YouTubers: A Rising Number of Gen Z-ers Look at YouTube as a Career Option

Ask an older generation what they wanted to be when they grew up, and you’ll likely hear “astronaut,” “professional athlete,” “doctor,” “policeman,” or similar.

For a younger generation like Gen Z, the overwhelming answer is “YouTuber.” According to a 2019 survey of 3,000 teens conducted by Harris Poll and Lego, the top choice for a future career path was a YouTube influencer.[1]

Clearly, traditional career paths aren’t for this generation. While some may pursue traditional careers, becoming a social media influencer has a lot of appeal for this generation and its unique experiences.

The Changing Job Ecosystem

The entire job market is different now than it was decades ago. In the past, jobs were found through recruiting and physical ads in newspapers. The internet was new and didn’t have an abundance of job boards.

The rise of the internet brought with it the democratization of information. Gen Z-ers have more access to information than previous generations, which not only impacts consumer behavior, but job-search behavior. Tweens can have a lucrative online business with just a little research and upfront work, which makes this generation the most entrepreneurial ever.[2]

The downside? This makes the job market more competitive than before. The supply side of jobs is disproportionate to demand, and recruiters spend mere seconds before deciding to move on to a different candidate. Job applications receive hundreds of applications for one role, leaving a lot of people continuing with a search.

Add applicant tracking systems, extensive job application and interview processes, mounting student debt,[3] and less-than-competitive wages, and Gen Z is looking for change. This generation saw the struggles of millennials with the job market and student debt, so they’re willing to get creative to avoid taking on the burden.

Also, like millennials before them, many Gen Z-ers are entering the job market amid a global pandemic, a poor job market, and an uncertain future. Considering these factors, who wouldn’t want an unconventional career choice?

What is a YouTuber?

Many people have an idea of what an influencer does, but it may not be entirely accurate. Social media influencers, whether a personal finance influencer, gaming influencer, or fashion influencer, are content marketers and creators that have established credibility in a specific industry. They use marketing for product recommendations and provide value to a vast audience of social media users.

More than a social media “model,” a successful influencer builds up a following over time and reaches a level of social media celebrity and, obviously, influence. Influencer marketing makes money a number of ways, including sponsored posts and partnerships, pay-per-view by advertisers, and content creation fees.

Influencers are active on virtually every social media platform, but YouTube has specific appeal for influencers. Founded in 2005, YouTube now reached 1.5 billion monthly active users who watch over a billion hours of video each day.

YouTube influencers are known as “YouTubers” and often have more popularity than traditional celebrities. They’re seen as powerful and influential icons. In fact, almost 50 percent of millennials have been inspired by YouTubers to make a positive change in their lives.[4]

Much like the older generations wanting the fortune and fame of models, actors, and pro athletes, YouTube has helped influencers become the new generation’s celebrity. Audiences connect with them and idolize them, which sounds a lot like the appeal of being a movie star for most. You may not know names like Evan Garber, Matt Anderson, and Logan Pauls, but the kids do.

Influencer marketing is also lucrative. The top 10 YouTubers made over $70 million in 2017.[5] But money isn’t always the motivation – Gen Z-ers are seeking YouTube influencer careers to gain:

  • Creativity: Younger generations prefer a creative career choice, such as being a content creator, over steady careers
  • Fame: YouTube stars are more famous and influential than traditional celebrities in some circles, such as Cassey Ho, Neghar Fonooni, or Shaun McBridge (Shonduras)
  • Self-expression: Like creativity, content creation offers an opportunity to showcase one’s true self, especially with video content.
  • Socializing: Creating content for social media is a collaborative and social experience
  • Influence: Gen Z-ers have an opportunity to influence others and change lives, much like traditional celebrities.
  • Travel: Some influencers promote travel, which may not be feasible otherwise

How Do YouTubers Make Money?

  • Branded integration: A branded integration is when a brand is mentioned or featured in a video. These may include “Brought to You By” messaging, product placement, or branded entertainment.
  • Brand ambassadorship: A brand ambassador or representative is a YouTuber with a long-term brand partnership. Influencers create sponsored content and may attend trade shows or other events on behalf of a brand. Red Bull and World Wildlife Fund have robust brand ambassador programs that leverage the power of influencers.
  • Affiliate marketing: Affiliate marketing includes links in content or video descriptions and promotional codes that send users to ecommerce sites for purchase. These URLs are coded with tracking IDs and influencers get a portion of each sale.
  • Combined social media platforms: YouTubers are rarely active on just YouTube. These influencers include the social media platform as part of a broad presence on major social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, or a personal blog.
  • Native advertising: YouTubers can earn money from advertisements displayed within their content.

These are just a few of the ways that YouTubers can earn a living.

The Future of YouTubers

Gen Z-ers must overcome – or have overcome – many challenges as they enter the job market. The entire job ecosystem has shifted, leading to increased competition, lower wages, and hefty study debt. This generation is pursuing unconventional paths that provide solid income with creativity, fame, and influence, giving rise to the YouTuber.