Part 3: Future Talent /

Career aspirations

We asked young people about the careers that they would most like to work in the future. The options that they were given included sectors, groups of job types, and ways of working.

Young people have a preference for working in the Professions (28%) or Starting their own business (25%). Technology comes third on the charts with 24% of young people expressing a preference for a future tech career.

Careers that young people want to work in the future (% respondents)

Responses (%) Responses (%)
Professions 28
Start my own business 25
Technology 24
Creative and design 23
Other 17
Sports and entertainment 13
Retail 11
Financial services 11
Uniformed services 10
Construction 6
Manufacturing 4

Looking at all young people in our sample provides an insight into the future cohort of UK workers. But when we segment the sample, and delve into the personal characteristics of young people we found very diverse results. There were significant differences, for instance, in the responses that young people made based on their gender.

Technology was most popular for young men at 36% of responses, whilst the Professions (36%) such as law, and medicine, and Creative and design (26%) careers, were most popular for young women.

Careers that young men wanted to work in the future (%)

Careers that young men wanted to work in future
Responses (%)  Responses (%)
 Technology 36%
Start my own business 26%
 Professions 20%
Creative and design  18%
 Sports and entertainment 18%
 Financial services  13%
Other 12%
Construction  10%
Retail  9%
Uniformed services 9%
Manufacturing 6%

Careers that young women wanted to work in the future (%)

Careers that young women wanted to work in future
 Responses (%)  Responses (%)
 Professions 36%
Creative and design 26%
Start my own business 24%
Other  21%
Technology 13%
 Retail  13%
Uniformed services 11%
Financial services  10%
Sport and entertainment  9%
Construction 2%
Manufacturing 2%

There is a well developed body of research exploring why young women and men exhibit different career preferences, in particular, why choosing engineering and STEM professions have traditionally not been a top priority among women.

One of the key mechanisms that many have suggested in normalising tech, engineering and STEM professions to young women has been exposure to role models. It has been shown that these role models may positively influence their attitudes toward choosing a career in engineering (Hackett et al. 1989). We know that role models help young people to identify the profession they aspire to with their own experiences – as such, female role models are important in encouraging young women to pursue science-related careers, and research has found that women respond positively to this encouragement in pursuit of their STEM trajectories (Tan et al. 2013).

Research from Kekelis et al. explores the theme of tech careers, focusing solely on the aspirations of young women. They also posit that social norms have an important bearing on young women’s likelihood to choose a tech career, however, they suggest that young women who do study technology, are more likely than young men to work on clerical skills, in courses that do not prepare them for careers in advanced technology fields.

The assertion that some researcher have made – that young women are both less inclined to pursue a tech career, and if they do, enter a role that demands fewer tech skills – is highly debated. Wang et al. look at Maths and STEM performance, and the career preferences that young people express. They find that despite the gender gap narrowing over the last 10 years for young men and women taking mathematics, females continue to be less likely to pursue STEM careers than men (Ceci and Williams 2007; National Science Foundation 2011).

Different theories have been pushed forward to explain the underrepresentation of women in the STEM fields. These range from gender differences in mathematical ability, gender difference in self awareness of ability, hobbies and interests, and occupational and lifestyle values and preferences.

It has been found that mathematics ability alone is not the determinant of lower representation of women in STEM intensive jobs. In fact, among men and women with comparable aptitude in maths, women were more likely to do better than men in communication – interpersonal skills like verbal communication are often described by employers as valuable (and hard to teach) attributes of productive, and rounded workers (Park et al. 2008).

Young women were far less inclined to choose a tech career as a future preference, at 30% of young people, compared to 70% young men. Some of these issues stem from the norms that have been established through structures like recruitment processes. To reduce gender bias in your recruitment processes, you can:

  1. Use gender neutral language to advertise tech vacancies. The use of particular words and phrases will have an impact on whether men or women feel able, or qualified to apply for a job – for example, Gaucher et al.’s analysis shows that company use of language reinforces gender inequality. Companies should therefore use tools to assess and eliminate gender bias, a good first step is to understand what extent the advertisements that are currently being used include gender coding. Matfield’s Gender Decoder for Job Ads (which uses Gaucher et al.’s research) informs the user whether the ad that is pasted into the text box is masculine, or feminine coded.
  2. Ensure that tech jobs are advertised in places that men and women are equally likely to see. Some publications, have a predominantly male readership and tailor content to appeal to this demographic – therefore vacancies that are exclusively advertised in these publications serve to reinforce a gender bias in potential applicants. Employers should not only look at the content within their job advertisements to eliminate gender bias, but also ensure that the location of their job advertisements are conducive to a gender equal readership.
  3. Be clear on your company culture, and tell people about it. In most cases, people will have strong preferences for working at a company based on their pre-conceptions of that organisation, informed by what they see of the company in public spheres, like the media, and from friends and family. As such, companies should strive to be open and transparent about issues like pay, culture and equal opportunities.

What are young people’s perceptions of available career paths?

Young people’s perceptions of career paths

Statement about career paths
Proportion of young people (%) Strongly disagree Disagree Neither agree nor disagree Agree Strongly agree
Work experience crucial 3% 10% 22% 43% 22%
App’ship over uni for career 5% 15% 20% 38% 22%
Too few training opportunities 3% 13% 25% 40% 19%
Earn more with uni education 6% 15% 35% 29% 15%

When we asked young people about the their future career paths, 65% of young people felt that work experience was crucial to getting their first job. The majority of young people also thought that there were too few training opportunities for those who did not go to university, with 59% of respondents either agreeing, or strongly agreeing with this statement. However, most respondents did not feel that they would earn more in the long run if they went to university over an apprenticeship, with 57% neither agreeing nor disagreeing, disagreeing, or strongly disagreeing.

To offer work experience opportunities that everyone can be involved in, you can:

  1. Work with a local school or charity to raise awareness about you work experience opportunities: relying on existing networks and word-of-mouth information on opportunities at your company means groups outside existing networks never hear of opportunities
  2. Be flexible when considering qualifying criteria: broaden your search for a prospective work experience candidate, and try not to apply a high bar based on educational attainment, grades or existing work experience. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggest that young people offer new ideas and ways of thinking, reflecting the interests and needs of the next generation of customers and consumers – consider that an inclusive hiring strategy will develop diversity, and could augment your business.
  3. Be proactive and reach out to young people: consider reaching out to young people in ways that are meaningful to them, to garner positive engagement with your company. This might include attending careers fairs, open evenings and school events, as well as convening school, college or university careers discussions which will give you the chance to talk about the positive attributes of tech careers, and working for your business.
Sarah Pashley, Principal, Ron Dearing UTC, Hull

Young people are already excited about STEM subjects. The difference between Ron Dearing UTC and an ordinary school or college is that our students attend for a 40 hour week. This extra time enables us to teach them how to apply knowledge to real projects, developed and delivered by our employer sponsors. Our students are working with people from industry who are at the top of their game...
Young people in schools simply don’t know about the diverse career opportunities that are available within the STEM sector. Teachers don’t have this knowledge and therefore their pupils aren’t getting the information, advice and guidance they need. At Ron Dearing UTC students learn about the different career opportunities that are available within our partner businesses first hand from experts working in these fields.

Nick Dixon, Head of the Launchpad Programme, Falmouth University

Launchpad is a graduate incubation and acceleration programme designed to build new high growth businesses to meet market demand in just 12 months. It is also an innovative method of graduate incubation as it is underpinned by a specially designed one-year MA Entrepreneurship programme, where setting up new high growth business becomes the learning vehicle. This means students both build a new business and gain a Masters Degree at the same time. Launchpad works because its unique methodology reverses the normal supply side approach to both business and to business education.

What do young people think is important about work?

We asked young people what factors they felt were important about work, in order to understand the rationale behind their career area decisions.

Young people felt that salary and job security were the most important factors in their future career, with 93% stating that they were ‘Fairly Important’ or ‘Very Important’.

Surprisingly, half of young people suggested that working with the latest technology was not at all, or not very important.

Career factor
Proportion of young people (%) Not at all important Not very important Fairly important Very important
Job security 1 6 49 44
Salary 2 6 52 40
Work-life balance 1 8 39 52
Career progression 1 9 44 45
Working with diverse people 6 28 42 24
Working with the latest technology 7 43 37 13

Tech Nation Talent

A four-part series of reports on the talent and skills dynamics of the UK tech sector.

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