Interview with Dennis Stead; Director at PACE Career Centre, South Africa.

Dennis has an MA in Industrial Psychology and has worked as a counsellor, trainer and publisher of career and training materials for over 15 years.

The world is currently in a recession and yet certain occupations are in high demand. Why is this and could you provide a list of some sort?

One would imagine that with the high unemployment rate worldwide, employers now have the opportunity to pick and choose their employees. However this is not true across the board. The reality is that within the working population there is a surplus of people in lower skilled and temporary jobs and a shortage of highly skilled people with experience.

Furthermore the increased use of new technologies – Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in particular – has increased this divide and created an even bigger gap between those with skills and access to ICTs and those without. In South Africa and other economies therefore, we are starting to see growth in the economy but this does not necessarily mean more jobs are being created. This is called ‘jobless growth’.

Expressions like ‘chasing shadows’ and ‘the grass is greener on the other side’ might all be appropriate for the individual constantly searching for the ideal job – the present ‘ideal’ job. What is the danger though of aiming to qualify with the most ‘popular’ job today, which may not be so popular in six years time?

Many people make the mistake of choosing a job that is popular at the time; however jobs do change over time. For instance, consider how busy the building industry was a few years ago and before that, the IT industry. What can be said about the building industry however is that it is cyclical and very sensitive to economic growth, and now we actually see a decline. Yet with regards to the IT industry, this has now ‘matured’ and is becoming just as competitive as other industries.

Look at the teaching profession. A few years ago there was a great emphasis on the need for teachers, and bursaries such as the Funza Lushaka fund saw a dramatic increase in the number of teachers qualifying. With that said however, there are still not enough specialised teachers in the maths, science and language departments.

Which of the most popular occupations today would you say are actually ‘stable’ occupations; irrespective of what the market may dictate in a couple of year’s time?

Professions which are not ‘industry specific’ do not suffer as much. An example of this would be careers within the accounting and IT fields, simply because every industry needs accounting professionals and programmers to run the business. However (as I mentioned in response to the first question) these are highly qualified jobs, and what is more important is to consider careers where the demand is constant,

where one can set up and maintain a business and where there is a current demand with few people going into these fields.

Take for instance trades such as: Electrical Engineers, Electrical Engineering Technician, Electrical Instrument Technician (automation control) / Process Control Technicians, Computer-Numeric Control (CNC), Electronics and Telecommunications Trades Workers, Tool Designers, Mechanical Engineering Technicians, Hydraulic Controls Technician, Metallurgical or Materials Technician, Pressure Testing Technician, Ultrasound Technician, Cable Manufacturing Technician, Metal Moulder, Metal Casting Patternmaker, Sheet metal Trades Worker, Metal Spinner, Boilermaker, Welder / Welder (First Class), Maintenance Fitter, Fitter and Turner, Machine Setter, Milling Machinist , Roll grinder, Engineering Rigger, Radial Driller, Instrumentation technician, Tool, jig and Die Maker, Die Caster, Millwright, Carpenter, HT electrician (Electrician special class), Armature Winder, Heavy Coil Winder, Lift Mechanic and electrician, Air-conditioning and Refrigeration Mechanics. I don’t see experienced artisans being out of jobs.

Jobs relating to computer technology are (apparently) going to be on the increase. Would you agree with this?

Yes I would agree with this – in South Africa we are running seriously short of people with these sorts of skills. The need for software developers for example has long been considered a high priority skill in South Africa, due to an acute shortage of qualified professionals. The shortage of Business Analysts and Software Developers is reported to be the IT sector’s biggest concern, along with the high salary offerings that accompany the hiring of these candidates.

Another ‘guaranteed’ area of growth is apparently in the healthcare sector. What is your opinion on this and would you say this sort of statement is more applicable overseas than in South Africa, where the life expectancy is only 49 years of age?

If you look at overseas job trend sites such as you’ll see that within the top eleven fastest growing careers, five are health related. This proves your point: 1. Biomedical engineers, 2. Network systems and data communication analysts, 3. Home health aides, 4. Personal and home care aides, 5. Financial examiners, 6. Medical scientists, 7. Physician assistants, 8. Skin care specialists, 9. Biochemists and biophysicists, 10. Athletic trainers, 11. Physical therapist aides. Nine of these professions therefore are medically related, a number of which service a wealthy aging population of people.

There is therefore an increasing demand for health care related fields worldwide, and an aging population in the USA and Europe has a lot to do with this. However in South Africa, we have a tremendous need for quality and basic health care. Demand for skilled health care professionals such as doctors, nurses, specialised nurses, paramedics, and specialists outstrips supply. Part of South Africa’s problem (a problem for developing countries in general) is the brain drain as well as the management of medical facilities. Furthermore, the condition of our public hospitals is declining and there is now an increasing pull for skilled management within private health care facilities, as the private health care industry in South Africa continues to grow.

Another popular area of future development is said to be in the “bio” sciences and scientific advance in particular. Would you agree with this and if so, what are the qualifications needed for these sorts of jobs?

Yes you have done your homework. These professions sound complicated and new but don’t get lost in the forest. If you want to study in the biotechnology field you can choose between university and a university of technology.

My advice would be to start off with a base of study. Choose your subjects carefully and then specialise in something like genetics, biosciences, epidemiology etc. The alternative route is to take a diploma programme in the applied sciences at a university of technology. Unlike a university (which starts off with a general degree) the diploma programmes start off being more specific and specialised. For instance at CPUT, you can do a biomedical technology diploma over four years and courses such as radiography, chemistry, food technology, nuclear medicine, water care, biotechnology and engineering offer a more focused approach.

‘The opening up of the global marketplace has also brought about a decline in certain low-skill technology jobs that are now based in countries such as India or Taiwan, where overheads and salaries are far lower’. Would you agree with this statement, and does the ‘move of marketplace’ affect South Africa specifically, or are we still isolated and protected to some degree?

No, we are not protected. The decline in the textile industry in the Western Cape is just one example of this, highlighting the fact that we have a real problem competing with the Eastern countries on the same playing field.

Our advantage as a country, however, is that we are a supplier of raw materials and food products to other countries. The problem with this though is that our raw materials get shipped off to the Eastern countries, where they get processed and resold back to us at value added profit. Our biggest trading partner is China.

On the topic of the global market, how are the South African career trends different (and also similar) to those found overseas? Furthermore, would you say that many of the above career paths and trends are unique to South Africa alone, or applicable also to the global arena?

We are part of the global economy but there are many nuances in our market that are unique to South Africa. Megatrends or future trends which apply to most societies include (as mentioned earlier) a growing importance of services, information, a decrease in working time towards more flexi-time, increasing emphasis on education particularly life-long participation in education (which we call life-long learning). For instance people can’t afford to sit back and coast along. We (all) need to be constantly upgrading our knowledge and skills.

In South Africa, as in the rest of the world, we are seeing an increase in the participation of women and education is the key to this. As a country, we also face continuing and increasing international competition and one of the advantages of new technologies therefore is that everyone now has access to computers through cell phones and other devices of communication.

How do societal trends affect trends in the marketplace?

I am not much of a social media person, but I do keep adrift of trends when it comes to networking, recruitment and hiring. Social networks have always been important. In-fact, I would estimate that 80% of first time jobs are found through networks with family and friends.

The World Wide Web has served to enhance the means for networking, particularly those within industries using targeted communities (networks within specific professional communities). Social networks therefore have not changed; they have simply taken on a new shape through of sites such as Facebook and Linkedin.

Finally, what pearls of wisdom can you give the individual who aspires to stay current and constantly ‘marketable’ in this ever changing economy?

I would highly encourage any ‘young person’ to study further and there are a few reasons for this. The first is that the chances of employment are (generally) higher for a person who has studied further. The second is that a person does not always get the opportunity to study later in life due to responsibilities that accumulate with age.

A quick aside: on the study note… don’t worry too much about a future career. Rather choose a ‘career field’ which is like a family of careers. I would also encourage learners to visit the pace website or to get career info.


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