The OECD presented a report to the World Economic Forum in January 2020 that teenagers have overly narrow vocational aspirations.
According to the report (Dream jobs: teenagers career aspirations and the future of work) “47% of boys and 53 % of girls surveyed in 41 countries expect to work in one of just 10 popular jobs by age of 30. The figures, based on the latest PISA survey of 15-year-olds, reveal a narrowing of expectations as these shares increased by eight percentage points for boys and four percentage points for girls since the 2000 PISA survey.”
Indeed they report that over a 20 year period, there has been a narrowing of preferred vocational choices. For girls, 7 of the top ten career choices remained the same between 2000 and 2018 (Doctors, Teachers, Business Managers, Lawyers, Nursing and Midwives, Psychologists, Veterinarians - listed in order of 2018 popularity). The three from 2000 that dropped out of the top ten were the 8th, 9th and 10th rated Writers/Journalists, Secretaries and Hairdressers.
For the boys, it was even starker - the top ten occupations didn’t change, only their relative position did. They were, based on 2018 popularity Engineers (up 2), Business Managers (down 1), Doctors (up 1), ICT Professionals (down 2), Sportspeople (no move at 5), Teachers (no move at 6), Police Officers (up 3), Motor Vehicle Mechanics (no move at 8), Lawyers (down 2), Architects (down 1).
The OECD report highlights some important messages for career education. In particular they emphasise the need for broader and timely career information. They also highlight the importance of career talks, and career guidance. The importance of commencing career education early is also a take home message. These are welcome reinforcing messages underpinned with data.
There are some other important aspects that need more attention. The argument of the importance of the timely provision of career information is not new. This argument has been made, probably since Frank Parsons, at the beginning of the last century.
What is largely overlooked is the role of the individual student and how we can best foster their curiosity, their risk-taking, and their strategies for their futures. Simply providing more labour market information or “occupational signals” is not sufficient.
It might be argued that this fostering of interest and curiosity is covered by career guidance. However, if we consider the dominant paradigm in career guidance, we should not be at all surprised at the OECD data. The most popular approach to career guidance both face to face, and perhaps even more so via Internet delivery is some form of interests matching paradigm, with the most popular being Holland’s RIASEC codes matching approach.
Holland's approach is to reduce a student to a 3-letter code (out of a pallet of six codes) - Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising and Conventional. The student’s code is then matched to corresponding occupations classified using the same taxonomy.
If so much of guidance emphasises narrowing down vocational choices on the dubious premise that students are initially chock full of a wide array of possibilities, it is hardly surprising we end up with cohorts expressing limited vocational aspirations.
Indeed even if they are exposed to further labour markets signals, students are being encouraged to sift through these, to narrow down and discard competing options. We end up in the same place with a limited set of vocational choices.
The emphasis in the report is still very much on the product of careers education rather than the process. What we need is innovation that specifically targets student’s decision-making skills, their curiosity, risk-taking, persistence, optimism, and so forth. We need to move away from the conception of the student as the passive recipient of labour market information, and instead fully embrace the implications of the student as an active learner.
We need to place the individual student at the centre of their exploration, and explicitly design interactive processes that allows students to be in control of their exploration, which is encouraged and guided with accurate information, that is presented when the students seek and need it, not when it is deemed appropriate. While it interesting as the OECD report mentions, that those exposed to “career talks” are more financially successful in their twenties, surely in this technological world we can do better than simply inviting employers in for a talk.
BECOME’s philosophy is to foster awareness, aspiration & agency. Our study with the Northern Territory in Australia in 2018 showed around 80% of students in any one area aspire to 10 jobs, (Page 9) and when we took the shackles off and asked for their wildcard aspirations that only dropped down to 70%.
The big takeaway would be that it is no surprise at all. How could we expect their aspirations to have evolved when we don't do anything differently. If we want them to consider broader options and be more creative about designing their life we need to give them the time, tools and reason to engage.
BECOME’s technology-led interactive platform is a child-centred approach to career education. It addresses the concerns the OECD report rightly highlights, and synthesises career information into a system that is curiosity and student-led. It enhances and broadens the possibilities, it does not narrow down.
If we want to move students away from narrow vocational choices, we must be more creative and move away from frameworks that explicitly encourage narrowing down.
Professor Jim Bright
The Optimistic Cynic
Join Professor Jim Bright and other guest panellists each Thursday for our Reimagining Careers Education | Virtual Meetup Series. Each week our panel of speakers discuss the implications for careers education and the biggest challenges our young people face in 2020 and beyond.
The OECD report is available at www.oecd.org/education/dream-jobs-teenagers-career-aspirations-and-the-future-of-work.htm.
BECOME (2019) . Exploring Northern Territory student’s career awareness, aspiration and agency. Findings and recommendations from the 2018 benchmarking project.