Tony Blair's caring, sharing New Labour Britain looks destined to become a nation of shopkeepers - and nurses, doctors and child-minders.
Gone are the competitive, entrepreneurial aspirations that characterised the 1980s. Business and management-related jobs are still high on the agenda of pupils, students and adults seeking a change of career. But yearnings for the City money markets, the fast buck and the glitz of showbiz have given way to less taxing retail trades, caring work and local jobs. Where such ambitions remain, they are seen as unrealistic by most careers officers.
Education reforms of the past two decades appear to have done nothing for the gender divide. If anything, they have reinforced it. Boys want to be motor mechanics and girls want to be nurses, a national survey of the careers service in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland reveals.
The study by The TES and the Institute of Careers Guidance, launched this week at the ICG's 75th anniversary conference, is the biggest of its kind in recent years. It is based on a survey, followed up with interviews, of 4,000 centres which give careers advice. Researchers studied a 10 per cent sample of clients from each centre, aged between five and 65.
Teaching, law, media and construction all rank about equal in the second tier of choices among school-leavers. But the survey offers no succour for employers and politicians hoping for renewed enthusiasm in key areas of the economy and teaching. Manufacturing and engineering are increasingly shunned by all ages.
Interest in teaching continues to show a sharp decline. It was never a particularly popular option among school and college leavers, but it is now being rejected more than ever by women returners and adults seeking a career change. A typical reply from careers advisers and counsellors in follow-up interviews was: "These jobs have constantly been denigrated and attacked by politicians. People don't want them. (Education and Employment Secretary) David Blunkett has an impossible task if he is going to get the teachers we need. "
Media jobs - including acting, television and information technology-related careers - are steadily growing in popularity. But journalism is only half as popular as other media jobs, and the thought of a life in politics even less attractive, apparently - interest in this option was too low to register significantly in the survey.
Careers advisers and counsellors divided largely into two camps when explaining the trends. Some say that people are tired of the competitive drive of the 1980s; others say that they have a realistic view of the jobs market. The opinions of both groups are backed by the findings of the survey which shows regional and economic factors affecting expectations. Young people in Scotland and Northern Ireland appear to have more realistic expectations than their counterparts in England and Wales.
School pupils and post-16 college students know what's what when it comes to jobs such as nursery nursing, building and the various aspects of the motor trade. But many who want to join the armed forces, police and fire service are largely ignorant of the qualifications and other qualities needed.
Students from selective and independent schools also have their feet on the ground when it comes to jobs - a fact which is related to a far higher level of spending on support services to help them, according to many careers staff.
School and college leavers show "very realistic expectations" in prosperous areas and "unrealistic expectations" in poor communities, the survey shows.
Also, about a third of young people using the careers service suffer from "lack of confidence" and are "under-estimating their ability".
Generally, high achievers and most girls have realistic expectations; low achievers and most boys do not. The latter group presents a growing cause for concern. Typically, one adviser said: "They are not aware of the qualifications required for work with children or computers." Another said: "The overall pattern of preferred options does not match the opportunities."
Most popular careers
Points out of 1,000
1 Caringnursingmedicine 301
2 Businessclerical 164
3 Car mechanicengineer 91
4 Teaching 73
5 Law 69
6 Computingtechnology 58
7 Constructionengineering 56
8 Armypolicefire 44
9 Media 42
10 Sport 41
11 Travel and tourism 40
12 Journalism 21
Careers centres rated five most popular choices: one to five. Points were then awarded on a sliding scale from five for first choice to one for fifth.
Careers officers' wish list:
top ten requests
3 More staff
4 Less paperwork
5 More industry involvement
6 National careers service (linking all providers)
7 More commitment from schools
8 Careers "statutory" on national curriculum
9 Higher profile in community
10 Less competitionmore co-operation