Children's Career Ambitions are lagging behind the new world of work

Just published by the World Economic Forum

Schools Industry Partnership, Adrian Rhodes


  • Young people's career aspirations have remained largely frozen since 2000.

  • Gender and social class play a big role in framing their expectations.

A major new international study shared at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, highlights the mismatch between young people’s career aspirations and jobs, and the impact this will have on the world economy. The OECD study Dream Jobs? Teenagers’ Career Aspirations and the Future of Work is based on the latest PISA survey of 500,000 15-year-olds from 41 countries.

While the world of work has undergone huge changes since the first PISA survey was carried out in 2000, the results show that the career expectations of young people have shifted little over this period. Surprisingly, they have actually narrowed. Now, more young people than before appear to be picking their dream job from among the most popular, traditional occupations, like teachers, lawyers or doctors. And their choices are heavily influenced by gender and social background.

“Too many teenagers are ignoring or are unaware of new types of jobs that are emerging. The analysis suggests that, in many countries, young people’s career aspirations increasingly bear little relation to actual labour market demand,”

Andreas Schleicher, OECD’s Director of Education and Skills.

Tackling ingrained stereotypes

It is vital that young people don’t rule out options because they believe, implicitly or explicitly, that their future career choices are limited by their gender, ethnicity or socio-economic background. Children often base their aspirations on the jobs their parents, friends and neighbours do, and on TV and social media. Young people need to be given the opportunity to meet a wide range of people from the world of work who can help bring learning to life and show them how the subjects they are studying are relevant to their futures. If they don’t know what opportunities are out there – if they have never seen a scientist or an engineer, a male nurse or a female firefighter – how can they aspire to such jobs?

Every young person, wherever they live, and whatever their ethnic and socio-economic background should have the right to hear first-hand about jobs and the world of work. Who is so busy that they can’t spare an hour a year to visit a school and chat with students about their job and career route?

It is the one relatively easy thing we can do to improve the future for our children and create equal opportunities for everyone.

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