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Brands that respond to the soaring anxiety of young people will capture huge market opportunities

Today’s labor market is undergoing seismic changes, and these spell serious problems for young Americans—and for young people around the world.

Concerns about getting a job make young Americans increasingly anxious. One of the big changes that drive this mounting anxiety is the disruption of the “formula” for getting a well-paying entry-level job. The playbook used to work like this: get into college, earn a degree, get hired, hone your skills, and move up the ladder. But this seemingly clear formula doesn’t yield predictable, optimal results any longer. In fact, the avalanche of alternative, shortened and cheaper pathways challenges this plain vanilla formula and erodes the (signaling) advantage of a college degree. Not only that but employers increasingly seek already-skilled workers, opting out of early-career learning and development.

As a result, young Americans seeking to plan their careers and identify the most promising pathways feel lost and confused in the face of this messy reality. People feel they’re navigating their future in the dark. It’s as if you’re called to steer your ship without a map or GPS. No surprise, this is one of the key reasons why young Americans in the 15-29 age cohort are experiencing unprecedentedly high anxiety over their economic future.

So what should companies do? Here’s how I think about it.

It’s time for a big rethink of how brands connect with people: it’s time for companies to recast their relationship with consumers and candidates alike.

Specifically, companies ought to move away from product-centric and job-centric transactional approaches to relationship-centric strategies. Buying your product or “buying” your employer brand is the outcome of a relationship that’s mediated, continuously, through online and offline channels and interactions. Companies need to invest smartly in nurturing these relationships, delivering value, and listening closely to what people need in life.

Imagine you’re a large retail bank. Does it make sense to continue pushing financial products and services? Or does it make better sense to look at your customers and future customers holistically, and help them crack the tough nuts they’re trying to crack right now?

Young adults in America and beyond are loudly saying that they’re anxious, worried, angry, and uncertain about their economic future. That they don’t know what path makes the most sense.

This anxiety affects their purchase behavior, their job-seeking behavior, and much more.

Smart product and employer brands will identify this as a huge opportunity to recast their relationship and deliver on people’s needs, turning this crisis into a win-win outcome.

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