What’s one of the hardest questions you could ask a young person? Surely it has to be “What do you want to do when you leave school?” With relatively little life experience how can they know?

It is a hard question to answer, but we think it is also a really important one so we set about asking it to as many young people as we could. It all began back in 2009 when we launched our art competition 'My Future Aspirations' which challenges pupils in S1 and S2 to create a self-portrait which expresses their career dreams of the future.

In 2017 My Future Aspirations received the DYW Silver Quality Accreditation. While our commitment to the competition has never wavered our ambitions to create fun, learning experiences for the participating pupils was enriched thanks to the support, network and sponsorship of DYW.

The competition complements the Curriculum for Excellence and touches on a highly topical subject – the need for training and skills development for young people, providing opportunities for all, irrespective of social background. My Future Aspirations is inspirational as well as aspirational. Over the years we’ve received hundreds of self-portraits that reflect fulfilling careers from every walk of life you can imagine. By its very nature, the competition has no right or wrong answer and this has afforded opportunities to excel for pupils who are not academic achievers, are neurodivergent and for whom English is not their primary language.

Highlights from our most recent competition include:

  1. A dyslexic pupil from Alford Academy became the inspiration for a blog post on improving the recruitment process for neurodivergent applicants This article was subsequently published by the British Dyslexic Society.
  2. The marine biologist sculpture from Aberdeen Grammar was exhibited in the Greyhope Bay pop-up shop in the Bon Accord centre. You can hear how the young artist felt about this in his finalist #dreambig video:
  3. All the finalists receiving their certificates at a presentation event at the Oil & Gas Technology Centre.
  4. Dyce Academy was particularly invested, creating PR opportunities for their finalist pupil who wanted to become a member of the Scottish Ballet Company.

And thanks to sponsorship from DYW:

5. We compiled a series of finalist #dreambig videos (please visit where the pupils tell the story behind their chosen career and how the competition made them feel.

6. Maureen Watt, MSP for Aberdeen South, championed an exhibition of the top 12 entries in the Scottish Parliament. The exhibition boards then went on display in The Archie Foundation city centre café space in the Bon Accord Centre.

7. We were asked to speak at The Learning Festival on the art competition.

8. In 2017 we collaborated on postcards which promoted the #InspireAGeneration initiative. Pupil self-portraits of careers on the oil and gas industry appeared on one side, posing the question on the other side “I want to be [insert career], how can your business help me?”

Our partnership with DYW has enriched the competition and extended its reach. Feedback from the teachers and parents (sometimes even pupils too) confirms that the competition challenges pupils in a new way and importantly, that the competition is fun and that they are proud to be part of it. But we are also very grateful for the camaraderie and enthusiasm DYW has always had for this initiative, recognising that it is a constructive way for the region’s young people to begin thinking about what they want to be and how they plan to get there.