Digitisation of the global workforce has created countless new career paths and tech-focused university courses with zero post-graduate unemployment, but dismaying new figures suggest that young people still dream about the same jobs they did 20 years ago.

Fully 47 per cent of boys and 53 per cent of girls expect to be working in any of just 10 traditional jobs by the time they reach 30, according to the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)’s newly-released Dream Jobs: Teenagers’ Career Aspirations and the Future of Work report.

Analysis of the responses of hundreds of thousands of students across 41 countries found the most popular expected careers for girls in 2018 were doctor (15.6 per cent), teacher (9.4 per cent), business manager (5 per cent), lawyer (4.6 per cent), and nurses/midwives.

Psychologists, designers, veterinarians, police officers, and architects rounded out the top ten – which previously included jobs like writer, secretary, and hairdresser.

Boys were most likely to expect to become engineers (7.7 per cent), business managers (6.7 per cent), doctors (6.0 per cent), ICT professionals (5.5 per cent), and sportspeople (4.9 per cent).

Teachers, police officers, motor vehicle mechanics, lawyers, and architects filled out the rest of the top ten positions.

The report also sliced the data in terms of perceived levels of economic advantage – with disadvantaged students eyeing careers as doctors, teachers, business managers, police officers, and lawyers.

Their more-advantaged peers had the same aspirations, except that more imagined being engineers than police officers.

The persistence of the same career goals over two decades suggested that changing economic and workforce requirements weren’t being met through the career models being presented to today’s young people.

Despite being “more highly qualified than any preceding generation in history,” today’s young people “continue to struggle in the job market,” Tencent co-founder Charles Yidan wrote in introducing the report.

Warning of a continuing “mismatch between what societies and economies demand and [what] education systems supply”, Yidan said that “for young people, academic success alone has proved an insufficient means of ensuring a smooth transition into good employment.”

Hard times for ICT

One of the most concerning results was the decline in the proportion of students expecting to work in ICT – whose contribution to world economies has grown strongly, driven innovation and generated massive productivity and efficiency benefits over the past two decades.

The ACS Deloitte Access Economics Australia’s Digital Pulse 2019 report finding that digital technologies “power Australia’s economic growth” – and that digital’s contribution to GDP would grow by 40 per cent from 2018 to 2023.

This, just years after the 2016 report predicted the sector would grow from being worth 5 per cent of GDP in 2014 to 7 per cent this year – and a year after the 2015 report flagged concerns about shortfalls in university output of qualified ICT graduates.

Yet even though recent figures show that ICT jobs are the highest-paying in Australia, just 5.6 per cent of high-performing students said they envision a potential career in ICT – a drop down from 6.4 per cent in 2000.

Despite potential high salaries, ICT careers didn’t even make the top ten for disadvantaged students – just 3.8 per cent of whom saw a future in ICT, down from 5.5 per cent at the turn of the century.

‘ICT professional’ was the second most-desired job for boys in 2000 but the fourth most-desired job now.

The results suggest ICT has become less accessible rather than more accessible – particularly among girls – fewer than 2.1 per cent of whom said they are considering ICT careers.

Avoiding the risk of automation

The PISA analysis also explored the question of whether young people are interested in “jobs with a future” that have “much higher than average growth” and a lower than average risk of automation based on OECD data.

Fully 39 per cent of the surveyed students are aiming for careers that have a high risk of being automated within 10 to 15 years – meaning that even those successfully entering their careers of choice may find themselves out of a job by the time they are 30.

Australian jobs were at the least risk of automation obsolescence out of 30 countries analysed, but figures still suggest that around 1 in 3 jobs could become obsolete.

Training for an ICT job now, by contrast, offers many potential high-paying careers at lower risk of automation – such as computer systems analysts, computer and information research scientists, database administrators, information security analysts, and computer hardware engineers.

Despite the benefits of these and other ICT-related jobs, low student interest in the industry bodes poorly for the ICT skills pipeline in a decade when digital-minded businesses and governments will drive “tremendous growth” in demand for tech-savvy employees.

“In this age of accelerations,” Yidan wrote, “we need to think about what makes us first-class humans, how we complement, not substitute, the artificial intelligence we have created in our computers, and how we build a culture that facilitates learning, unlearning, and re-learning throughout life.”