One thing that bowled me over in The Big Ask, the largest-ever survey of children that I conducted last year, was how ambitious this generation of children are.
They think about their futures a lot and they aren’t afraid to dream big. A good job was the top future priority among 9-17 year olds. This was particularly true for ethnic minority children and those in the most deprived neighbourhoods. That ambition wasn’t limited to one particular area of the country, but was apparent in all areas of England.
“I don’t really know what I want to be but what I do know is that I want to go to university as none of my family members have yet to do it” – Boy, aged 8.
“I want to achieve my dream job, which is accountant” – Boy, aged 15.
Many children have a nuanced understanding of the choices they face and are remarkably clear-eyed about the different options for their futures. For example, I was impressed by the way children spoke in terms not just of jobs, but of careers. Often these were civic‑minded careers that reflected their desire to build a better world.
“When I grow up I want to be a vet and save all animals because I love animals and I also want to make a difference” – Girl, aged 8.
“I would a get a job, a police job to save the world” – Boy, aged 6.
The flip side is that their future careers are also a source of concern for many children. Not getting a good job was the third most common worry expressed in The Big Ask. Of those children 9-17 years old, 37% said that it was one of their most important worries about the future and this was even higher among girls.
While many children want to go university, they are also worried about the costs. Children as young as 11 years old expressed their concern that they would not be able to afford higher education.
“I also think for some jobs you need to go to medical school university etc and you have to pay a lot that some may not be able to afford and not get as many opportunities as others” – Girl, aged 11.
This is perhaps why children wanted to understand different routes into a good job. Many wanted broader careers advice, access to work experience opportunities, to be taught life skills, and to understand vocational options such as apprenticeships.
“Why is everything only available in London? Where are the apprenticeships I wanted to do? Personally, I want to work in the media industry, which feels near impossible living in East Yorkshire. If people actually had more opportunity and more choice, maybe they would be choosing the right path and actually find fulfilment within life. But no… supermarket here I come” – Girl, aged 17.
“Largely the availability of opportunities (career opportunities, work experience slots, apprenticeships in a wide range of areas) in specific areas – I am interested in forensic science and environment related jobs, where there are few opportunities in terms of work experience” – Girl, aged 17.
Other children don’t see relatable role models that can help them understand how to get from where they are to where they want to be. It’s important for them to see role models from similar backgrounds to their own and understand the range of careers open to them.
“Not enough role models for things like sports and certain jobs. Not enough confidence from their family or friends” – Boy, aged 16.
I was concerned to see children with fears about entering the world of work. I heard concerns about competition in the labour market, or that they would be held back by their backgrounds or where they are from.
“The fierce competition in regards to careers” – Child, aged 17.
“Most dream jobs are only available in rich cities like London or Edinburgh, not working class towns” – Girl, aged 14.
There’s a more that can be done to help children chart their path into adulthood and a good job, and I have laid out my ambitions in this area here. The heart of this is ensuring that every child in England benefits from a cradle-to-career approach to education that includes a stronger focus on vocational options and better careers education.