Repot finds that career aspirations are disconnected from reality

A recent report has found that there is a massive disconnect between the careers that young people in the UK aspire to have, and the opportunities that are actually available to them:

  • 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;

This has been reported as cause for possible concern – that many of these young people are “destined for disappointment”.  I think that there is a more fundamental problem.  Even if these young people were to get jobs in the fields that they perceive to be aspirational, they would soon find out that the actual day-to-day work involved in their jobs is tedious and un-stimulating.  I have worked in fields that some may consider to be aspirational – big-budget consumer marketing; digital; the charity sector and so on.  The reality is that 90%+ of all of these jobs involved sitting in front of a computer, or sitting in meetings (or, often, sitting in front a computer in a meeting).  There was precious little creativity, requirement for independent thinking, or, to be honest, fun.

I believe that in order to become more free, to become happier and more self-fulfilled more people need to start thinking of work as a means to an end, not an end in itself.

For some people their work is a calling, a true vocation – artists, musicians, paramedics, are some examples – and I can totally understand that such people are happy and proud to define themselves in terms of their work, if you are one of these people then I both respect and envy you.  You are, however, in the minority.  Most people carry out work that is tedious, stressful and unfulfilling – or even if it is none of those things it is not what you would choose to do with your time if you didn’t have to earn money to live.  You may well disagree with that last statement, you may be thinking no, actually I find my work stimulating and I believe that it is of value, I really do enjoy what I do.   If so, try this simple thought experiment.  Imagine that the 18-year-old you could sit invisibly on your shoulder, like a guardian angel, and experience your work for a week.  At the end of the week you ask them a simple question: “Is this the life you would have chosen to lead?”.

Would the 18-year-old you choose to spend their days on a factory line, or sitting in front of a computer, or sitting in endless meetings?  Would they choose to spend hours of their week simply travelling to and from work on crowded, unpleasant, public transport and inching their way through slow-moving traffic?  Would they readily share your obsession with performance targets or sales figures or market share?  Would they feel a buzz from closing a deal? Would they want to give up so much control of their lives to organisational “superiors”?  I suspect not.  We need to work to survive financially, but we can reduce the extent to which we define ourselves though what we do in order to survive, and focus more upon the other aspects of our lives.