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Page last updated at 10:53 GMT, Friday, 11 July 2008 11:53 UK

Should child follow parent?

Steptoe and son
Some children regret following their parents

By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

Many people are apparently not keen for their children to take the same career, but why would you tell your offspring to avoid your job?

Doctors beget doctors. Lawyers beget lawyers.

Throughout European history it has ever been thus. People with a trade or a craft or a shop or a farm have traditionally handed it on to one of their children to continue the family business.

The instrument-maker Antonio Stradivari passed his business on to his sons, the cabinet-maker Thomas Chippendale passed his on to his eldest boy.

And yet in the modern world with a vast cornucopia of new jobs, and dramatic changes within many careers, the process by which parents gently steer their children into the same career is under threat.

When I was young it was like the Wild West - now it's like the Wild West got worse
Taxi driver Nick Townsend

A survey by Hudson recruitment consultancy this week suggested that one in four people would not like their children to follow in the same profession. Male lawyers were the most despondent, with one third saying they would not want their children to do the same job.

But it's not only those in white-collar professions that no longer feel the need to pass on the family business.

Too stressful

Nick Townsend, 46, has been driving a black cab in London for 20 years. His father, Albert, despite being 73 and a published author, still occasionally ventures out in his own taxi.

The London cabbie's "knowledge" has often passed from father to son

Having started out as a technician in the film industry, Mr Townsend found himself looking for a stable career with good earnings and found it in his father's trade. His father was proud. And yet this line of cabbies could be about to end.

Mr Townsend has enjoyed his time as a cabbie but believes things have changed too much for his 12-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son to consider taking up the trade.

"You hear a lot of people saying it used to be good in the 1960s," he says. "There is a sense of community but not as strong as it used to be.

"It is hard to keep up with costs. A lot of guys are in their 40s and their heart gives up with stress."

And as well as fierce competition from private hire cabs and rising costs, life for taxi drivers venturing out at night has also become more dangerous.

"When I was young it was like the Wild West - now it's like the Wild West got worse."

Steady job

Another who can't recommend his career to his child is Chris Swain, from St Helens, who spent 27 years in the RAF before taking redundancy last year. His stepson George, 17, has identified the armed forces as his likely career path.

"Now this is what I call work experience, dad"

"I thoroughly enjoyed it but times have changed," says Mr Swain. "While it could be great for his training, it is very dangerous now."

Having served three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, and spoken to many other service people who have encountered danger, he feels compelled to urge caution on George, despite his own love for service life.

"He realises it can be a great life. He has researched what it can do for him as a career. Kids see a relatively good standard of living. And in the present climate any steady job is good. But I'm trying to steer him towards an apprenticeship."

Happy at work

And both the older and younger generation are thinking differently about the whole nature of work, which could explain the fracture in the inherited trade.

"The whole idea that work should be fun is something that was invented by the baby boomer generation," says Jenny Ungless, a career coach at the Monster recruitment website.

Even half a century ago, career choice was completely dominated by economic and geographic considerations. Now young people will be considering work-life balance, fulfilment levels and even making ethical choices.

There are often also more practical reasons why trades cannot be passed on, such as changes in the apprentice system.

Jim Pauling, a long-serving river pilot on the Mersey, followed in the footsteps of his father, uncle and grandfather.

"When I was a child I never asked my father what he did. I didn't question him about ships.

"I basically did it because I knew I probably wasn't going to get to university. I knew we had a nice life and were comfortable and a bit of the same would do for me. I've had the best working life."

But by the time his sons were nearing adulthood, the structure of the profession had changed. From an apprenticeship system where each candidate was guaranteed a job should they successfully serve their time, now jobs are advertised.

In the end, all three of Mr Pauling's sons chose to be doctors instead of turning towards the deck of ship. "I'm not despondent none of them did it," he says.

And in this era of choice, it seems strange to many parents that they would even consider steering their offspring into particular careers.

Children are expected to be independent, understanding their own priorities and following their own path.

Below is a selection of your comments.

American journalist and social commentator Vance Packard once went on holiday to Venice, where he asked a gondolier how you became a gondolier. The reply he and his wife received (mentioned in one of his books) was: "It is very simple. You are the son of a gondolier".
Nigel Macarthur, London, England

With the continuing attempts by the current government to rip the heart out of the medical profession and to destroy any semblance of a structured, sensible and relative medical training system following the continuing MMC/MTAS/PMETB fiasco, I doubt whether any doctors' children, doctors' friends' children or basically anyone who comes into contact with a junior doctor will ever be intending to become doctors in the future.
Rob, Nottingham, UK

As my parents said (both teachers): "We'll support you in whatever you do, but just don't become a teacher!"
Hugh, London

When I was in 3rd year at High School I had to do a family tree going as far back as I could. It showed occupations as well as names. I can't remember how far back I went, but, I had 27 teachers in it. My parents were both teachers and my mother's brother and sister-in-law were teachers. My mother's father was a teacher as well.

Apart from the fact that I was pretty shy as a teenager, I decided at that point that I was NOT going to be a teacher. Since then my wife is a teacher, my sister is (was, as she has just retired early) and my sister-in-law is a teacher. That makes 30. My youngest daughter is now thinking about teaching as she goes into 6th Year.
Robin Johnston, Falkirk, Scotland

While we're on the subject of offspring following the line of work of parents... Despite the high competition for TV acting & presenting jobs, it appears that a sure way to secure a TV job is to be the child (or other close relation) of someone already in the business. This trend would not be disturbing if some filtering were applied to ensure that only the talented offspring followed their parents. But, unfortunately, there appears to be no such filtering.

This has led to our screens being graced by some monumentally talentless individuals. I am not sufficiently curmudgeonly to name and shame any particular miscreants, however, I'm sure any reader of this will easily conjure to mind one or more such triumph of nepotism over suitability.
Stephen Wood, Farnborough, Hampshire

I am a teacher, both my mother and father are teachers, as well as my uncle and my step-sister. I know so many teachers whose parents were also teachers. My parents almost actively encouraged me not to go into teacher and yet somehow I've ended up doing it, and thoroughly enjoying it too. I think it is the lure of a steady job, and the promise of all the great travelling it allowed me as a youth with my parents.
Dan, Suffolk

I'm a journalist and I followed my father, who was a veteran journalist. But that's as far back as the family tradition goes - my grandfather was a miner in South Wales. He was desperate for his sons to NOT follow him into the mining industry. One day he took my father and my uncle, who were in their early teens, down the mine to see what it was like. They came back up utterly terrified and did their best to never go down there again. They both ended up well away from the mines!
Marc Jones, London

I am a GP. We are well paid, but what was once a "family friendly" job for a doctor has become anything but. The challenge of providing a caring cradle to grave service with continuity for patients has been destroyed by the current government. I would not be able to stop my son becoming a doctor if he so wished. I would do my best to dissuade him as I am sure there are many happier lifestyles available, some earning as much or more money, others not. In reality it is quality of life that matters, and this is now non-existent in our target driven health service.
Charles Gostling, Lewisham, London - UK

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