Young people's career aspirations versus reality


Office for National Statistics (ONS) analysis has revealed a sizeable difference between young people's earlier dreams and reality, by comparing the ambitions of those aged 16 to 21 with the realities facing 22 to 29-year-olds today.

So, did they end up in their dream jobs?

Teaching was the only dream job ranked in the top five by 16 to 21-year-olds between 2011 and 2012 in which 22 to 29-year-olds found employment during 2017. The job category that most ended up working in was as sales assistants and retail cashiers, which has been the case since 2011. We can see certain jobs falling in and out favour, with IT professionals jumping up the ranks by 2017, and construction taking the biggest fall in rank.

Expected earnings versus reality

ONS research has found that in 2015 to 2016, 24% of young people (aged 16 to 21) felt a high income was very important to them in their occupation, whereas 86% felt it was important. If the expectations of 16 to 17-year-olds is anything to go by, they are vastly different to reality.

For example, half of 16 to 17-year-olds expected to earn £35,000 by the age of 30 if they’d achieved a degree and £25,000 if they did not have a degree.

Data from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) gave an indication of that difference by showing that the average salary of a 30-year-old was £23,700. Almost half of 16 to 21-year-olds (48%) in 2015 to 2016 thought it was very likely that they would go into higher education. In reality, 38% of young people (aged 22 to 29) had degrees as their highest qualification in 2017.

Some of those young people were much more ambitious in their expectations for their future earning potential, with 5% thinking they could earn £80,000 or more at the age of 30. In reality, 2% of 30-year-olds earned £80,000.

Security and satisfaction

Job satisfaction and security were much more important to young people than a high income, the analysis discovered. In 2015 to 2016, 71% of them thought that having an interesting job was very important, while 60% felt that job security was very important. This figure has only increased by three percentage points since 2010 to 2011, despite the increase in zero-hour contracts and the so-called gig economy. In fact, 85% of young people (aged 22 to 29) had permanent jobs.

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