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“What do you want to be?” Ummm

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One of the first things we’re asked as children is “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Most have a pretty clear idea; doctor, nurse, fireman, the dog.

But that clarity fades as we get older and by the time we’re adolescents many don’t have a clue. This is a bad thing as those with a vague idea of their calling tend to earn less across their lifetime.

Australian National University’s Dr Joanna Sikora examined the outcomes of students who can’t identify their career goals in a new study in the Australian Journal of Education.

“Several arguments single out occupational expectations of adolescents as essential predictors of their later educational and occupational attainments,” writes Dr Sikora.

Drawing on 10 years’ worth of evidence from the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth, Dr Sikora found that those who were unsure of their long-term career goals as adolescents were still less likely than their peers to have clear goals as they became young adults. 

That indecision translates to a mean 6% earnings penalty over a lifetime.

“Young adults who are still unsure of their anticipated career path are less likely to complete university, and will likely earn less over their lifetime than their peers with clear goals,” said Dr Sikora.

“We might put that indecision down to a rapidly changing workforce, where career certainty isn’t what is was 20 or 30 years ago; or we might say ‘Well, this is just young people working out their place in the world, and it is natural that they aren’t sure’.

“But this uncertainty is more common in disadvantaged youth; and this uncertainty can lead to a lifetime of decreased opportunities, compounding that disadvantage.

“Purposeful role exploration is one thing, and is an important part of young people working out who they are, and where they want to go. For those without clear direction, though, they can be left floundering as their peers flourish.

“It is integral that we are building supports around all young people, to ensure that those who can’t answer the ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ question are getting the help that they need to ensure that they have an answer by the time that they are entering higher education or the workforce.”


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