Opinionista Zipho Majova 24 July 2019

When degrees are not enough, millennials must do short courses

With the emergence of artificial intelligence and automation, upskilling with sought-after hard skills is probably the best way to ensure job retention. The world is so agile that the future of work will require specific knowledge and skills.

For many years, university degrees and diplomas have been the most conventional entrance for entry-level jobs and sustaining your career. However, what used to be a guarantee of financial stability and status is quickly becoming insufficient.

In my short tenure of being a young professional, the conflicting truth I’ve come to learn is that no single qualification will be a final destination. Traditional routes of employment will become less significant as the years progress. With a country that is plagued by such a high unemployment rate, securing and maintaining a career will require a lifetime of learning. A fundamental paradigm shift that we all need to comprehend is that the future of work is likely to be shaped by short courses, re-skilling and upskilling.

Certainly, there is a constant clamour to emphasise that a degree is the key and it continues to be a rite of passage in South Africa. In many ways this is correct, except rapid evolvement in the workplace demands that one upskills oneself to keep up with market trends. We need to demystify the misconception that positions degrees as the be-all and end-all of career longevity. South Africans need better guidance and enlightenment on various non-conventional learning pathways.

I recall a conversation that I had a few months ago, where I interrogated a former colleague who had worked in an administrative role for nine years, in the same company. I was ecstatic that she had received a better job offer, yet I found it mind-boggling that she, in particular, would remain an administrator for as long as nine years. I make this remark as she is in her mid-30s — relatively young, smart and capable of obtaining a higher position.

She looked at me and said “if I knew then what I know now, I would have never remained an administrator for nine years. At the inception of my career, I would have sat down with myself, created a career vision board that included the ultimate role I aspire to. Thereafter, identify courses and programmes that will aid me towards my aspirational job. Instead, I remained complacent.”

I will never forget that rude-awakening conversation and I’m glad I had it at the inception of my career. Today I’m utterly convinced that upskilling will be up to each individual as we have to be responsible for our own career-mapping and shaping of destinies.

Given the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, upskilling with sought-after hard skills is probably the best way to ensure job retention. The world is so agile that the future of work will require specific knowledge and skills. According to the PWC report, 73% of people “think technology can never replace the human mind”. This percentage is alarmingly high and concerning given that we are already witnessing and experiencing a wave of mass retrenchments in our financial sectors, state-owned enterprises and large corporates. These huge lay-offs are due to economic instability, yet largely due to machinery replacing human beings. In other words, what makes us less human is what will make us more employable.

Despite the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) being a crucial conversation, the aim is not to preach about the imminence of 4IR — I’m sure you’ve been inundated with enough think pieces and seminars. The purpose of this piece, rather, is to ask the important questions and initiate discourse around short courses.

What is the guarantee is there that with your current skill set, you will remain relevant in the next 10 years? How can we ensure that qualified professionals are equipped with the necessary tools to respond to technological advancements and employability trends? If knowledge is power, then how do we begin to empower ourselves with information in order to navigate our careers and pursue the next level?

Accompanying the concept of lifelong learning, a new landscape of online short courses has erupted over the past few years. They allow professionals to improve their current skills, remain industry-relevant and increase the chances of employability. There are various short-course providers such as Pearson Professional, GetSmarter, Udemy and EdX which partner with some of the most reputable universities to deliver online short courses. Traditional universities and colleges also provide short courses while Future Learn and Coursera, to name a few, also provide free courses. There is flexibility as students can learn at their own convenience and pace.

Students may also have access to SME (Subject Matter Experts) across the globe and the benefit of interactive webinars. Short courses can range from Cybersecurity, Business Management, Data Analytics to Project Management.

In a country like South Africa, where socio-economic barriers prevent many from furthering our studies, acquisition of new skills and online short courses will require collective responsibility. Accordingly, corporates need to be resolute in engendering an environment that is committed to investing in the skills of their employees because ultimately, employability trends and competitiveness do not dictate the future of work. They only provide context.

How we respond to these challenges and opportunities is what will really determine how the future of work unfolds. DM

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