In a few months’ time, Grade Nine learners will be required to make important decisions about which combination of subjects they will be pursuing through to their final Matric exams. This is an important first milestone on the road to building a career, an education expert says, adding that while the decision would normally be left until later in the year, the world has changed so dramatically that Grade Nines should start thinking about this significant decision sooner rather than later.
“The world changed last year – not just because schooling and work were disrupted and not just because both had to happen from home in ways never imagined before. The world changed because we are unlikely to go back to what we experienced in 2019,” says Natasha Madhav, Senior Head of Programme: Faculty of ICT at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest private higher education provider.
Even if we go back fully to school or work in buildings, the way we work, teach, and learn will always be different as we face the possibility of future disruptions or changes in skills that are in demand, she says.
“It has long been said that one needs to prepare young people for jobs that do not exist, but this has never been a concept that has been crystallised in a way that really helped one make decisions. Perhaps it is clearer now to focus on preparing for a world of work that is changed and focusing on industries and skill sets that are and will be in demand, rather than on jobs with names that are familiar to us.
“So, for instance, law has not vanished as a field, but most lawyers now need to consult online as easily as they do in person and they can collaborate in real-time with colleagues all over the place. They also need to be advising people on both physical and digital implications of what they do.”
Unfortunately, those giving career advice may not have made the transitions, says Madhav.
“The basic instruction is the same – develop an understanding of fields you are interested in and the things you are good at. Then look for jobs and careers that seem future-focused and have accepted the uncertainty, volatility and change that are part of our new world. Then, look for institutions that not only offer future-oriented curricula, but whose teaching and learning and assessment are explicitly directed at a changing world. If they cannot tell you what has changed, it seems they are not watching.”
This then links to smart subject choices, Madhav says.
“If your field is likely to be scientific and technical and analytical, you are still well served to include maths and science and perhaps a technology subject. If your field is problem-solving and solution-oriented, then subjects like history and design or visual arts will provide that skill set. If you are looking for both, you will need both. Higher education institutions are not going to move away from some of the standard demands for particular high-demand disciplines or fields, so be sure that you understand what you need for admission and include these in your choices.
“Even if the specifics change to match modern demands, the basics are unchanged over almost a century already as the subjects all include core skills of value such as argumentation or analysis or mathematics.”
One of the key issues to consider is the fact that automation is on the rise, and that technological adoption by companies will transform jobs and in-demand skills in future. And, as noted by the WEF in their most recent Future of Jobs report, skills gaps will continue to be high as in-demand skills across jobs change in the next five years.
As noted in the report: “The top skills and skill groups which employers see as rising in prominence in the lead up to 2025 include groups such as critical thinking and analysis as well as problem-solving, and skills in self-management such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility… On average, companies estimate that around 40% of workers will require reskilling of six months or less and 94% of business leaders report that they expect employees to pick up new skills on the job, a sharp uptake from 65% in 2018.”
So where to start researching which careers will exist when you matriculate, and which of them might interest you?
“A good place to start, on top of doing online research, is to find a higher education institution that has already demonstrated that they produce technically proficient and in-demand graduates, whose skills are aligned with what is required in the workplace because of their close industry connections. In other words, an institution whose curricula are up-to-date at all times, and that is able to quickly and resiliently respond to our fast-changing world. You will know who they are as they will confidently speak about change and flexibility and adaptability and about the link between study and work,” says Madhav.
“By speaking to a student advisor at such an institution, which crucially must also be able to demonstrate that meaningful learning continued during lockdown, learners will be able to discuss their current interests and strengths, and then get advice and insight into which fields will be in high demand in future, and which subjects they can choose later this year, which will give them access to these fields.”