“What do you want to be, when you grow up? Engineer, Doctor, or Pilot?” Many of us have grown up hearing this harmless question time and again, thus being conditioned to view career options within a limited spectrum, one that several generations before us have chosen, and one that we expect the next generations to choose from.

Times have changed, and although the education system as a whole is yet to match its pace, the world is witnessing tremendous progress, in various other fields than engineering, technology, and medicine. More and more job opportunities and career avenues are opening up across the world, giving ample opportunities for students to explore and choose a career, that won’t just fill their pockets, but their interests and passions too. From jobs in creative and corporate fields, to the ones serving society and humanity, there is no dearth of career options for students today. Despite this, we continue to stay attached to a limited set of professions. The country produces 1.5 million engineers, 1.8 million registered medical graduates, and about 3.6 lakhs MBA pass outs in a year. Such is our attachment to these professions, that students choosing to opt for a career outside these options, are often questioned, judged, and ridiculed.

It isn’t just our favoritism that’s a matter of concern. All that entails with it, is often ignored, making this obsession further problematic. Here’s a look at India’s obsession with a limited set of professions, and why it’s dangerous.

Reasons

Social Conditioning: Our society tends to favor some professions over the others, considering the standard ones such as engineering and medicine, as a status symbol. Despite changing times, the favoritism towards these professions have remained the same, continuing to give them an esteemed status socially, as compared to other equally important and critical professions such as farming and teaching. As more and more students choose to, or are forced to, follow the same path, several generations end up being conditioned to follow a fixed path, any deviation from which, is frowned upon by the society.

False Perception of Stability: Most parents making decisions for their children, and sometimes students themselves, tend to choose popular professions, for long term stability. Common misconceptions that unpopular jobs, such as the ones in creative fields or digital media, may not fetch enough money, or may not be long lasting, often make them an unpopular choice. It’s also why most youngsters are pushed to work for someone else, than for their own selves. However if stories from recession and cost cutting incidents, or booming startups and artistic billionaires are anything to go by, stability doesn’t follow the same rules of the game anymore.

Dignity of Labor: In an ideal society, every individual would be respected in the same manner, irrespective of the profession they work in. Reality though, especially in our country, is far from it. While some professions are highly respected, some are looked down upon, eventually leading to a stark difference in how people in these professions are treated. A driver that drives a doctor to work efficiently, ensuring he misses no surgery or appointment, hardly ever receives the respect that the latter does. A farmer who toils to feed millions, rarely gets the desired treatment. Janitors and cleaners are often used as an example of failure to excel, instead of being recognized for their efforts. With varying levels of respect for individuals as professionals, some professions end up becoming social favorites.

Rat Race: Get a degree, get a job, strive for a handsome salary, settle down – these golden rules are so ingrained in our systems, that students join the rat race, much before they can make up their minds about what they really want to pursue. IIT trainings in schools now start from as early as fifth grade, when students are not even old enough to decide their futures for themselves, or are aware of the choices that lie ahead. Campus placements pick talent from colleges, getting them to join the race even before taking the first step in their career.

Lack of Awareness: Not many students get the required exposure to all the varied professions they can consider in the future, and the path to follow for the same. Career counseling is not very popular in educational institutions, leaving students with a limited imagination for the future. The problem only gets worse, when two out of three people around them, work in more commonly known professions, leaving them with little to no guidance and inspiration.

The Impact

Skill Gap: With the increasing demand for the same degrees for decades at a stretch, several education institutions have emerged in recent years. However, with more focus being laid on these degrees, and less on the skills needed on the job, there is a major percentage of skill gap in industries. Recent findings suggest, that 94% of engineering graduates are not fit for hiring in IT. Several companies invest in additional resources, to provide full-fledged trainings in the company, since the knowledge that comes with these degrees, are often obsolete in nature. Professionals who fail to find a job in seemingly esteemed fields, often end up taking other jobs in different fields, that they were never associated with earlier, further widening the skill gap in other industries

Unemployment: About 61% of MBA graduates and 80% of engineers find themselves unemployed after graduation. The statistics do not vary much in other popular professions such as law and medicine. No matter how many job opportunities are created every year, there can only be a certain number of jobs, as compared to ever increasing graduates, making it difficult for several individuals to find employment within limited fields. When 368 openings for peon posts opened up in Uttar Pradesh in 2015, 23 lakhs applications were received, out of which, more than 2 lakhs came from engineering graduates unable to find a job.

Under-performance: An employee who chooses a particular field, rather than following the herd, doesn’t just meet the necessary expectations, but goes above and beyond, to make a difference. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with the workforce at large, who are conditioned to meet professional checklists. Also, professionals who spill into other fields due to lack of employment opportunities, end up underperforming in these fields, having no previous association or education for the same.

Financial Pressure: Owing to its popularity, several popular degrees, require exorbitant amount for fees. With limited government college seats available, students end up opting for private colleges, the fees in which runs into several lakhs per year, which are often paid through loans. The return on these degrees however, takes much longer, especially when students struggle to find a job. With more resources than jobs available, salaries offered also take a hit, worsening the cycle of financial stress, for both professionals and their families.

Deteriorating Confidence and Mental Health: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid” – these lines by Albert Einstein accurately describe what happens when individuals with different interests and intellectual levels, are all forced to fit into one mold. Several millennials deal with anxiety and depression, unable to cope with the robotic nature of professions that they don’t relate to. Extreme cases of suicide have also been noted across the country, amongst students who cannot cope with the pressures of the course that may not have been their personal choice in the first place.

Lack of resources in other important fields: With the same check boxes being ticked by majority of population as career choices, several other important fields lack necessary resources, creating a ripple effect in the economy.

Conclusion

“What do you want to become when you grow up? Engineer, Doctor, or Pilot?” isn’t just a harmless question anymore. It’s time we as individuals take a serious look at what our obsession with a few favorite professions is doing, not just to individuals, but the country ‘s progress too.