Young people’s career aspirations are A to B, but should be A to Z

How many occupations and specializations can you think of? Can you think of more than the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and Stats (New Zealand) have identified recently? How many different jobs would you like to do (not at the same time!)?

Presumably, you were readily able to bring to mind some of the occupations that appear at the beginning of the alphabet such as abalone sheller or abseiling instructor. Perhaps you like to do things at the end of the alphabet such as yarn comber, yogurt maker or zoologist.

You could be an abalone diver … or a zoologist.

My bet is that most of us, including me, would have struggled to name all of those jobs, let alone the more than 3000 others that feature between abalone diver and zoology technical officer. Those bookend occupations might give the impression that the only gigs available around these parts are to do with animals. Not so! Although almost in the middle lurks lamb marker, but that job is sandwiched between lagger and lamination machine operator. LAN administrator, landscape Gardener, Lapidary and Latex Foam Maker are also not far away.

Anyone who had all of those on their list is almost certainly lying or works as a labor market analyst. And this is a problem.


A 2018 study reported by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Program for International Student Assessment (OECD PISA) found that 50 per cent of 15-year-olds aspire to only 10 occupations. There are no prizes for guessing the top five of the most popular choices. They were, in order, doctors, teachers, business managers, engineers and lawyers.

Australian research reinforces this concentration of aspiration among the young.

A Monash University discussion paper titled Young women choosing careers: who decides? reported that 65 per cent of females in years 10, 11 and 12 aspire to jobs listed in the OECD top 10 most popular. In our own research conducted by Become Education with students participating in our career exploration programs in primary and high schools, we found career concentration figures for particular schools to be even higher. About 50 per cent of students aspire to five occupations.

Now clearly, there are only so many latex foam makers that society requires, and not everything in the world needs laminating, but equally not everything needs litigating with lawyers. We may benefit from recruiting more doctors, but think of the hospital overcrowding if 50 per cent of the 4.8 million under 18s in Australia all became doctors.

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