Dream Jobs – OECD finds teens out of touch with work trends

Half of 15-year-olds in 41 countries expect to work in one of 10 popular jobs that are ‘traditional’, with some at risk of becoming automated out of existence, says an OECD survey. It found inequalities in career choices and options, confusion about how qualifications relate to careers, and some ‘negative misalignment’ in the qualifications young people aspire to versus what they need to achieve job goals.

Interestingly, ‘traditional’ jobs originating in the past two centuries – such as doctors, teachers, lawyers, vets, engineers, business managers and police officers – have become more popular in the past two decades, despite a transforming world of work.

Drawing on the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment or PISA – the world’s largest dataset on young people’s educational experiences – the study finds that education institutions need to do more to match skills to jobs; that effective career guidance is required along with close engagement with the working world; and that there need to be clear signals on labour market needs.

Dream Jobs: Teenagers’ career aspirations and the future of work was published in January 2020. The authors are Anthony Mann, Vanessa Denis and Andreas Schleicher of the OECD, Hamoon Ekhtiari, Terralynn Forsyth and Elvin Liu of Canada’s FutureFit AI, and Nick Chambers of the UK charity Education and Employers.

In the 2018 PISA round, more than half a million 15-year-old students in 79 countries and economic areas undertook assessments that included questions about the occupation in which they expect to be working at age 30 and their plans for post-school education. In addition, students from 32 countries responded to an Educational Career Questionnaire.

The PISA data are complemented by qualitative insights gleaned in December 2019 from letters written by young people around the world, to mark the launch of PISA 2018. The research explored how the career dreams of young people have changed over 20 years, how closely they are related to labour demand, and how closely aspirations are shaped by social background and gender.

Popular job shortlist is too short

“Huge changes to the world of work over the past two decades have made little impact on teenagers’ career expectations, which have become more concentrated in fewer occupations,” said the OECD in a statement.

Some 47% of boys and 53% of girls anticipated working in just one of 10 popular jobs by the age of 30 – the kind of 20th and 19th century jobs that captured young imaginations “before the era of social media and the acceleration of technologies such as artificial intelligence in the workplace”.

There has been 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”. This job choice trend is driven by disadvantaged youngsters and weaker performers in PISA tests.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, OECD Education Director Andreas Schleicher said the short list of popular traditional occupations was a concern. “Too many teenagers are ignoring or are unaware of new types of jobs that are emerging, particularly as a result of digitalisation.”

Education supply and market demand – A mismatch

The research found little connection between career aspirations and anticipated labour market demand, with market signals failing to reach young people. “Accessible, well-paying jobs with a future do not seem to capture the imagination of teenagers,” writes Schleicher in a chapter in Dream Jobs.

Further, many young people – particularly boys and teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds – “anticipate pursuing jobs that are at high risk of being automated”. For instance, in Japan and the Slovak Republic, up to half of the jobs cited by young people are at risk of automation.

The averages tell one story and country comparisons another.

For instance, Dream Jobs finds a greater range of career aspirations in nations with strong vocational training systems. In Germany and Switzerland fewer than four in 10 young people are interested in just 10 jobs, and the wider range of career interests better reflects labour market demand. This could also indicate strong career guidance and exposure to a variety of occupations.

By contrast, in Indonesia 52% of girls and 42% of boys anticipate one of just three careers – business manager, teacher and, among girls, doctor or, among boys, the armed forces.

Charles Yidan, co-founder of Tencent, writes in the foreword that despite an unprecedented number of years of education, young people still struggle in the job market “and governments continue to worry about the mismatch between what societies and economies demand and education systems supply”.

“The coexistence of unemployed university graduates and employers who say they cannot find people with the skills they need, shows that more education does not automatically mean better jobs and better lives. For many young people, academic success alone has proved an insufficient means of ensuring a smooth transition into good employment.”

In this age of accelerations, Yidan argues, “we need to think harder about what makes us first-class humans, how we complement, not substitute, the artificial intelligence we have created in computers, and how we build a culture that facilitates learning, unlearning and re-learning throughout life”.

Career confusion in the 21st century

In his Dream Jobs chapter, Schleicher points out that realising world and life dreams is a key source of motivation for students to study hard. Those aspirations can be “hugely influenced” by personal background “and by the depth and breadth of their knowledge about the world of work. In a nutshell, students cannot be what they cannot see.”

Studies have shown, Schleicher says, that engagement with the working world can lead to positive educational, economic and social outcomes for young people – and education institutions can help students to attain workplace experience as well as provide career development activities.

“Effective career guidance encourages students to reflect on who they are and who they want to become, and to think critically about the relationships between their educational choices and future economic life.”

Recent analyses exploring career preparation have focused on misalignment, “where the educational plans of young people are out of kilter with their occupational expectations”. When young people underestimate the education required to fulfil their dreams, they can expect to find their early working lives tougher than would be expected given their background and academic success.

Across OECD countries, one young person in five is negatively misaligned. Again, people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to show signs of confusion. “Career guidance has long had a purpose in enabling efficient operation of the labour market. It is now clear that it serves an equally important service in addressing inequalities,” Schleicher says.

PISA 2018 also looked at participation in career development activities. While more young people are engaged today than in 2006, less than 40% participate in important and relatively simple activities, like visiting a job fair. Disadvantaged youngsters are consistently less likely to participate.

Gender exerts strong influences. For instance, among high scorers in PISA tests, boys more often expect to work in science and engineering while girls are more interested in health-related careers.

So do socio-economic circumstances: “High-performing young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are, on average, four times less likely to hold ambitious aspirations than those with high PISA scores from the most privileged social backgrounds.”

Children of advantaged families are more likely to want to go on to university than working class kids. “Disadvantaged young people are at clear risk of career confusion. It is neither equitable, nor efficient, for students to move through education with blinkered views of both the breadth of the labour market and their own potential,” writes Schleicher.

Next steps

The report raises serious concerns over how prepared young people are for jobs of the future. At the end of 2019, writes Schleicher, the OECD joined a range of European and international organisations in a joint statement pressing the need for high quality career guidance for young people and adults.

“As more young people stay on in education beyond compulsory schooling and as automation quickens the pace of labour market change, the need for sustained action becomes ever more urgent,” Schleicher concludes.