Jobs of the Future: How do young people’s career aspirations compare to projected workforce demands?

Go to the profile of Nick Chambers
Jun 14, 2019
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This article is part of the Forum Network series on the New Societal Contract.

Earlier this year, the charity Education and Employers analysed the career aspirations of young people in the United Kingdom aged 7-11 and 17-18 and mapped these against projected labour market demand. 

C1 to C26 representing different economic sectors
Image: Education and Employers

What was clear is that the types of jobs 7-11 year olds are choosing are similar to those of 17-18 year olds – with the top choices being culture, media and sport occupations. The narrow spectrum of aspirations is particularly worrying since Education and Employers’ previous research has shown that there is statistically “nothing in common” between teenagers’ career ambitions and projected labour market demand. The issue is one of narrow aspirations that often do not match up with their knowledge and expectations of the level of education needed. 

Throughout their teenage years, young people have to make important decisions relevant to their working lives, whether choosing subjects to study at 14 or staying in education – and what and where they study – at 16 or 18. Yet typically, they know little about the breadth of job opportunities and career routes available, leading them to make uninformed decisions that often have financial and social implications. For example, research has shown that teenagers who underestimate the qualifications needed for their desired profession are more likely to be unemployed in their early 20s.


How does someone’s social background effect their career aspirations?

The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has shown that certain “technical” and higher-earning professions that often require university degrees, such as medicine, law or veterinary science, are disproportionately popular among students from higher socio-economic backgrounds. Those from affluent, well-connected backgrounds meet a wider range of role models from the world of work and find it much easier to get work experience and internships. This enables them to have a much better understanding of the different careers available and consequently make more informed choices.

What jobs do primary-aged children aspire to?

In partnership with the OECD Education and Skills, UCL Institute of Education, TES and the National Association of Head Teachers, in 2018 Education and Employers undertook the biggest survey of its kind asking children aged 7-11 to draw a picture of the job they want to do when they grow up. The Drawing the Future report was launched during the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2018 and sought to determine the factors influencing career choices. It asked children whether they personally knew anyone who did their preferred job, and if not how they knew about it, as well as their favourite school subject. Over 20,000 entries came from Australia, Belarus, Bangladesh, China, Columbia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Uganda and Zambia. It was clear that children’s aspirations were shaped by gender-specific ideas about certain jobs. Boys overwhelmingly aspire to take on roles in traditionally male-dominated sectors and professions. Gendered patterns also emerge in STEM-related professions. Over four times the number of boys wanted to become engineers (civil, mechanical, electrical) compared to girls. Moreover, nearly double the number of boys wanted to become scientists compared to girls. Other findings included: 

  • Family, TV, radio and film have the biggest influence on children’s choices
  • The patterns of jobs chosen by seven-year-olds mirror those selected by 17-year-olds
  • Children’s career aspirations have little in common with projected workforce needs

What will the fourth industrial revolution mean for education and jobs?

In January 2019 the OECD, in conjunction with Education and Employers, published a report entitled Envisioning the Future of Education and Jobs: Trends, Data and Drawings accompanied by this 3 minute film:


In the introduction Andreas Schleicher, the report’s author and OECD Director for the Directorate of Education and Skills, writes, “Some people will question how we can talk about the future when we can’t even figure out what will happen tomorrow. But there is quite a bit we know about the global megatrends that shape education, and much has been written about the Fourth Industrial Revolution, including the recent Future of Jobs report by the World Economic Forum. And if we look at the future as the result of a series of advances shaped by these megatrends, then we have a better chance of being prepared for the challenges that lie ahead, rather than being ambushed by them”.

Education provides the key to shape these megatrends. Our economies are shifting toward regional hubs of production that are linked by global chains of information and goods, but concentrated where comparative advantage can be built and renewed. The distribution of knowledge and wealth is therefore critical, and it is intrinsically tied to the distribution of educational opportunities. The right skills can empower people and communities to take charge of their future. And employers and governments have a key role in helping young people understand the world of work and the jobs of the future. We need to do a better job of telling kids more about the world around them, and about the trends that are shaping it. Technology now allows us to give all children – regardless of social background, where they live or the jobs their parents do – the same chance to meet people who do all kinds of jobs, and to help them understand the vast array of opportunities open to them. And this needs to start at primary school. 

Photo by salvatore ventura on Unsplash

Aren’t primary aged children too young to engage with the word of work? 

People are rightly concerned when they see “careers” in the same sentence as primary schools, saying it’s too early. I agree we must not be providing careers advice at such a young age but instead we should be helping to broaden horizons and raise aspirations, giving children a wide range of experiences of the world including the world of work. It is about opening doors, showing children the vast range of possibilities open to them and helping to keep their options open for as long as possible. It’s about helping children to see the meaning and relevance of the subjects they are studying, and in so do motivating them to study harder which in turn leads to improvements in attainment. And there is a range of attributes, skills, and behaviours that can be encouraged at this early stage of a child’s life that will leave them in the best possible position as they begin their transitions to secondary education and to future. 

Employers and educators need to work far more closely together to help broaden young people’s horizons, raising their aspirations and, in so doing, help our future economic prosperity.

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Related Topics

Child Well-being Future of Education & Skills New Jobs & Occupations

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Go to the profile of Nick Chambers

Nick Chambers

Chief Executive, Education and Employers

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