THERE was a time when you went to a university, studied for a specific degree and were then expected, (or likely) to create and follow a career in that exact field.

But thanks to the transformation in the job market, young professionals are being challenged to expand their education to enter fields that they would not have previously thought they could. They are no longer confined to a box. Someone who has studied economics does not need to become an economist and even an economist now needs skills such as coding.

Because of this transformation in the job market, young graduates need to equip themselves with the skills relevant to and high in demand within the job market and right now there is a massive demand for data scientists locally, on the continent and globally. What most young graduates don’t understand is that a university can only teach you how to learn, it does not give you all the practical work skills required. Additionally, most are just unaware that there are broader career options available.

It is not just technical people who can benefit from acquiring skills in areas such as analytics with data science being used in fields like retail, banking and journalism. Therefore, the youth need to be introduced to other options available, particularly within science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines earlier on in their lives, especially young women.

There is still a huge gender imbalance globally and in sub-Saharan Africa with regard to women in these fields, which should be alarming as these careers are considered the “jobs of the future”. Statistics show that employed physics/mathematics or engineering graduates were twice more likely to be male than female, with a percentage share of 73.3% in 2001 and 74.5% in 2017.

More young girls need to recognise that technology or other typically male-dominated occupations are career options they can pursue. When both young women and boys are exposed to STEM subjects and the career possibilities available through them, there is always a high level of interest expressed and interest in these areas are on the up in South Africa. This was evident in the high uptake of young participants in the National Public Service Hackathon in September 2018.

The hackathon saw teams of 200 young coders and programmers aged 14 to 27 come together for a competition where they were tasked with developing an innovative technological solution to challenges faced in South Africa, such as gender-based violence victim support, maternal health services and youth skills, and work issues. Upskilling young professionals according to what is in demand in the industry and expanding their education further, especially in the data analytics field, will not only support but strengthen the economy. Skills training is an investment that can produce enormous returns for South Africa.

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