Experts called for more career guidance in schools yesterday after a survey found most Emirati boys want to follow their fathers into government jobs - although girls are more likely to aim for private-sector careers.
The top five jobs for boys are police officer, engineer, the military, pilot and doctor. Just under 5 per cent want to be professional athletes. Boys rejected careers as professors, lawyers and scientists, and although 90 per cent respected their teachers only 0.1 per cent were interested in becoming one.
Girls, on the other hand, aim to become doctors, engineers and lawyers, and to work in education.
More than half the young people surveyed had fathers who worked for the Government, including the military and police, and 30 per cent of mothers were also employed by the state.
Dr Sufian Forawi, a postgraduate lecturer in education at the British University in Dubai and the lead researcher, called for better academic intervention and career guidance to take young people into areas more suited to their abilities and interests. "Everyone said they wanted to finish high school, but that changes when it comes to going to college, especially those wanting to go to the military or police as they need only high-school qualifications," he said.
His co-researcher, Jaffar Fardan, head teacher at Al Saeediya public school in Karama, said job advice in schools usually came from social workers, who were expert at dealing with problem children or family issues such as financial hardship but were not qualified to be career counsellors.
"Even if there was one who was shared by a few schools coming in at crucial times, this would help," he said. But fathers were significant role models, Mr Fardan said, and a son was most likely to follow his father into the military or police.
In the first year of a two-year project on the career and educational aspirations of Emirati youth, one of the most extensive conducted, researchers surveyed 5,200 children aged between 12 and 19 at government schools and universities.
Their findings mirror those of a similar study conducted by Dr Natasha Ridge for Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in Ras Al Khaimah, which found about 30 per cent of 350 male students at the Higher Colleges of Technology did not know what job they might want at the age of 30.
Twenty-one per cent aspired to be generic managers in any sector of government.
"Career aspirations also closely mirrored their fathers' career choices, especially if the father was in the police or army," Dr Ridge said.
"In fact, fathers played an important role across the whole study in terms of students' decision to continue with higher education and then with regards to what they would study."
Nevertheless, Dr Forawi found that young people's peers seemed to be even more influential than family among the Emirati population.
"This can be explained because not many parents have high qualifications or jobs themselves, or jobs that can influence your kids' choices," he said.
Only 39 parents of the 5,200 young people surveyed were lawyers, for example. "There were such low numbers … that they can't encourage their kids towards these fields," Dr Forawi said.
Mr Fardan said boys aged between 13 and 16 at his school were visited by representatives of institutions such as the Petroleum Institute and the Institute of Applied Technology.
These companies made a big impact, he said, opening the boys' eyes to career and study options such as nuclear engineering.
Those that offered offering stipends for study, such as the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi, where undergraduate students are guaranteed employment with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, also help to open the boys' minds to opportunities, Mr Fardan said.
Dr Forawi said the most interesting result from the study was that, unlike in many other countries, there was no gender stereotyping in young people's employment ambitions.
"The career aspirations of the girls in grade 12 [aged 17 or 18] were just as high as their male counterparts in all the top jobs," he said.
"It indicates a shift to more contemporary perceptions of career aspirations relating to gender. Maybe these gender differences are no longer critical. The next thing is to see if they can actually get into these jobs."
The first year of the research project has been funded by the British University in Dubai, and the statistical analysis is complete. The second year is being funded by the Emirates Foundation with a Dh200,000 grant, and Dr Forawi will present the results at an educational conference in London in August.