Choosing your career
After years of studying and hard work, scholars look forward to the day when they receive their final matric results. The South African matric results were released on 5 January 2017 and the national pass rate was 76.2% up from 74% in the previous year. Although this is a momentous occasion for all that passed, it is merely the start of a young person’s adult life.
The vast majority of young people will begin their preparations for their professional lives, whether that is studying further or entering the labour force.
In an article published on News24 (8 January 2017), it was illustrated that there is a direct correlation between a person’s level of education and their earnings potential. This does not necessarily mean that every educated person is employed because the demand for skills determines whether or not an employer will recruit a particular employee. Specific skills have higher or lower earnings potentials as some fields command a premium based on scarcity and/or specialisation (demand/supply).
The unemployment of the youth in South Africa is an endemic problem in spite of the improving matriculation rate – in the third quarter of 2016, Statistics South Africa reported that the unemployment rate of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 was 54.2%. This figure is the highest of any age group with the national unemployment rate for the whole of South Africa being 27.1%.
Clearly the labour market is a tricky arena for any young South African leaving school or university. The question to be asked is how can a young South African give themself the best chance of entering a career which will fulfil their ambitions?
- Firstly correct information about their chosen career is imperative, but what kind of information should they be looking for? The first step is to ensure that they have the correct subjects and aptitude for the career of their choice. As an example, it is highly doubtful that a young person will enjoy a successful career in Statistics without taking Mathematics at school. Similarly it is unlikely that a person that does not have an aptitude for technical skills will become a skilled artisan. Guidance counselling and advice from knowledgeable sources at an early age can have a significant impact a young person’s ability to identify potential fields within which they would like to forge a career.
- Secondly, demand for skills within a field should also be taken into account. It is important to be aware that sometimes a young person may need a ‘Plan B’ or ‘fall back’ in the event that they are unable to find a career in their preferred field if the demand is too low or it is over-supplied. An example of this is that many aspiring athletes will study another field while pursuing their sport of choice. This is because professional sports is often a tough career to pursue as there are only a limited number of jobs available within this field. Having a second choice career should not be seen a ‘cop out’ but rather an ‘insurance policy’ in place in the event that obstacles arise that prevent a person from entering their field of choice. Although the example used is an extreme case, numerous fields have an oversupply of skills or lack of demand for certain skills which could have the same effect. It is important to keep an eye on the national scarce skills lists as well as recruitment statistics (which are available from numerous recruitment agencies) since it makes one aware of the competitiveness of the labour market within their chosen field.
- Thirdly, a consideration which must be kept in mind is the potential earnings associated with each field. Although, money is often not the most important reason for entering a particular career, according to 21st Century survey data, it always ranks in the top 3 most important factors to employees. As an example, it is not a secret that the Actuaries command a premium salary in relation to many other jobs at the same job grade. As a result, this may entice a mathematically gifted young person to pursue actuarial sciences rather than statistics or economics as a career.
- Lastly, young people should also be made aware that studying at a formal University is not the only way to enter the labour force and earn a good salary. There are many opportunities within other careers such as the artisan careers (eg: boilermakers, electricians, etc) that provide incumbents with the opportunity to have lucrative and successful careers.
In summation, knowledge and awareness are a young person’s most valuable resources when deciding upon which career they wish to pursue. Not only must a young person understand the labour market and expectations within their chosen field, they must also be self-aware and understand themselves.
It is the role of guidance counselors, parents and role models to ensure that they assist these young people with these resources which will place them in the best position to choose the most appropriate career for their skill set.
B.Com (Hons) Economics
B.Sc Chem. Eng., MBA – Leadership & Sustainability