I recently came across some intriguing survey research conducted by C+R Research that asks young people about their career interests and then compares their responses to the reality of the labor market.

The research on youth attitudes shows some big disparities between current youth interests and how many actual jobs there are.  For instance, while about 15 percent of U.S. jobs are labeled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as “Office and Administrative Support Occupations,” 0 (yes, zero) percent of teens expressed an interest in pursuing these occupations.

To be honest, this result doesn’t really seem that surprising based on the way the jobs are labeled.  We think of pop culture references like “The Office” and “Office Space,” that makes work that happens in “an office” seem inane, mind-killing, and pointless; definitely the opposite of “follow your passion.”  Just like you probably do, I know many extremely talented and conscientious people who are thriving in careers doing meaningful work that would count as “office and administrative support.”

Another intriguing disconnect is that, by BLS standards, about 6 percent of U.S. jobs fall in the healthcare practitioners and related occupations, but about 15 percent of teens say they want to go into this field.  It is really interesting that fields like nursing and allied health struggle to fill openings when so many teens say they’re interested in these fields.  Perhaps many young people fall of the wagon when they’re faced with the actual rigor of many health-related programs.  Perhaps some put all their eggs in one health basket (like pre-med or nursing) and don’t really consider other health-related careers.  Or perhaps, even when people have the science chops to pursue medical fields, many find their way into other professions.  Indeed, a close friend of mine did her undergraduate studies in a health-related major, but now works in fund-raising for an international non-profit.

And then, of course, everyone wants to be a “star”. According to the BLS, there are relatively few jobs in the entertainment, arts, and sports industries.  On the aggregate, there are millions of jobs, but they only represent about 2 percent of the U.S. workforce, while 20 percent of teens see themselves pursuing these fields.  I call it the “American Idol Effect” where everyone wants to get discovered and become an instant star. In particular, when it comes to pursuing professional careers in the arts and athletics, there must be a level of natural talent mixed with clear-eyed determination and grit.

One the one hand, this kind of starry-eyed dreaming is a wonderful aspect of being young, when the whole world is opening up before us and we’re thinking about all the possibilities.  But I think it also represents the reality that most high schools are organized around abstract academic content (boring for many) and very exciting arts and sports programs.  Except for some strong Career Technical Education programs that serve 15-20 percent of students, for most students, actual careers aren’t “cool.”  In fact, actual careers aren’t even on the radar for most students. Therefore, we facilitate this fascination with sports and the arts as serious career options and ignorance about the actual fun and rewarding careers that are out there.

This kind of survey research just deepens my conviction that we need to cultivate youth aspirations with deeper reflection, consideration of lots of options, and helping students create goals with Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C.

If we don’t, then we’re doing a disservice to our youth.  As someone once said, “failure to plan is planning to fail.”  And as we say in our NC3T vision statement, “EVERY LEARNER WITH A DREAM AND A PLAN!”

You see the original research report here:


For another take on this research, read this article in INC magazine.


Hans Meeder is President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (www.nc3t.com).  NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education

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