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Why we shouldn’t ask kids what they want to be when they’re older

Many of us are guilty of what I think is a well-intentioned mistake: we ask children to imagine the jobs they want to do when they are older. When they don’t know we give them suggestions. We do it, perhaps, because we were asked the same question as children. Certainly when I was young there were some stock responses to the question. Astronaut was always high on the list.

But the world of work has never been more fluid. The 9-5 is slowly dying. The pace of change rendered by the exponential acceleration of growth and technology is remarkable. Many of my contemporaries who once answered the question with traditional occupations such as nurse, policeman or builder are now doing jobs that didn’t even exist then. The roles of social media consultant, big data analyst and drone pilot were hardly conceivable in a world when pictures on the internet loaded one line and at time and only if someone else in the house wasn’t on the phone.

Instead, we should be teaching our children to aim higher. To excite them about their future opportunities and level with them that the jobs they are going to be doing in twenty years time are ones that haven’t even been invented yet. In fact, we shouldn’t even be restricting them to one job. The kids of today have a solid chance of making their one hundredth birthday. Many will work well into their seventies and eighties. Over the course of their lives they’ll likely pursue several distinct careers, probably in very different jobs.

In a future when the employer/employee relationship increasingly becomes a thing of the past, and people are venturing out on their own, the working lives of today’s primary school children are in their hands more than it’s ever been before.

So let’s not encourage them to aim for the jobs of today. Let’s equip them with the imagination and passion required to thrive in the labour market of tomorrow. Let’s teach them to follow the subjects that excite them and provide them with the tools that will enable them to forge their own niche in the jobs market of the future.

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