By Melissa Jantjies, Associate Systems Engineer at SAS South Africa
There was a time when you went to a university, studied a specific degree and were then expected to, and were 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 they would not have previously thought they could. You 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. In fact, I completed my Honours Degree in Economics at the University of the Western Cape but I’m currently employed as an Associate Systems Engineer at SAS South Africa. My jobs entails everything from data management to advanced analytics to deployment, but my area of specialisation is analytics and data visualisation.
I’m currently enjoying the second year of my graduate programme at SAS. I love it because it offers me to exposure to many different industries that I otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to. I assist companies in finding a technological solution to their problem. It was a career choice I never considered because I was not aware of it, but I am elated that I am now pursuing it.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’s 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 the options available, particularly within STEM disciplines, earlier on in their lives, especially young girls. There is still a huge gender imbalance globally and in Sub-Saharan Africa in regards to women in these fields, which should be alarming as careers in these fields 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. My hope is for more young girls to recognise that technology – and other typically male-dominated occupations – are career options they can pursue. I changed my mind many times before deciding to pursue technology, because I never felt suited to the other career possibilities I was exposed to. I studied five different courses – including the historically popular courses for females like Psychology – before being introduced to, and falling in love with, analytics and technology.
When both young girls 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. In fact, this can clearly be seen in the high uptake of young participants in the National Public Service Hackathon sponsored by SAS at the University of Johannesburg in September 2018.
The hackathon saw teams of 200 young coders and programmers aged 14 to 27 come together for a 72 hour 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. Employment is an ongoing and pressing issue in South Africa, on the 14th of May it was announced that unemployment in the country had risen by 0,5 of a percentage point to 27,6% compared to the fourth quarter of 2018. Upskilling young professionals relevant to what is in demand in the industry and expanding their education further, especially in the data analytics field, would not only support but strengthen the economy. Skills training is an investment that can only produce enormous returns for South Africa.