Disconnected: Career aspirations and jobs in the UK

A major new report reveals a disconnect between young people’s career aspirations and jobs in the UK, whether current vacancies or projected demand. This report is based on an international survey of over 8,500 people aged 14-18. There were over 7,000 responses from young people in the UK and this report focuses on their responses.

Read the full report here

Key findings:

  • The sectors that young people aspire to work in differ greatly from the jobs available. There is a disconnect between aspiration and opportunity;
  • The majority of young people are certain about their job choices – but there is a three-fold disconnect or worse between aspirations and demand in almost half of the UK economy;
  • For instance, five times as many young people want to work in art, culture, entertainment and sport as there are jobs available. Over half of those respondents do not report an interest in any other sector;
  • Young people are confident in their choices and the disconnect is strikingly similar at age 17/18 as at age 14/15, with similar patterns to the jobs to which children aspire at age 7/8. Such certainty and consistency of young peoples’ career choices throughout their teenage years suggests that this disconnect from available jobs, and the frustrations and wasted energy it produces, will require significant effort to resolve;
  • Many young people report only limited careers support from their schools and colleges, but those who are benefitting from careers activities and multiple career influences in secondary education have aspirations that are – in aggregate – better connected to the labour market;
  • Effective careers support reduces the disconnection between aspirations and jobs. Extending best practice could change the lives of 100,000 school leavers per year.

Extending and improving careers activities in secondary schools and colleges alone could reduce the disconnect by up to a fifth (equivalent to around 100,000-125,000 young people leaving school each year). Schools and colleges cannot solve this disconnect alone; employers must also play an engaged role, both by bringing their insights into schools and by ensuring the opportunities they offer future workers are attractive and inspiring.

Improved career support in secondary school and the expansion of career-related learning in primary schools has the potential to drive considerable benefits to the economy via reduced skills shortages and better alignment, along with the many other benefits of enhanced provision. Research has established a positive relationship between young people’s engagement with the world of work and their GCSE attainment.1 Young people with links to employers are likely to earn more and are less likely to be NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training). And careers related learning in primary schools plays a key role in getting children excited about learning as well as tackling ingrained stereotypes and narrow aspirations they often have. This report is timed to be launched alongside new analysis of PISA data by the OECD, also published on the 22nd January 2020 in partnership with Education and Employers. The launch of “Dream Jobs? Teenagers’ Career Aspirations and the Future of Work”, will take place at the secondary school in Davos during the World Economic Forum (WEF). The students at the school have all been asked to write about their views on the future of the world, the issues that matter to them and their own career aspirations. A number of WEF delegates will visit the school and talk to the students about views and aspirations – the first time the WEF event has been used as a direct catalyst for supporting career events at local schools.

Recommendations

Our findings suggest that a concerted effort is required to tackle this aspiration-reality disconnect, building on the recent progress made in careers education and the greater emphasis placed on careers by the Government and the ambitions of its Careers Strategy. The latest “State of the Nation” report from the Careers and Enterprise Company shows that careers education is improving in England. But, as this report shows, much more needs to be done to ensure that all young people get access to high quality, independent impartial careers advice and guidance so they can understand the opportunities available to them, regardless of their background.

Good practice must be extended and intensified. Young people’s aspirations and planned pathways to their desired jobs need to be engaged with and, if necessary, constructively challenged. It should be supported by better and more accessible projections of labour market demand – showing likely levels of competition in particular jobs and sectors. Our results suggest starting in secondary education is too late.

From age 7 we need to ensure that children get to meet a range of people from different backgrounds and doing different jobs. People who can help bring learning to life, show them how the subjects they are studying are relevant to their futures. We need to stop children ruling out options because they believe, implicitly or explicitly, that their future career choices are limited by their gender, ethnicity or socio-economic background. This is not about providing “careers advice” in primary schools but breaking down barriers, broadening horizons and raising 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. We need to ensure that every young person has the equality of opportunity to express their talents and lead full and meaningful lives.

Our findings suggest that a concerted effort is required by all sides to tackle this severe aspiration-reality disconnect – a three-fold disconnect or worse between aspirations and demand in almost half of the economy. Education can have a transformative impact, but it is important to recognise the role of employers as well in tackling limited aspirations to work in their sectors: not just in explaining the opportunities to students, but ensuring those opportunities are attractive, with appropriate conditions, remuneration and progression, as well as support for fulfilling and flexible careers.

This report calls for a significant expansion of career related learning in primary schools, more support for careers guidance in secondary schools, better labour market information for young people and better use of that information, as well as more help for parents and more engagement by employers.