The career aspirations of young people are from A to B, but should be from A to Z

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

You’ve probably been able to remember some of the professions that appear at the beginning of the alphabet, such as abalone peeler or rappelling instructor. Maybe you enjoy doing things at the end of the alphabet like yarn comber, yogurt maker, or zoologist.

You could be an abalone diver... or a zoologist.

You could be an abalone diver… or a zoologist.

I bet most of us, myself included, would have had trouble naming all of these jobs, let alone the 3000+ others that exist between the abalone diver and the zoology technical officer. These bookend pursuits might give the impression that the only performances available in this area are animal related. Not so! Lamb marker is lurking almost in the middle, but this job is sandwiched between the lamb and the laminating machine operator. LAN administrators, landscape gardeners, lapidarium and latex foam makers are also not far away.

Anyone with all of these on their list is almost certainly lying or working as a jobs analyst. And that’s a problem.


A 2018 study released by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) International Student Assessment Program (OECD PISA) found that 50 percent of 15-year-olds aspire to just 10 careers. There are no prizes for guessing the top 5 most popular options. They were in turn doctors, teachers, economists, engineers and lawyers.

Australian research reinforces this concentration of aspirations among youth.

A discussion paper from Monash University entitled Young women choosing a career: who decides? reported that 65 percent of women by ages 10, 11 and 12 aspire to a job listed in the top 10 most popular OECD countries. In our own research conducted by Become Education with students who participated in our careers programs in elementary and high schools, we found that career concentration numbers for certain schools are even higher. About 50 percent of the students aim for five professions.

Clearly, there are only as many latex foam manufacturers as society needs and not everything in the world needs to be laminated, but neither does everything need to be litigated with lawyers. We could benefit from hiring more doctors, but think of the overcrowding in hospitals if 50 per cent of Australia’s 4.8 million under-18s all became doctors. The career aspirations of young people are from A to B, but should be from A to Z

Brian Lowry

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