‘Gender limits career aspirations from primary school’

Gender limits children’s choice of career as young as seven, says OECD’s director of education and skills.



Children as young as seven risk ruling out future job options because of their gender, race and background, according to the OECD’s Director of Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher.

He said the stubborn skills gaps in the UK labour market are rooted in ingrained assumptions about the world of work from when children are at primary school.

His comments are based on research from the OECD and Education and Employers which shows potential talent is being wasted because children as young as seven already assume their gender, ethnicity or social background restricts their job or life choices – including stereotypes about science and engineering careers being better suited to men.

Schleicher said primary pupils needed “light bulb moments” about their future from the time they start school – otherwise their horizons risk being limited to what their parents or carers do; what their teachers advise; or what they see on TV, films or social media.

He added that career-related learning starts too late in the UK school system and that the mismatch between career aspirations and long-term projections of skills needs will grow without greater employer engagement in schools, particularly from rapidly emerging industries using AI and in growth areas like cybersecurity, biotech and renewables.

And he called for primary pupils to be able to access to inspiring role models from a full range of industries, professions and sectors, if society and the economy is to harness the full potential of the next generation.

The Envisioning the Future of Education and Jobs: Trends, Data and Drawings report found:

  • only 1% of primary age pupils hear about jobs from volunteers from the world of work visiting their schools;
    gender stereotyping exists from the age of seven;
  • over one-third of 15 to 16 year olds’ career interests lie in just 10 occupations; and
  • there are minimal changes between job ambitions at seven and 17 years old.

Schleicher said: “We’re not saying seven-year-olds have to choose their careers now – but we must fight to keep their horizons open. We cannot afford to waste talent from children as young as seven ruling out options if they are convinced their choices are limited by their gender, ethnicity or class. It’s a question of social justice and common sense to tackle ingrained assumptions as early as possible or they will be very tough to unpick later on.

“We need major employers, including government itself, to open up their work-forces to primary schools. We can’t afford the mismatch between career aspirations and the reality of the job market so we need to be bolder in getting inspiring professionals into classrooms as early as possible.”

The OECD is backing the I am #InspiringTheFuture, a national campaign from Education and Employers aimed at  building up a 100,000-strong national network of volunteers from the world of work, giving millions of children and young people the opportunity to meet role models from every industry, profession and sector.

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