What to study in the new world of work | Fin24

What to study in the new world of work

Jan 13 2016 07:30
Viv Segal

As the world of work changes, school leavers are a facing a dilemma as to how best to prepare for success in their careers, says Sandra Burmeister, CEO of Amrop Landelahni.

“More specifically they are asking what fields of study they should consider,” says Burmeister.

Burmeister believes that a premium will continue to be placed on graduates skilled in technical subjects. 

“Automation and the digital revolution signal a move away from jobs that demand routine mental or physical activity to those that depend on human judgement,” she says. “Robotics will take over a lot of the mundane work currently being done.

She says this is already the case in several industries, such as car manufacture, where robots are taking over from people in automated assembly lines. And the landmark climate accord announced in Paris in December 2015 will spur industry to focus on renewable sources of energy". 

“There will be a huge demand for specialised skills in the fields of energy and water. These are issues of concern globally, and no less so in South Africa. Eskom continues to be under pressure, while water-scarcity in large parts of the country demands safeguarding and efficient management of water resources," says Burmeister.

Energy and technology companies will focus their endeavours on making breakthroughs in areas from solar and wind power and electric cars to hydrology and environmental engineering, she says. And this will create a demand for highly-skilled individuals with the potential for embracing new technologies.

“Adding to the demand for skills, is the fact that a large proportion of SA’s qualified technical and engineering professionals are aging out of the system. A cadre of South Africa’s highly skilled personnel – from electricians to civil engineers – are moving into retirement, bringing South Africa to what has been called a ‘skills cliff’.

“These disruptive forces bring huge opportunities for today’s students in the technical and engineering fields. As processes and procedures are re-engineered or overturned, new jobs will be created that do not exist today,” says Burmeister.

Information technology skills will remain critical in all these fields of endeavour.

Out of the top 25 jobs highest paying and highest demand jobs in the US last year, 10 of the top 25 were in the computer field. Forbes magazine lists data scientists as the most sought-after resource.

The World Economic Forum pinpoints 10 top emerging technologies. These include fuel-cell vehicles, next-generation robotics for a wide variety of repetitive tasks, computer chips modelled on the human brain and 3D printing of manufacturing components.

The PwC Future of Work (2014) report indicates that 53% of respondents believe technology breakthroughs will transform the way people work over the next five to ten years.

Burmeister says in South Africa, viable study options include software engineering, electrical engineering, engineering for the green economy, project management, financial and risk management and supply chain management.

“In the local context, the challenge is huge. While robotic intervention and other high-technology innovations may enhance our quality of life and create new jobs not in existence today, the impact on the unemployed and the less educated and unskilled could be severe. Gearing up for new technologies and keeping the next generation at work is a major challenge," she says.

Sustainable development demands that, in the long term, SA develop its own skills base, starting with improving the quality of education, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

"If we don’t get that right, these jobs may serve to lock unskilled workers out of the market,” says Burmeister.

education  |  employment  |  technology  |  work  |  digital  |  career

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