The Great Resignation: What it may mean for the Class of 2022

Don Kjelleren

We’ve seen the “Help Wanted” signs on Spring Street and read the headlines that 20-plus million Americans have walked away from their jobs. Karin Kimbrough, LinkedIn’s chief economist, reported in a recent 60 Minute interview that the United States is experiencing the “highest quit rate” since the Department of Labor Statistics started collecting data decades ago. Considering the staggering national trends, we may ask, “How will the Great Resignation impact our soon-to-graduate seniors and even subsequent classes?”

First the good news: the industries experiencing the greatest rates of resignation are in construction, healthcare, hospitality, mining, restaurant, retail, and supply chain fields like transportation; typically not direct destinations for large numbers of graduating Ephs, according to our data regarding post-graduation employment.

Another positive for seniors relates broadly to job seeker sentiment. Pete Schlampp, chief strategy officer at Workday, captures what’s happening in a Fast Company article: “The number one thing that the [executives are] going to continue to be thinking about in 2022 is talent. We will be going from The Great Resignation into a world of the rising voice of the employee. They’re making decisions about where they want [to work]. They want more flexibility in their job. They want to work for companies that have a mission and a purpose that they believe in. They want to be heard. And if talent is the top thing on [executives’] minds, it’s going be incumbent on them to listen and put in place the processes in order to listen to their employees.”

With 1.5 job openings for every job seeker and a low unemployment rate of 3.9 percent, the Class of 2022 will enjoy more choice in the organizations they pursue than previous graduating classes. Our spring graduates are in an enviable position to negotiate for better wages, benefits, professional development, hours, ride arrangements, and even signing bonuses. This “leverage” is likely to last, according to a Firm Korn Ferry prediction of an $8.5 trillion talent shortfall by 2030, potentially benefiting our upcoming graduates for years. 

Not only has the Great Resignation led to favorable hiring conditions, the rise in remote work is creating more “work from” options.  With one in seven jobs now fully remote, the cost of living is increasingly driving work-life choices as workers exit places like California and Chicago for cheaper housing in Austin and Miami. Typically, Williams graduates favor Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. as first destinations. However, with remote work options now commonplace, these traditional geographic preferences could change.

With all of the seemingly favorable conditions for the Class of 2022, what, then, are the challenges? In short, it’s too many options. The “paradox of choice” is a condition that describes having too many choices, sometimes leading to paralysis when making decisions. Choice saturation requires applicants to spend more time, do more research, agonize between offers, and even fear accepting offers when wages are rising. Some potential job seekers avoid starting their job search all together because they can seemingly find work at will.

Provided the preponderance of jobs and the paradox of choice what can the Class of 2022 do? For one, students can reliably count on their Williams networks of faculty, friends, family, and alumni, among others. Students can candidly discuss what they want to carry forward from their education, what meaning and purpose they seek from their future work, what professional skills they seek to develop, and impact they wish to have. They can further reflect on how their curricular and co-curricular experiences have informed and shaped them. These are strong starting points to begin cutting through the market noise, making intentional decisions, and for taking advantage of the job abundance.

The Great Resignation may mean many things for the Class of 2022, and those undergraduates who follow. For now, it means more opportunities for discernment in deciding what happens after graduation, and more opportunities to ask prospective employers about work culture and values, flexibility, mission, and purpose. The next time you walk down Spring Street and see the limited hours at TC or help wanted signs, remember, there’s a potential silver lining to all of this for our graduates.

Don Kjelleren is the executive director of the ’68 Center for Career Exploration.