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Emily Morgan, a 23-year-old grad, knows that she’s “lucky.” She found a job in her field just 10 months after finishing her undergraduate degree in water sciences at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the job she once imagined herself doing.

In high school, Ms. Morgan took photography as an elective. Though she wanted to pursue it further in university, she remembers being discouraged from it when talking about it with a neighbour.

“I remember her telling me, ‘Don’t go into photography, there’s no money in that,'” she says. “My parents were on board, too, and told me that I couldn’t go into that. I think they thought of it more as just a hobby.”

Statistics suggest that many in Generation Z, characterized as those who were born between the years of 1995 and 2012, may be feeling the same pressure. According to Statistics Canada, postsecondary programs under the science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM umbrella had an increase in enrolments from 2013 to 2018, the general time period where most postsecondary students would belong to Gen Z.

Mathematics, computer and information sciences enrolment increased 33 per cent during that time, while entry in architecture, engineering and related technology rose 11 per cent. By contrast, enrolments in non-STEM programs are declining, with humanities in particular decreasing by 12 per cent.

The stats are unsurprising for Meghan Reid, president of Canada Career Counselling and a registered psychotherapist. According to Ms. Reid, everyone is surrounded by “beliefs and messaging” while growing up. Families and society can heavily influence the decisions students make later in life – especially when it comes to career choices.

Ms. Reid says the majority of the agency’s clients work in STEM fields. Many have also expressed unhappiness with their jobs and indicated that the messaging they received when they were young influenced them into following their current career path. Several have realized they don’t like their jobs or even STEM as a whole.

“Your career takes up a lot of your life, so if your career isn’t a good fit or what you want to do, that can have a lot of negative consequences,” says Ms. Reid, acknowledging the psychological impacts that career choices have on people.

These consequences can range from multiple career transitions, leaves of absences and disengagement at work to depression, anxiety and a lack of fulfilment, Ms. Reid says.

STEM isn’t the only career field with messaging of misconceptions though. “Arts are often thought of as unstable,” says Ms. Reid, playing into a common fear of instability within society. “But our economy is shifting in a way that actually supports a gig economy in which many creatives can do very well for themselves.”

Data from Workhoppers, a Canadian platform that matches local freelancers to prospective businesses, supports this trend.

Just more than half of users on the site are between 22 and 34, while 5 per cent are 21 and younger. Co-founder Vera Gavizon says younger creatives are pivoting toward freelancing for more independence and freedom than the traditional 9-to-5.

The sentiment rings true for 22-year-old Daniel De Medeiros, who switched to an arts degree in university after initially planning to major in a STEM subject.

After graduating, he co-founded Real Collective, a marketing company with two other young creatives in a bid to make it his full-time job. “A lot of the people I went to school with and that I know are freelancing now. Even the ones with full-time jobs are freelancing on the side,” he says, citing “a hunger to create” rather than a “pressure to succeed.”

Ultimately, it’s that pressure that leads Ms. Reid to worry about the increase in Gen Zs pursuing STEM for the wrong reasons.

“Messages impact beliefs,” she adds. “When it comes to STEM, the messaging is these are the stable jobs, the good jobs, the jobs that pay money. But sometimes these messages just aren’t true … and it’s not that they are bad jobs, but to me a good job is just one that fits that individual.”

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