90% of students considering their career goals in high school, 72% have clear idea of their job aspirations: Survey

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High school students (15- to 18-year-olds) in the UAE are already focused on their professional aspirations, with about 40% planning to pursue majors in business and healthcare, a KPMG-GEMS Education report on student career aspirations and the future of work has found.

The report ‘’Mind the gap” surveyed more than 800 high school students in the UAE about their career goals, influences and perceived obstacles. It said the UAE government sees young people as its greatest asset. To achieve the country’s future vision, the UAE needs the skills, energy, enthusiasm and commitment of the country‘s young people.

Students gave communication, critical thinking, creativity and innovation, social skills, and leadership high marks for the skills they considered most important for future job success. They also recognized the merits of collaboration, flexibility and initiative, but most did not consider technology, information and media literacy as key to their future success.

‘’Today’s youth are already thinking about their professional futures, with 90% already considering their career goals in high school, and with 72% having a clear idea of their job aspirations.

The Internet was the students’ primary source of information for academic guidance and career development, ahead of their teachers, families and peers, the report noted.

The report was unveiled during a press conference organised by GEMS Modern Academy in the presence of Dr. Faisal Al Hammadi, Advisor to the Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills, Dino Varkey, Group Executive Director at GEMS Education, Emilio Pera, Chief Executive Officer and Senior Partner of KPMG Lower Gulf, Marketa Simkova, Partner, People & Change KPMG Lower Gulf, Gunjan Shroff, Partner, People & Change, KPMG Lower Gulf, and several public and private sectors officials.

According to the report, most students said they planned to pursue business (21%), followed by healthcare (20%), engineering (12%) and creative arts 6%). Business was the top choice for male students (29%) and healthcare dominated among female students (24%). less than 1% of respondents planned to study computer science or artificial intelligence, and only about 5% planned to study natural sciences. Information technology fared just slightly better, with 14% of male students planning to go into IT, compared with 4% of female students.

Female students in particular showed strong interest in science, but not in computers or technology; 29% of female students said science was their favorite subject, but only 4% were interested in computer science, compared to 18% of male students. As a result, just 9% of students overall were interested in computer science.

Communication, critical thinking, creativity and innovation, social skills, and leadership were all ranked more or less evenly (9% to 12%) as the skills students considered most important for future job success. Collaboration, flexibility and initiative also gained relatively high marks (6.6% to 8.4%).

“The great challenge is to equip young generations with the skills they will need no matter what future jobs look like,” according to the government, citing a former World Bank Group President. “These skills include problemsolving, critical thinking, as well as interpersonal skills like empathy and collaboration.” Schools are therefore doing a good job promoting people skills as key to future success.

Today’s students are already thinking about their future careers. Of the high schoolers surveyed, 90% had already started thinking about their career goals, and 72% had a clear idea of what job they wanted to do. Most said their choices were influenced by their areas of interest (82%), skills and abilities (70%), and academic performance (52%). However, more than half of the students surveyed (53%) also said financial challenges limited their career choices, while about one-fifth reported that their parents’ desires posed a barrier to pursuing their preferred jobs.

Dr. Al Hammadi said: ”Changes of the industrial revolution that we are currently living through are very rapid, and therefore the challenges facing the educational sector are how to prepare students for the labor market appropriately and focus on data, artificial intelligence and digital technologies.”
“Understanding youth aspirations is essential, as their goals will have serious implications for national growth and success. The aspirations of young students are essential to their educational choices, work performance and labor market outcomes. If they are not provided with guidance about their life goals, employers aiming to match labor market demand with available supply will face serious challenges,” said Marketa Simkova, Partner, People & Change KPMG Lower Gulf.