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Breaking Barriers and Reimagining Career Choices: Empowering the Next Generation

I recently had the privilege of attending another careers fair this year, an event aimed at guiding and inspiring young minds toward their future professions. But this time, instead of merely promoting apprenticeships and other skills opportunities, I decided to delve deeper into the aspirations of these students. I posed three fundamental questions:

1. What is it that you'd like to do when you grow up?

2. Who inspires your decision?

3. Would you consider a career within IT, Telecoms, and Technology?

The responses were somewhat anticipated, yet they proved to be profoundly insightful. In actual fact, at times, it made me sad to witness that many students' career aspirations appeared to be limited by stereotypes and societal expectations.

They revealed a complex web of aspirations, influences, and biases that shape our young generation's career choices.

I wanted to share my findings because of the issues they brought to light. They highlight the importance of breaking barriers and reimagining career possibilities and action needs to be taken if we are to make a meaningful difference for the generations to come.

So, let’s start with their aspirations.

Among the students I spoke to, a multitude of career aspirations surfaced, spanning from plumbing and woodwork to midwifery and software engineering. However, it became evident that a gender divide was prevalent in determining which career opportunities were available to them and it was disheartening to see that some students weren’t willing to break gender stereotypes by choosing careers traditionally considered "male" or "female" domains.

It's worth mentioning that 23% of the students did not have a definite career path in mind, but what surprised me was that all of those students happened to be female. This highlights the need for providing more support and guidance to help young women explore their potential fully.

But what factors or individuals actually play a role in shaping their career decisions?

A significant 63% of students acknowledged that their parents played a crucial role in shaping their career choices. This isn’t surprising really and while parental guidance can be valuable, it's essential to ensure that it aligns with the child’s passions and interests.

Not all students cited their parents as influential in their decision making though, 16% of students based their choices on subjects they simply liked at school. What this does emphasise is the importance of fostering and nurturing interests within the educational system. Are we giving students the support they need to shine in subjects they're passionate about and then helping them build their dreams around their talents? Sadly, it's a tough ask for our education system, which is often stretched thin, so the answer is most likely no. After all, training providers have targets they need to hit and they need to ensure that students achieve a minimum of 5 GCSE’s and move on to College and University, because that’s the traditional route, right?

And what’s more, surprisingly, 12% of students admitted that fear of failure influenced their decisions. Teenagers, scared to follow their dreams because the fear of failure, that’s not ok! We need to be creating supportive environments which encourage risk-taking and resilience, we need to allow them to think big and believe they can achieve anything they can put their minds to.

So, what did I see in terms of gender disparities and biased perceptions?

Many of you who are reading this might not find this surprising, but here it is: 98% of boys were open to the idea of considering careers in IT, Telecoms, and Technology as a ‘Plan B’. On the other hand, every single girl that I spoke to, 100% said no to considering IT, Telecoms and Technology as a career, citing either a lack of interest or confidence in their tech abilities!

The comments made by girls about engineering being a potentially hostile environment for females are alarming. These perceptions are deeply rooted in stereotypes and must be challenged, immediately!

What steps do we need to take to make a change?

These findings show just how important it is for us to take action and empower our young generation to make informed, unbiased, and fearless career choices.

Here are some key takeaways:

  • We must expose students to a wide range of career options, regardless of gender stereotypes. Encourage them to explore their interests and passions without constraints.

  • Parents and educators should provide guidance that aligns with a student's interests rather than imposing their own aspirations on them.

  • Encourage female role models in STEM fields to mentor and inspire young girls, helping them overcome the fear of entering male-dominated professions.

  • Challenge gender biases and stereotypes through education and awareness programs.

  • Teach students that failure is a stepping stone to success. Encourage them to take risks and be resilient in pursuing their dreams.

My recent career fair experience shed light on the diverse dreams and influences shaping our young generation's career choices. It also exposed deeply ingrained gender biases, not just in the field of technology but in a number of historically stereotyped roles such as midwifery, hair and beauty and mechanics. It's our responsibility to break these barriers, encourage fearless choices, and empower the next generation to redefine what's possible in their careers. We need to be creating a future where everyone has the opportunity to pursue their dreams, regardless of gender or societal expectations.

Our career choices should not be made based on whether or not we fit in a certain box!

Charlotte Goodwill, CEO

Charlotte is a dedicated and accomplished professional, currently serving as the Chief Executive of the Institute of Telecommunications Professionals (ITP).