‘Volunteer or bust!’

2014-01-09 00:00

THE job market for school-leavers is so tough that agents are urging youngsters to work for free — or “learn a trade and suffer the indignity of a great salary”.

But the careers outlook for KZN’s successful class of 2013 is much brighter, with giant projects like Durban’s expanding maritime industry and port, the Square Kilometre Array telescope, and the National Infrastructure Plan likely to create thousands of professional jobs in KwaZulu-Natal in the future.

And experts said there were currently plenty of high-paying, guaranteed jobs with little student debt in one area that “no one seems to want” — and that “smart” school-leavers should train to become electricians, welders and other artisans.

Two days after KZN’s largest-ever matric class received their certificates, principals and recruitment agents said that most pupils had “fixed and unrealistic ideas” about jobs — and that they should focus on networking and current commercial opportunities, including entrepreneurship, rather than on their own interests and results.

Pro Appointments owner Cindy Norcott said the growing call centre industry remained a good opportunity for “well-spoken” matrics, while many could market their social media skills directly to companies’ IT departments. There was also a demand for young people skilled in graphic and web design, “and I still don’t meet many unemployed IT people”.

However, Norcott said the competition among matrics for white-collar jobs was generally “incredibly tough”.

She said matrics and even graduates should do whatever it took to gain on-the-job experience, even if it meant no pay. “Young people have to change their mind-set from ‘What can I get from employers?’, to ‘What can I give to employers?’ They should draw up a list of all the employed adults they know — their parents, teachers, churches, anyone — and ask to work-shadow, intern, or just volunteer.”

Bridget Jones, of Pronel Personnel Consultants in Pietermaritzburg, said matrics should be “much more open-minded” about jobs, saying research showed that the average employed person would have 14 different jobs by the age of 38.

Jones said Seta-sponsored “learnerships” in every sector from banking to call centres were “highly attractive for school-leavers”.

“Volunteerism and short-term work is the way to go — contract employment is very popular right now,” she said.

Vinay Motheeram, principal of Crossmoor Secondary School in Chatsworth, said too many graduates were competing for the same professional jobs. “We have had many careers days, so it’s hard to understand that there is so little interest in very high-paying jobs with the biggest demand, like artisanal trades.”

In addition to a current shortfall of 40 000 artisans in the country, the government’s National Development Plan calls for 30 000 newly qualified artisans annually — with only 13 000 currently being produced.

According to jobs listings, junior boilermakers, aircon technicians and electricians earn up to R20 000 per month, while junior millwrights earn up to R35 000, and specialist welders with under seven years’ experience can earn R50 000.

Recruitment agents said both the government and industry were ‘falling over themselves” to help students learn trades through FET colleges and on-the-job training programmes.

“New” professions expected to offer handsome rewards in KZN include mari­time jobs — from logistics experts to sailor ratings and marine architects — and a variety of maths, IT, engineering and science-related jobs flowing from the R20 billion Square Kilometre Array project.

SA Maritime Safety Authority official Sindiswa Nhlumayo said the fast-growing sector would need 225 000 new employees in years to come.

Despite attracting 12 000 ships to its shores annually, South Africa has no domestic shipping company or locally registered merchant vessels, and R160 billion is “lost” annually to foreign operators.

But Nhlumayo said that in addition to Durban’s proposed R100 billion dig-out port, new laws would help establish local companies as well as vessel repair and ship-building industries.

She said 14 000 high school pupils attended maritime careers days last year, and that new maritime courses at the Durban University of Technology had been “inundated” with applications.

However, Ann McLoughlin, deputy principal of academics at Maritzburg College, said there was “increasing concern” over viable careers for their matrics.

Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business CEO Melanie Veness said KZN offered abundant opportunities for specialised roles like pharmacists and logistics experts, but that — above all — the city needed artisans and entrepreneurs.

“Matriculants will find it very difficult out there — they simply have to research where the opportunities are, and think about what is happening in the world,” she said.

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