OECD says employers need to tackle ”ingrained assumptions” about jobs

Children as young as seven risk ruling out future job options because of their gender, race and background, according to the OECD’s Director of Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher.

Speaking ahead of the formal launch of the I Am #InspiringTheFuture campaign, he said the stubborn skills gaps in the UK labour market are rooted in ingrained assumptions about the world of work from when children are at primary school.

He welcomes Education & Employers’ plans to build a 100,000-strong national network of professionals from the world of work pledging their time to go into schools.

Mr Schleicher says: 

  • potential talent is being wasted because children as young as seven already assume their gender, ethnicity or social background restricts their job or life choices – including stereotypes about science and engineering careers being better suited to men.
  • primary pupils need “light bulb moments” about their future from the time they start school – otherwise their horizons risk being limited to what their parents or carers do; what their teachers advise; or what they see on TV, films or social media.
  • career related learning starts too late in the UK school system – and early intervention is needed to unpick embedded beliefs and assumptions which risk restricting options later.
  • the mismatch between career aspirations and long-term projections of skills needs will grow without greater employer engagement in schools, particularly from rapidly emerging industries using AI and in growth areas like cybersecurity, biotech and renewables. 
  • primary pupils need access to inspiring role models from a full range of industries, professions and sectors, if society and the economy is to harness the full potential of the next generation – and he will repeat the philosophy of US children rights activist Marion Wright Edelman that “you can’t be, what you can’t see”.

Mr Schleicher pointed to OECD-Education & Employers’ joint report from January 2019 – Envisioning the Future of Education and Jobs: Trends, Data and Drawings. 

The report looked at the challenges and opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution and other global trends: climate change; ageing societies; population shifts; digitalisation; and growing middle class.

And highlighted Education & Employers’ research base over the last 10 years.

  • only 1% of primary age pupils hear about jobs from volunteers from the world of work visiting their schools; 
  • gender stereotyping exists from the age of seven;
  • over one-third of 15 to 16 year olds’ career interests lie in just 10 occupations; and
  • there are minimal changes between job ambitions at seven and 17 years old.

Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education & Skills, OECD said: 

“We’re not saying seven-year-olds have to choose their careers now – but we must fight to keep their horizons open. We cannot afford to waste talent from children as young as seven ruling out options if they are convinced their choices are limited by their gender, ethnicity or class. It’s a question of social justice and common sense to tackle ingrained assumptions as early as possible or they will be very tough to unpick later on.

“We need major employers, including government itself, to open up their work-forces to primary schools. We can’t afford the mismatch between career aspirations and the reality of the job market so we need to be bolder in getting inspiring professionals into classrooms as early as possible.

Inspiring the Future is a simple solution. We all had light bulb moments at school when we’ve met someone who inspires us to think big about our potential, our future and our goals. We believe every single young person has an equal right to that same light bulb moment – wherever they live, whatever their parents do, and whatever school they go to.

“It will tackle the imbalance in accessing role models. There is no silver bullet in boosting social mobility – but understanding the world beyond the classroom and home must be universal. It can’t be rationed to certain young people and not others.

“The best teachers enable children to discover their passions, develop their dreams and find their place in society. Pupils will invest in their education if they can link what they are studying in schools to the real world and the opportunities out there.”

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