Maybe the American Podiatric Medical Association needs to start boosting the number of gory videos it posts on YouTube, or to produce a reality show in which hospital orderlies swap horror stories about spilled bedpans and never-ending gurney fetching.
So if you happen to be mulling over your future, beat your relatives to the punch and consider these potential back-up career options:
1. Ship's captain: An undergraduate degree is required for this one but think of the opportunities for travel and adventure roaming the open seas.
2. Ambulatory healthcare worker: This is a necessary supporting character in CSI, ER, or Bones--someone who does a lot of the dirty work in the background but isn't sexy enough for his or her own show.
3. Nurse practitioner or midwife: The Mindy Project probably doesn't appeal to Gen-Z but if it did, they would find that midwives can make money and be sexy.
4. Religious work: For those who find a spiritually rewarding life--or afterlife--payment enough.
5. Technical writer: Maybe not sexy but it marries the best of the technical and literary worlds. Imagine Hemingway meets Bill Gates? OK, maybe that's a stretch.
So keep an open mind. If your long-term goal of being an internet billionaire or game designer doesn't pan out, you still have options. And for the record, good receptionists are hard to find, even if that's not your dream job.