Over a third of young people are interested in just ten occupations

Reinforces the case for access to good independent careers advice


A paper out last month asks a simple question: is there any alignment between the career aspirations of young people, aged between 13 and 18, and the best estimates of actual demand within the current and future British labour market?

The paper says ‘The question is relevant to young people, employers and the UK’s future prosperity. The question is pertinent to young people who make important decisions about their future at ages 14, 16 and 18. Such decisions, about subject options chosen or dropped and experience sought, gained or missed are essential to the ultimate prospects of young people  in the jobs market. This paper asks, therefore, whether teenagers, as they make these decisions, do so with career aspirations in mind which reflect realistic opportunities in the world of work. The short answer is they don’t.

Emma Norris’s 2011 report for the Royal Society of Arts engaged 30 staff members and 32 students from four English Further Education Colleges in structured discussion about future  decision-making. She found that:  ‘students are not fully aware of the diversity of jobs available in different sectors. This  leads them to develop aspirations that are neither determined by their ability nor  based on a comprehensive understanding of the types of jobs available. …FE learners do not find it easy to access people who have experience of the careers or education  they would like to pursue. As a result, their understanding of particular sectors is often restricted to only the most visible roles and jobs, for instance in law – a 4 barrister; in television – an actor. FE learners who decide to pursue law, or broadcasting, consequently direct their energies into attaining the most desirable, competitive and visible jobs in these disciplines as they are the only jobs they know of. (Norris 2011, 16)


A project team from the University of Glasgow reached similar conclusions in 2011.

Considering the attitudes and experiences of 490 pupils in three urban areas (London, Nottingham and Glasgow), the team lead by Ralf St Clair, found little knowledge of available jobs or how to get them:  ‘there was little correspondence between the structure of [local] labour markets and  young people’s aspirations and expectations. …Parents’ hopes for their children were mainly unspecific as to occupations; there appears to be little awareness of routes to success. …Overall, there seemed to be a common lack of understanding of the ways in which school, post-school education and vocations were linked (St Clair et al, 2011, 58, 64)

A further recent study, also commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, reached a similar conclusion.

Loic Menzies’s review of the aspirations of disadvantaged pupils found  that they were often high, but that commonly such young people and their parents lacked  the knowledge and connections to provide reliable insight into how to achieve career  ambitions (Menzies 2013).’  The results support the findings from earlier studies cited above that commonly young  people are unable to understand the breadth of ultimate job opportunities across the  economy leading them to potentially identify unrealistic career aspirations. From an employer perspective, the findings presented in this paper strongly suggest that labour market signalling is not working.  The survey shows 36.3% of teenagers to be interested in just 10 occupations (teacher/lecturer, lawyer, accountant, actor/actress, police, IT consultant, doctor, sportsman/woman,  army/navy/airforce/fire fighter, psychologist) and, as stated, half of career interests to lie in just three of 25 broad occupational sectors. While some employers will be spoilt for choice in considering new recruits, others are very likely to be struggling to find young people who  are aware of the job opportunities they have to offer and well prepared by their educational  choices for them.

Again, this reinforces the case for easy,  early access in schools and colleges to high quality, independent careers guidance for teenagers.Ofsted is currently reviewing careers advice in schools but anecdotal evidence from Careers England suggests that the quality and scope of this advice varies dramatically between  schools, following recent changes . Face to face advice from a professional  is  not always easily accessible although this is seen as the most appropriate form of advice for disadvantaged pupils.


Nothing in common: The career aspirations of young Britons mapped against projected labour market demand (2010-2020) Dr Anthony Mann, David Massey, Peter Glover, Elnaz T. Kashefpadkel and James Dawkins March 2013

This report represents the results of a collaboration between b-live, charity the Education and Employers Taskforce and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. It is published within the  Taskforce’s Occasional Research Papers Series.


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