Disconnected: Career aspirations and jobs in the UK

Authors: Nick Chambers, Chris Percy and Martin Rogers
22nd January 2020

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).2 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.

The massive disconnect between aspirations and reality is not confined to this study – the phenomenon has been identified consistently in multiple studies. For instance, the Your Voice survey confirms previous work such as Drawing the Future and Nothing In Common that show a discrepancy between aspirations and available jobs. Nothing in Common looks at whether the aspirations of UK young people have anything connection to labour market demand.

Disconnected was 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”, took place at the secondary school in Davos during the World Economic Forum (WEF). The students at the school were 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 visited the school and talked 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.

Read press coverage of the Disconnected report below: