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Job aspirations remain unchanged in face of tech advances

A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has found that children’s career aspirations have experienced very little change in the past 20 years, despite rapid technological advances.

The report used data from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) to analyse how the job expectations of 500,000 children aged 15 has changed over time across 41 countries, including the UK, Ireland, US, Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and France.

The 10 most popular occupations cited by boys were engineer, business manager, doctor, IT professional, sportsperson, teacher, police officer, car mechanic, lawyer, and architect. This list is largely unchanged from 2000, although engineering has become a marginally more popular career option in the past 20 years.

The 10 most popular occupations cited by girls were doctor, teacher, business manager, lawyer, nurse or midwife, psychologist, designer, vet, police officer, and architect. Some occupations – writer or journalist, secretary, and hairdresser – have dropped in popularity among girls since 2000, while design and architecture made their way into the top 10 list.

The PISA data show  that children who came from advantaged backgrounds or who have a strong academic performance are more likely to aspire to be engineers than others. Gender and social stereotypes also play a part in career aspirations, with boys more likely to expect to work in technical careers than girls who perform similarly highly in STEM subjects in the UK and elsewhere. The report also found that the proportion of teenagers expecting to work in one of the 10 most commonly desired occupations by the age of 30 has concentrated over time, with just under half (47 per cent of boys and 53 per cent of girls) aspiring to work in one of these jobs.

“The analysis provides new insight into just how concentrated the career expectations of 15-year-olds have become. This is a matter of concern”, the report said. It added that the findings suggest that the expectations of young people may be outdated and unrealistic.

Andreas Schleicher, OECD director of education and skills, commented that aspirations had barely changed in 20 years: “Almost half of 15-year-olds aspire to just 10 jobs in a very fast-changing world of work. Many of those are jobs for the 19th and 20th centuries, not the 21st.”

In the UK, Ireland, and Australia, around 35 per cent of the dream jobs cited by teenagers are at risk of automation. However, many of the most popular careers (such as health professionals, and social, cultural, and legal professions) are at low risk of automation.

A separate report, Disconnected: Career aspirations and jobs in the UK [PDF], published by Education and Employers, found that there is a serious disconnect between career aspirations and the reality of the job market in the UK. The report, based on a survey of 7,000 British teenagers, found that five times as many teenagers want to work in art, culture, entertainment, and sport as there are jobs available, and that career aspirations are cemented as young as seven.

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