Raise aspirations early: five tips for bringing careers to life

Feb. 19, 2018
Lamorna Byford

Lamorna Byford

Project Director at I Can Be

Research shows that children’s career aspirations are unlikely to change between the ages of seven and 17.

More than a third of children base these early aspirations solely on people they know. For many reasons, children from disadvantaged backgrounds are likely to have fewer opportunities to meet people in a range of jobs. All of this means that some children’s horizons can be narrowed at a very early age.

The good news, however, is that children’s eyes can be opened to the array of opportunities available in the world of work.

As Project Director at I Can Be, a careers intervention programme for disadvantaged seven-year-olds, I see the transformative effect that being introduced to new possibilities for the future can have on pupils’ outlooks and achievement.

Early careers education offers schools a golden opportunity to cultivate curiosity, raise aspirations and ignite excitement in children about their own futures, and it’s so easy to implement.

Here are five practical tips to help you do just that:

1. Aim to broaden horizons, rather than narrowing options

Make your careers activities broad and show children as many careers as you can.

The more options children are aware of, the better decisions they can make for themselves.

Raising aspirations is about helping children and young people to find options that suit them as individuals, ensuring they go on to have happy and fulfilling working lives.

2. Think about vocabulary

It can be easy to forget how much of the world of work is codified through jargon.

A seven-year-old probably won’t have heard of words like apprentice, qualification or client and the best lesson or visit from a working person can lose its meaning and impact if the vocabulary is inaccessible.

Keep your descriptions simple and explain the meaning of new words clearly and explicitly.

3. Link learning to different careers

This could be as simple as telling your class about one job that uses the skill or knowledge they are learning about, at the end of a lesson, every day or week.

Showing children how the work that they find enjoyable can be used in different jobs will help them to begin to form ideas about what they might want to do.

It could also motivate them to try harder at the things they don’t enjoy as much, by showing them that it could be useful for them in the future.

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4. Challenge stereotypes

Some types of work are heavily dominated by men or women or by people from particular social backgrounds. For example, in 2017 just 13% of engineers in the UK were women.

Thankfully, this is changing. As leaders, you have the chance to celebrate this by instilling a sense of possibility and passion in children to pursue what they enjoy, regardless of their background, gender or socio-economic status.

Reinforce this message by showing children videos or photos of real people who are pushing boundaries in different industries.

5. Introduce real people

Research by the charity Education and Employers shows that 36% of primary school children base their career aspirations on people they know, while a huge 45% rely on what they see on TV and in films.

You can inspire your pupils and raise aspirations by organising real-life interactions with working people.

There are several fantastic charities that work with schools to expose children to the world of work. Take advantage of what they offer!

Parents with different careers can also be willing volunteers, as can people in the community. Even better, take children to see people doing their jobs in their workplaces. An experience like this, while children’s minds are open to all possibilities, could have a big effect on their futures.


You can explore this topic further as part of our Careers Leaders programme is now recruiting. Follow the link to the webpage or fill out an enquiry form to find out more about our two

This article originally appeared on the website of Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019, the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.


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