/ Money, Parenting

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Dream job

Today’s 12-25 year olds have very different career goals to those of their counterparts 50 years ago.

As a child, many of you probably had wild dreams of what you wanted to be when you grew up. Perhaps you wanted to be an astronaut, having been inspired by the moon landings, or maybe you hoped to become a footballer, spurred on by a sporting triumph? But how would those dreams differ from today’s youth?

Being a bit of a tomboy and a big fan of Top Gun to boot, I initially aspired to be the first female Red Arrows pilot – I was pipped to the post on that one. Growing up close to a Royal Air Force base, I seemed to be forever spotting some impressive noisy aircraft dancing through the sky and I suppose I was very influenced by what was around me.

And it seems today’s social-media-obsessed, fashion-conscious world has a big impact on the future working generation’s goals, too.

Dream jobs

According to a recent study commissioned by Currys PC World, the top dream job of someone aged between 12 and 25, I am (obviously) pleased to report, is writer 🙂

This is then followed in second place by YouTube sensation, then artist in third, photographer in fourth and clothes designer in fifth. Those surveyed claimed that finding the right job was more important to them than money and they felt less inclined to follow in their parents’ footsteps.

The list has changed quite considerably from the ambitions held by youngsters 50 years ago.

According to the study, the top dream jobs then were teacher, followed by scientist, footballer, sportsman and doctor.

Of the over-50s who were asked about their childhood ambitions, 43% of them said there weren’t as many opportunities available to them as there are now. Around a third thought they weren’t very aspirational in their youth, and 15% said they were pressured into a career path by their parents.

Older and wiser

Now for me, as I got older and, as my mother would probably say, slightly more creative, I left my petrol-head ways behind me, and moved towards the slightly more attainable dream of becoming a writer.

I had a very inspirational English teacher, who had a background in magazine writing and editing, and although I don’t recall ever being pressured into a career path, I chose one that led to writing for a living. Once again, I was heavily influenced by what was around me.

Whether it was a far-fetched aspiration or a sensible attainable goal, we all had dreams of what our future jobs might be when we were bright-eyed young things. So what did you want to be when you were young? How were you influenced in your future dream jobs?


That’s a very small sample survey: “The research of 1,515 teenagers and adults in the UK was conducted in August 2016”, so I doubt its validity, to be honest. What’s important to realise is that many children fail to achieve what they want. Many youngsters are distracted and uncertain about where they see their lives heading, yet there’s mounting evidence that the most important contributory factor towards ultimate achievement is motivation. Good parents and good teachers will never tell a child that something’s beyond them; they’ll always try to encourage, guide and motivate kids to achieve whatever they can. Because it’s amazing just how far a motivated child can go.

It’s possibly true to say kids of yesteryear leaned more towards their parents in terms of occupation, but I suspect that only applied to the professional classes. Now, media icons serve to transfix and inspire, but not necessarily in the best ways. I achieved what I wanted to do, and later moved into my second field of writing. But I’ve always been very glad I had inspirational and motivating teachers. They made a real difference.

I realise I owe a huge amount to both my parents and much teachers.

I particularly remember that my old headmaster regularly used the parable of the talents in morning prayers. I think his point may have been that we would all end up as uniquely talented individuals – and then it would be our job to do whatever we could do best to benefit others (and society in general).

I agree with Ian on the inadequacy of the survey – it is a very small sample across such a wide age range. But in some respects I would say the results show a remarkable validity on the difference between career aspirations for the ‘young Brits’ and the ‘older generation’. Of course, only those of us in the latter group can fully recognise this [sorry Lauren!]. Looking at the “Top 20 Jobs . . . ” table in the linked article it shows that years ago the top categories that youngsters aspired to were useful jobs serving people and making things better for people [except for No. 3] and I would agree with that. Today’s generation is much more self-centred and wants a self-gratifying career [one has to understand in each case that the word ‘successful’ is missing but it is clearly implied]. Not until we get down to No. 12 do we find a useful career choice and then there are two or three more in the remaining eight. The older generation desired jobs that required apprenticeship or training and qualifications; the new cohort clearly place more trust in their inherent talent or personality. Since success or great competence only comes to a few in any career I fear we are paving the way for increasing disappointment. What worries me is the number of vital jobs that nobody aspires to. In the long run they are bound to be the most rewarding.

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Oh, thanks, Duncan. I thought it would just about do on a Sunday when nobody’s looking.

A random careers site – alec.co.uk – lists the 10 most popular UK careers as:
Marketing officer; Software “engineer”; Medical administrator; Community nurse; Advertising agency account executive; Customer services assistant; Information officer; Administrator; Engineer. Their US and Canada results were, however, heavily weighted towards the medical professions.

A curious collection. I suppose it depends what you ask, who you ask, and what environment you operate in. I don’t see why Currys have any particular credentials to run a meaningful survey. Except perhaps to survey their staff on an understanding of the Consumer Rights Act.

What is depressing is the apparent lack of aspiration to do useful jobs – productive in the sense of making, building, caring, designing, feeding…… Perhaps they are influenced by the fantasy electronic world inhabited by some, presumably via the electronic devices purveyed by, among others, Curry’s. Like getting uptight about whether a luxury mobile phone has a headphone socket or not, I wonder whether we are losing touch with what the real world needs?

Yes ! – Back of the net, Malcolm.

This is quite a topical topic, given that May has loosened the reins on Grammar schools being expanded. On another forum the debate about Grammar schools is very busy, and May’s move might well change the face of education in England, at any rate.

Career aspiration and the quality of Secondary Schooling are inextricably linked. The timing of May’s move is also interesting. Given the disarray in Labour at the moment there’s hardly likely to be any real opposition to the proposals.

I await with interest seeing how the PM refines and develops her policy proposals, seizes the current opportunities, and addresses the evident needs. The biggest stumbling block politically is the word “grammar”, if they could find a better word for the new concept it would help.

I think every child in the country is entitled to the highest standard of education and development opportunity that is possible, and the country is entitled to a teaching profession and an education system that can deliver it.

The prevailing arrangement whereby going to the right church, or buying an expensive house in the right road, or being able to afford private tuition, are the necessary pathways to the best education cannot be morally justified as they perpetuate elitism and exclusion. Even without selection, they would be wrong.

I never understood why the local authorities that employed the teachers effectively appointed them to specific comprehensive schools rather than used them as a resource with which they could balance the standards across all their schools and reduce the inequalities. I don’t know whether the academy structure [where several schools are run by the same sponsor] has overcome this, but there really is a case for placing the better teachers in the under-performing schools [with raising achievement across the board, not equalising it down to a comfortable level, being the aim].

I think it is most unfortunate that in many secondary schools there is no education after GCSE and the pupils transfer to sixth form colleges or to external colleges, or just leave. Like a climber apprehending a mountain range, if pupils and teachers in the lower years cannot see the advance of students into the upper level and beyond, it limits their aspirations and motivation and diminishes the corpus of the school and its esteem. This adversely affects parental attitudes as well.

I can answer your query about why authorities appoint to schools and not an area. It’s essentially because of continuity. When the Government introduced the National Curriculum they stopped short of specifying how it would be delivered, claiming they were making it possible for ‘creative and gifted teachers to deliver the subject matter in unique ways’. This was, of course, simply a get-out, since simply agreeing what should be taught proved insuperably difficult for civil servants to manage, let alone dealing with the How.

That means that teachers within school work as heads of or part of teams or faculties. It takes a lot of work to prepare a lesson scheme within a faculty, and those lesson schemes have to be submitted whenever an inspection occurs, so teachers hone schemes to their particular pupil intake, area and resources. All that means that schemes of work tend to be extremely specific to areas and schools.

The second reason is that it normally tales a Secondary teacher around a year to integrate themselves into a specific school; many reasons, but the socialisation and adaptation processes, whereby the teacher gets to know the kids, take a fair while. So continuity is seen as an advantage in much the same way as some people prefer to deal with the same GP each time they visit the surgery.

Finally, councils do have a pool of unattached staff called ‘Supply staff’, and these are paid by the individual schools on a per need basis. The biggest issue reported by supply staff is not knowing exactly what to teach or how to teach it, since the systems differ, as noted previously.

Thank you, Ian. I thought continuity would have lot to do with it. Whether that is a holistic good for education is debatable as it inhibits the cross-fertilisation of good practice, limits the opportunities for weaker teachers who could benefit from a posting to a better school, and has probably led to inconsistency through the proliferation of bespoke learning schemes and thereby a diminution of accountability. This might of course suit some parts of the teaching profession who regard all change as disruptive and if the objective is to keep things as they are it is not difficult to design administrative systems to target that and reinforce it.

Obviously there is a degree of teaching turnover in all schools, and teachers can choose to leave at a term’s notice whenever they choose, but beyond that I think a good school should be able to accommodate a five per cent refresh rate each year to redress the imbalances that must constantly occur across a group of schools under common LEA control or academy sponsorship. Of course, such a notion of supplying teaching by reference to practitioner quality must involve some sort of appraisal system – the sort that many workers have to live with during their careers – and that would be anathema to certain interests and not welcomed by those who would have to do it.

I believe that Theresa May is looking to secure what is best for children’s education and development through inspiration and motivation rather than what might suit the teaching profession or the bureaucracy. I suspect that one of the objections to the grammar schools is that they have a tendency [by tradition and culture] to become stale, but I can also appreciate that that could appeal to many people including some parents.

There’s a comprehensive appraisal process used for Teachers in existence and has been since the mid-90s. But the main yardstick has been results, in the past – an indicator that brings its own problems to the table.

To be fair to teachers (and there are still some rather poor ones around) the profession as a while has been messed with repeatedly since the early ’80s. Increasingly pressured to do more paperwork many teachers have either left the job or become administrators – with far less stress.

Not entirely sure what May’s agenda is. Partly it’ll be to placate voters in some seats but it’s not about making a more equal society – of that I’m sure. After all, to do that all you need to do abolish public schools…

The problem I have with aspiring to an “equal society” is it is an impossible objective, even if it were desirable (which I do not think it is). Those who propound it usually stand above it – in status, salary, pension, authority. Not you Ian, I’m sure – present company excepted.

More equal in opportunity I would support. But we must grasp opportunity and use it to our advantage. Inevitably what emerges are specialist skills which will always be more dominant in society, more lucrative, more leadership. more entrepreneurial.

The quality of teaching is key to all of this and academic results are only a part of that. It is indeed desperately unfortunate that schooling has been a political football for decades and, in consequence, curriculum, standards, testing, and even projected outcomes have been subject to so many changes which have impacted on the quality of teaching.

In terms of preparing pupils for careers, I question whether we have the right approach. It seems all a bit one-dimensional and inevitably has a political structure based on inputs rather than an expectations-based framework concerned with outputs and the needs of students and society.

On the route to an equal society I believe that is unattainable [like a rainbow] but that does not mean it is unapproachable. In terms of education it used to be said that state education should be so good that no one would want to send their children to a fee-paying school. I wonder how things would be if we handed it over to educationists and the teaching professions and withdrew the heavy hand of government. Personally I doubt that would work either and there would be huge inconsistencies.

In terms of the teaching profession, where else can one work effectively unsupervised while doing the most important part of one’s work behind a closed door and where the out-turns are not available before it is too late to influence them? This not wrong, but it is an enormous privilege that should have a counter-balancing yield for the subjects of the system and for those who place their trust [and their children’s futures] in it. I am not convinced that is happening as much as it should.

And I agree there is far too much paperwork in the teachers’ timetable which drains the joy from their vocation and blunts achievement of the main purpose.

I suspect many professions share that characteristic, John (where else can one work effectively unsupervised while doing the most important part of one’s work behind a closed door ). But you’re spot on about the quality of teaching. Trouble is the really excellent teachers seem to burn out early on or become Heads and Deputies, so their teaching ability doesn’t influence the number of pupils it should. We are, in the UK, a little over-whelmed by assuming management should always be paid more. In teaching, perhaps that’s something that needs examining.

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Several points I’d pick up on, Duncan. We were also extremely poor, but post–18 – provided you had sufficient A level grades – the local authorities paid rather good grants on which to live, and they paid all tuition and accommodation. To be fair, I agree that the social pressure was on from certain families to get out and start earning, so that extra three years did make a significant difference to some children.

Things have changed (although not for the better I suspect) and children now incur significantly greater costs to go to University. But children are not all guided towards university: far from it. The myth that this happens is partly down to those Unis that offer degrees that carry little real worth. The Government, back in 1974, set a target to ensure that 50% of school leavers would have degrees. Gradually, it dawned on the policy-makers that this was unachievable for two reasons: firstly, there simply weren’t enough Universities, and, secondly, University degrees are demanding often too demanding for many. By the late ’80s they reluctantly conceded the first point, and, instead of building new Universities, simply converted all existing Polytecs, Art colleges, Building colleges and Teacher training colleges to Universities. Bit like waving a magic wand, they simply defined more universities into existence.

But as reality bit, trades began running short of plumbers, Sparks, technicians, joiners, plasterers and so on, and the costs of attending a University escalated the less popular Universities – those with a less than stellar reputation – desperately sought to attract more students by any means possible, and that included making the degrees as simple as possible to pass. Which translated into degrees that didn’t require particularly good English skills, no mathematical ability and little real intellect, while suddenly apprenticeships came back into fashion. It had finally dawned that we didn’t need, nor was it practicable, to have a workforce of Advanced Degree holders.

I’d also pick up on one final point: Engineering MEngs from any Universities in the Atkins group are considered every bit as worthwhile and valuable as Medicine and their holders frequently earn a great deal more.

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The more young people we can get to pursue a STEM [Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics] course at school the better. The job opportunities are there across a wide variety of careers, and skills transfers are often possible at later stages. A university degree is not always a necessity or could be taken later. Believe it or not we still have a large manufacturing sector in the UK, there is a continuously growing maintenance engineering demand, transport engineering is an expanding area especially for rail, and power generation and supply [both onshore and offshore] offer exciting opportunities way into the future. There also innumerable opportunities in engineering research and development in plastics, electronics, automation, structures and other fields.

One way to boost the practical and most useful career routes would be to suppress some of the alternatives.

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John: all youngsters have to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It’s compulsory. And you’re right in that Engineering as a career has never been more valued. Chartered Engineers are commanding silly salaries (although not as much as some charities…) and there’s a real need for repair people in all fields.

Thanks, Ian – I should have corrected that during the edit stage because I meant to say “beyond school” instead of “at school”.

Very few youngsters at age 18 have a clear idea of what they want to do. With the notable exception of vocational degrees, such as Law or Medicine, many youngsters are unaware of what the work-marketplace is looking for. It can help to examine the areas which have seen significant expansion over the past 30 years.

The biggest expansion has been in Entertainment. This is a truly huge field, covering everything from video games to tight-rope walking, but it takes in everything media related en-route. It’s no accident that the majority of Royal Academy of Music final year students are looking for position in the entertainment industry. Yet breaking into entertainment can be as much about luck as ability.

Take our very own Lauren – the tomboy from Top Gun ( a film which nearly finished Kilmer’s career, BTW). As a writer for Which? it’s not a huge step to move into broadcasting as a research assistant, from where she can work the largely meritocratic structure of the TV and Film business to move rapidly up the greasy pole to become an assistant producer. From there, producer becomes possible (an Art or Graphics degree helps), possibly via scriptwriting for documentaries before she takes the plunge to form Deitzian Productions and makes a fortune creating adverts featuring cute animals.

Sound far fetched? I doubt Ridley Scott would agree. An Engineer’s son from the North East, his father wisely encouraged him to develop his obvious artistic skills instead of joining the army, which Scott had wanted to do,. He was talented – but also very lucky. Now, he can more or less name his price as a Film Director.

So, Lauren: what’s stopping you?

‘Deitzian’ does have a ring, doesn’t it? I’m glad you’re happy at Which?. Lauren, but nothing lasts forever so you should keep an eye out for the next stage of your professional life. After all, ‘Deitzian Productions Presents’ could be coming to a cinema near you, soon…

Oy! Why can’t we paste pics, then? Typical mogul…

Ahah! Unleashed creativity will soon strike 🙂

Bad timing Ian as Hollywood and Co are defecting. Will cakes burn during the adverts when the GBBO is lost to Auntie. A sad day after developing a good programme.

Looks to me as though Perkins is just about to put Hollywood out of his misery anyway. They all made good career choices I suppose but for some it was a long time coming.

I think the commercial breaks will be the hottest property on TV.

I, not from a well-off background, went to grammar school and on to university – working on the railways, selling ice cream, on maintenance in a power station and working for a wholesale grocer in the holidays to help make ends meet. A grant from the local authority helped with accommodation but I could equally have lived at home and gone to my nearest university. I have to say, without being immodest, that degrees meant a real academic training in those days. Had I not gone to university I would probably have gone to a technical college for an HNC/HND. Grammar school was hard work, as was an engineering course.

Would I have been pushed to work this hard, and have had the incentive to do taxing time consuming homework, without the help of being well-taught at a grammar school that worked hard to achieve high standards at ‘O’ and ‘A’ level? Would the standard have been lower if the school had been a wide mixture of abilities and aspirations in both pupils and staff?

I am for education tailored to individuals talents. Some have practical talents rather than academic and will thrive if supported properly. Others require different types of education to develop their talents, be it music, science, engineering, medicine, building, technology. But there are provisos. One is the ability within the system to recognise talent whenever it shows itself, and not commit someone to an education that is not suited to them but be free to move them. The other is that good teachers are not an infinite resource; we cannot make every school as good as every other because there are not enough good teachers. I’d be all for rotating teachers between schools so, assuming say a maths teacher is not teaching full time in one school or college, use them elsewhere also.

Tailored education is essential if the country is to prosper, based not just on finance and services but on innovation, design and manufacture. The more we prosper the better we can fund education and those who provide it. No overnight solution; we need to lay proper foundations for the future.

Even thought of politics? We need a decent Education Secretary.

What we need is a decent Department for Education with the capability of developing proper policies and trying to rein-in those who lack knowledge but try to set policy. We may have that, but it should have resisted continual change. What I don’t like to see before a policy is fully developed is those who were sacked from government, or those who should carry out government policy, rubbishing something before it is properly formed. “Grammar school” has become, unfortunately, a despised term in some quarters politically, as John alluded to. Perhaps they should be given a more appropriate label – or just second schools. We don’t distinguish between the universities by labeling them.

Like Lauren I was the tomboy from Brum! (not Top Gun!) I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up except that I had a leaning towards creativity or science.

I come from a part wealthy background on my mothers side to not so wealthy on my fathers side. Raised during the time of rationing and extremely difficult times and a lot of mouths to feed, there was always food on the table with a home cooked meal and I recall my mothers evenings were mostly spent listening to BBC Home Service radio (no TV then) knitting vests of varying sizes to keep us all warm during the winter months in a house with no central heating. ‘Hand me down clothes’ were considered the norm when the supply of clothing coupons (and money) ran out. University was never an option then as young women were expected to toil on the land in order to keep the country fed, the alternative was to work in a munitions factory to keep up a constant supply of arms.

My first passion I recall was gardening, then fashion designing, followed by hairdressing. My father had other ideas however and I was promptly sent off to a private secretarial college to learn Pitmans shorthand and how to touchtype. After 3 years of marriage, children followed which kept me pretty busy, also supporting a very ambitious husband who eventually achieved his llfe long ambition to become an executive director with a large multi -national global company. It was not too long after that life became too unbearable for me and we eventually parted company.

It was then that my life finally took off in my mid forties when I decided to do a course in psychology with the open university, mainly to discover the reason for my failed marriage. It was after first learning about my own shortcomings, followed by some of the reasons why people perform and act the way they do, did I realise I had at last found my niche in life and have never looked back. So my advice to anyone uncertain about what they want to do is not to give up hope whatever your age, as it often takes a few knock backs in life before you finally find that elusive Golden Mean and fulfillment.

I agree it shouldn’t be about age, @beryl! I’m of the mindset that I’d like to always think about what I want to be ‘when I grow up’, as I hope I can keep learning and growing in what I do throughout my life.

Thanks Lauren and Erin. There are always going to be more questions than answers in this life but never stop searching and learning or allow any setbacks to deter you on your way and you will be guided to the places you were meant to be.

PS Its a while since I visited Brum, but I still have traces of the accent I am told 🙁

At secondary school, I would have liked to do biology, chemistry, maths and physics at A-level, but we were only allowed to choose three subjects. My science teachers advised me to leave out biology because a good understanding of chemistry, maths and physics would make it easy to move into other sciences. That proved to be very good advice.

I wanted to do a chemistry degree and my parents approved, so I was not put off when the school careers adviser (a history teacher) wanted me to consider alternatives. My uncle was the principal of a technical college and gave me useful advice and reading matter. Most importantly, he was able to explain that industry was not the only career for science graduates, as some had suggested. I enjoyed the university environment and decided to study for a PhD, albeit in microbiology/biochemistry rather than chemistry.

My advice to school leavers is to listen to all the advice and make up your own mind about what to do with your life.

I want to be Malala Yousafzai when I grow up.

I wanted to be a university teacher, got a degree, but ended up working in two-bit jobs for charities, educational establishment and the NHS. At least I’m satisfied with their ethics. And things happen.