OREM — Nine-year-old Gavin fidgeted in the school office chair at Wasatch Elementary in Orem on a recent Friday, playing with a bead toy as he contemplated what he wanted to be when he grows up.
"A doctor, because I can save people's lives," Gavin said.
Money was also a motivation. Asked which job he would not want, he answered, "A gas station worker." Why not? "Because you don't get paid that much."
Sitting in the stuffed, wood-paneled chair, Gavin's classmate, Jenna, said she wants to be an artist. Why? "Because you can get really rich and famous," she said.
These young students will likely be entering a workforce that is ready to receive them with open arms, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With 3.2 million reported job openings at the beginning of November and an assumed 5.1 percent unemployment rate in 2018 — compared to the 8.5 percent reported by BLS in December — job prospects look promising. While job placement is almost certain for many of these young people, the satisfaction they get out of that job is a different story.
Like many young students, Jenna and Gavin have idealistic hopes of what their careers will be like. However, they may be in for a rude awakening when they realize their first real job is not what they had initially imagined.
David Cherrington, professor of organizational behavior at Brigham Young University, said job satisfaction has been studied for decades with mixed results in part because those doing the study can skew the results to say what they want. For instance, if the individual conducting the study believes there is a correlation between pay and job satisfaction, it would be easy for them to interpret the data in such a way that confirms this belief. However, Cherrington has noticed that individual attitudes seem to have more to do with one's happiness at work than the nature of the employment.
Take Ronald Nelson, a vendor for the Los Angeles Dodgers since 1958. Nelson found out about this job in his youth through his worker's union and has found hidden benefits to his employment.
"I liked it because it kept my weight down and kept me looking younger because of all the walking I do," Nelson said. "It's a little hard to quit."
When people ask Nelson how he can keep going, he said it's simple — the more peanuts he sells, the lighter the bag around his neck gets. He said his job allows him to workout for free whereas other people have to pay money to work out at a gym.
His apartment is full of evidence of his love for his job. The memoirs he has collected include bobbleheads of Shawn Green and Andre Ethier, figurines of former Dodger players Matt Kemp, Adrian Beltre and Eric Karros and a frame encasing 15 rookie-of-the-year cards. Nelson, who will be 80 in February, is gearing up for yet another season of vending with the Dodgers.
"Without working I feel like all you'll do is get a heart attack," Nelson said. "If you give up, that's what gets the heart attack."
Jobs like Nelson's that are repetitive and less mentally challenging by nature often come with the stigma of being less satisfying. Depending on the attitude of the person, however, these jobs can be just as or more fulfilling than many of the more coveted, high-skilled jobs, researchers say. As Cherrington and his colleagues studied burnout and boredom, they found that jobs across the board had similar rates of burnout and boredom.
"Even the jobs that we think are the best have aspects that are unpleasant," Cherrington said. "My interpretation is that burnout is a result of losing meaningfulness in your job. Once your job has lost meaning, then you burn out."
When this happens, he suggests people take time off and reassess their career path and their motivations.
Mark Tschaggeny found meaning in his career by taking a less-traditional path. Tschaggeny studied exercise science at BYU and subsequently went to law school. After graduating from law school, he was an intern for the NCAA and eventually worked his way up to become the assistant athletic director for compliance at Utah Valley University.
"I made a conscious decision to pursue athletics instead of law because of what I value," Tschaggeny said.
He said although he does not work in law, he still uses the type of thinking he learned in law school since NCAA rules are detailed and require similar thought processes. He pursued law school because he knew it would provide him with options.
"I always picture education as the way to get to where you want to be," Tschaggeny said.
With the shifting economy and labor market, people will most certainly find themselves in a position where they are working in a different environment than they originally imagined.
Pat Reilly, program manager for career development at the University of Utah, and other counselors specialize in specific areas to help students make decisions on career paths. Their goal is to help students understand what they value, which careers are suited for their personalities and skill sets and what things they need to do to help students move in the direction of their career goals. They offer evaluations for the students to measure skills and interests and values and then encourage students to meet with a career counselor to go over results. The counselors serve as a sounding board for the student in this decision process. Reilly encourages students to learn what they can from all their classes because they may need those skills for a future career shift.
"There is still this myth that majors equal careers," said Pat Reilly, program manager for career development at the University of Utah. "Very rarely do I meet with someone who is in a profession now and has never deviated."
Reilly's conclusion is confirmed by a BLS study indicating that people born between 1957 and 1964 held an average of 11 jobs in a period of 26 years. While the switch from job to job may not always be a result of low-job satisfaction, proper perspective may be key in staying happy regardless of where one is working.
Tschaggeny offers advice to those embarking on career paths, whether for the first or 50th time. He warns against feeling stuck just because work or experience may suggest that as the only path. Rather than forcing him in a certain direction, his schooling was a springboard for what he really wanted to do.
"I knew what I would have to sacrifice to pursue this type of career and I went in with my eyes wide open, and now I'm able to enjoy it."