Future-proofing your careers choices

Eckart Zollner
Eckart Zollner

It’s often said that the jobs of the future don’t even exist today, making it difficult for youngsters to know what career they should follow. But in some workplaces tomorrow is already here and nobody has been trained for the skills we need.

That’s particularly true for hi-tech companies and for the thousands of other companies operating in the field of information and communication technology (ICT). There are already some skills that we simply cannot find in the local market, or the position stays open for two years or more because no suitably qualified candidates are available.

The shortage begins in schools, with pupils either not choosing to study – or not having the option of studying – maths, science and physics, which lay the foundation for many fascinating and rewarding careers.

The problem continues at universities, with institutes failing to update their course material to keep pace with the changing requirements of the workplace. Education institutions are developing new training material and new courses, but it’s happening too slowly and the output is still far too small to fill all the available jobs.

Political uncertainty and the promise of a better life – or at least better pay – overseas has led to a serious brain drain as ICT specialists emigrate. That’s exacerbated because these critical skills are a rarity around the world, as technology is evolving faster than education institutions can match.

If you have completed a four-year degree in artificial intelligence, for example, you can name your salary and chose from a global market.

But it’s not only IT companies that are battling. Technology is now ubiquitous and vital for companies in every sector of industry and commerce. These companies are trying to recruit from a limited pool of tech-savvy graduates or school leavers with a technical aptitude.

So, if you, your friends, your siblings, your children or your pupils are looking for inspiration and direction when it comes to studying for a career, here are two hot tips: The skills most needed now are data analytics and actuarial science. Talented professionals in both fields are already in short supply and demand will increase rapidly as more companies decide to make better use of the big data they collect. Companies now have tons of data pouring in, but the art lies in translating it into valuable and actionable information.

Actuaries and data scientists have similar training and skills sets and the two roles are quite similar, but there are a few differences. Both analyse data to make informed predictions about the future or to improve a company’s products or services.

Actuaries are found mostly in the insurance industry, predicting the possibility of loss, the cost of that loss and calculating how much to charge to cover that loss and still make a profit. For example, they can use the data drawn from in-car telematics to raise or lower monthly insurance premiums based on how well each customer drives.

When actuarial scientists move into different industries, their goal remains the same: To translate large data sets into information that can lead to better decision making by looking at the business processes, understanding what’s important for that process and what’s important for improving it or saving money. Then they need to analyse masses of data and apply their findings to improve the processes. They are well versed in statistics and thoroughly at home with spreadsheets and databases.

Data scientists are usually more grounded in programming and work in a wider variety of industries, with a broader range of problems to solve. Sometimes they have to figure out the questions that need asking in the first place.

They often tackle challenges that will affect the future direction or success of a company in the long term, perhaps by devising a way to improve the customer experience and the reputation of the brand, giving it longevity.

The two fields clearly have many overlaps and the biggest similarity of all is that they are both in desperately short supply.

As the amount of data being collected grows every day, entering the field of data analytics and actuarial science are two jobs that will become even more relevant for tomorrow.

  • Zollner is the head of business development for JSE-listed Jasco, an information technology supplier


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