Young Britain: The future: focused, flexible and female

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The Independent Online
In a world of insecure jobs, young women are infinitely better prepared. While young men are still hoping to be footballers, women are busy planning their lives from school to work, acquiring that all-important work experience at every opportunity.

This is the picture presented by 2020 vision, a survey by the Industrial Society of 10,000 young Britons aged between 12 and 25, the largest study of its kind. The Independent continues

its exclusive look at the study every day this week.

Rebecca Jones, 22, is typical of a new breed of can-do women. "From the age of 12 I knew that I wanted to do a classics degree. I loved Latin and I enjoyed my Greek and I focused on getting the grade to go to university.

When I left Cambridge, while I didn't know the precisely what job I wanted, I knew exactly what I wanted to get out of it. I wanted something with variety, prospects for promotion, something that was exciting, dynamic and dealt with people." Today, she works as a strategic planner in a London advertising agency.

In contrast, Paul Dunbar, a third-year economics student at Lancaster University, has not planned his life. "I'm very worried that I've done no work experience. I've never been taught how to deal with an office for example. I never really thought about work until this term.

"Then I saw jobs being advertised and the deadlines and I thought I'd better hurry up and think of what I want to do. It is very frightening when you have 20 applications on your desk.

"A lot of guys seem to be getting a rude awakening, when they're suddenly besieged with stuff from the careers service. Women seem to focus on what they want to do for the future. Quite a few, for example, have taken a year off in industry. They certainly study harder - they're more conscientious."

Young women, reveals the survey, are also more in tune with economic change. They are less likely than men to expect a job for life and more likely to pick themselves up after becoming unemployed and take the type of action that will secure fresh work. So whereas men tend to wait for the right job, jobless women are more willing to get fresh qualifications and take careers advice.

Women also recognise even more than their male peers that the key skills in today's age of communication are literacy and "getting on with people".

"The whole communication thing," says Rebecca Jones, "is really important, especially as this sector in the job market is expanding. Women seem to be especially good at communicating and that is why we are getting a higher profile."

And they are learning all the time - women recognise more than men that home is a place where they can learn skills, be it for running a home, maintaining a family.

Women also have a strong agenda for ensuring their own success at work. More than a third of women, compared with a fraction of men, expect more childcare in the workplace within 10 years. And they are fierce supporters of men taking up their share of childcare - 93 per cent think men and women should take equal responsibility for caring for children.

Rigid, long hours are anathema to the new female generation who see such practices as blocking their progress. A third expect more flexible hours to be available within 10 years and half think there will be more working from home.

"Women," says Rebecca Jones, "are driving the way we change at work. It is all about doing what we want to do on our own terms. This is a much more progressive way of thinking and it is about flexibility in the workplace.

"If, for example, I had children and I wanted time off, I would take it and have to fit that in with my work. If I wanted to leave at five and work on my laptop I would have to do that. We do the job in the end but it doesn't have to involve taking part in the faces game, just sitting at our desks and being there to be seen."

2020 Vision is co-ordinated by the Industrial Society. The Action Agenda along with full results of the research will be launched next Monday.