How young people’s career aspirations are being held back

Continuing the #MakeEducationWork series, we take a look at what young people have to say about their career aspirations in the global education study By Us, For Us.

In a global study of young people’s aspirations, there are bound to be a diverse range of responses. This is normal. Different people want different things in their lives. However, there is one thing that unites young people – in order to realise their ambition, they need more from the education system that serves them.

Having careers that provide financial stability is a key aim and most young people recognise a good education as a pathway to affording the basic costs of living. They understood that, sometimes, they need to pursue career paths that are more likely to provide a stable income over whichever they feel most passionate about. But that doesn’t mean that money is all that matters.

But while financial stability is an aspiration, so are lots of other factors too. Many young people (28%) said their greatest aspiration in the next five years is to have opportunities to learn and grow – showing that personal development is just as important in deciding on career options.

Young people are also hungry for economic independence, with almost one in four (23%) aspiring to start their own businesses. This was particularly true of respondents from the Middle East and North Africa as well as Sub-Saharan Africa.

This aspiration is partly about the high-earning potential of such opportunities but it’s also a product of the education system not equipping them with what they want and need. If young people can’t learn the skills they need for career paths they are interested in, then they would much rather be taught the skills they need to create employment of their own.

Though entrepreneurship is something young people aspire to, it is often discouraged by parents who do not see it as stable as other types of professions. This sort of pathway shaping is common as families continue to push young people towards careers that they perceive as more sustainable.

As Rita from India explained: “I used to participate in social campaigns like flash mobs. My parents clearly stated that working in campaigns will not pay my bills… so I began searching for opportunities where I could also start earning myself.”

But it’s not just family opinions that are shaping career choices. A whole set of familiar factors are acting as barriers to young people’s aspirations too.

Economic status curbs ambition, with the best opportunities available to those that can afford them. This was particularly true in Latin America and Africa, where young people spoke not only of the financial cost of tuition but the exposure to different opportunities around them.

Young people spoke about access to different educational opportunities, from online learning to learning overseas or the availability of technical studies related to specific fields. While personal networks still played a major role too.

Finally, gender remains a huge constraint on half the world’s potential workforce. Women’s career aspirations are still capped by an expectation they need to remain mindful of household responsibilities and many roles are considered more feminine than others. Meanwhile, scandals such as ‘sex-for-grade’ propositions by professors are making many women fear for their personal safety in the education system too.

The By Us, For Us report has shined a light on the complex barriers young people are facing in order to realise their full potential in the world of work. To fight for a better system, join the #MakeEducationWork campaign today.


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How young people’s career aspirations are being held back

by #MakeEducationWork Reading time: 2 min