How do job trends impact on me?

It makes sense for you to plan your career while keeping in mind trends and demands in the job market. In other words, select jobs in areas or industries where job demands are growing and where opportunities exist as opposed to where job demands are decreasing. Trends indicate the direction in which the job market is moving, what niches or gaps exist, and what to look out for when planning your career. Let’s look at some of the trends that impact the job market in Africa and how this is creating the need for you to keep up with the rapid changes. Learning to read the job market means looking out for opportunities and waiting patiently for the right one to come along.

There is no denying that technology is changing the nature of how work is done all over the world. Throughout history, new inventions have created the need for new types of jobs for example:

Inventions that changed the world of work

The Car
truck driver
petrol pump attendant
petroleum technologist
rubber technologist

The aeroplane
air steward
air traffic controller
aerial photographer
aeronautical and aerospace engineer

The telephone
call centre operator
satellite systems technician
telecommunications engineer
instrument technician

The computer
computer programmer
electronics engineer
mechatronic engineer 
systems analyst
database administrator

The Internet
GIS specialist
web designer
game designer (multimedia)
mobile apps developer
cloud developer

Solar power
solar power technician
energy engineer
energy conservationist
environmental lawyer

Artificial Intelligence
Mechatronic Engineer
Drone Pilot
Nanoscientist or Nanosystems Engineer

Changes in technology

Robotics and Artificial Intelligence or AI are buzzwords we hear when talking about the future of work. Some people are fearful that robotics and AI will reduce work opportunities especially here in South Africa where we already have a high unemployment rate. Others are excited about the possibilities these innovations create to improve the standard of living for humankind.  So what is the future of robotics and how will it affect your job one day?

Robotics is a branch of engineering that deals with the design, construction, operation and application of robots.  A Robot is any man-made machine that can perform work or other actions normally performed by humans. Up until quite recently, industrial robots could only be programmed to carry out a repetitive series of movements, i.e. pick up and place an object.  An artificially intelligent robot is more advanced, because it will self-learn. An AI robot uses cameras and a specialized vision program to recognize the different types of objects. An AI robot learns to detect and select between various objects; it can also place the object in a different location depending on the type of object. (

Robotics together with AI are advancing rapidly, replacing all of the tasks that humans are bad at, such as searching through databases, performing repetitive and monotonous tasks, concentrating for long periods of time. Robots can perform these tasks better and faster.

Technological change and global competition are creating huge changes in our labour market. As more machinery is used in the primary sector, fewer workers are needed. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost in, for example, agriculture and mining. The demand for unskilled labour is also decreasing in the manufacturing sector as machines replace workers and companies move production to other countries such as China where labour is cheaper and production output is higher than in Africa.  On the rise is the demand for professional and skilled employees.

Many jobs that were once commonplace are disappearing, for example:
• digital switches have replaced human phone operators
• voice recognition software is replacing typists and data capturers
• combine harvesting and automated farm machinery is replacing human pickers, packers and other labourers
• automation and robotics in factories is replacing much of the manual labour workforce in factories
• online communications such as sms and email have replaced the people who delivered post door to door
• electronics and computers have replaced flight engineers in most modern aeroplanes

More opportunities for women and disabled people

Technology has also created greater opportunities for women and the disabled. As computers and machines are replacing people who were doing more routine labour-intensive work, opportunities have opened up for women and disabled people to become involved in jobs which men used to do. For example, through Intelligent Assist Devices (IAD), operators manipulate a robot as though it were one of their own limbs. These machines have increased reach and strength which allows women and people with disabilities to participate in the workforce. Computer technology such as voice recognition and video make it simpler for disabled people to read and write documents and to communicate with others. Disabled learners can gather information on the Internet and employees with disabilities are capable of handling a wider range of activities independently.  Stephen Hawking is one of the greatest scientists the world has ever known, yet he is quadriplegic and can only speak with the aid of a computer.

Opportunities due to environment change

The impact of global warming and climate change is causing governments and businesses to change the way they work. Industries such as pulp and paper mills, plastic manufacturers, petroleum refiners and iron and steel mills which are responsible for heavy pollution, will employ fewer and fewer people. New laws have been passed to encourage clean air industries and protect the environment including forests, wetlands and wildlife. These laws have created new opportunities in green jobs and industries such as power generation through wind, solar and nuclear energy.  People are encouraged to save resources and reduce the environmental impact of waste by reducing the amount of waste disposed at landfills. Recycling protects the environment and has the added benefit of creating jobs for many people.

New careers you may not have heard about yet!
Mobile App Developers redevelop computer programs to make them work on various mobile devices for use on mobile phones
Social media managers manage campaigns and generate interest in social media such as Facebook, twitter, whatsap and sms to help market and advertise services or products
User Experience Designer (UX designers) create experiences shaped through technology to make it more interesting and user friendly
Biofuel engineers and farmers grow and develop plants that can be turned into fuels
Photonics engineers are involved with developing and improving ways of transmitting information through light using optical fibres for use on TV and computer screens.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Nanoscientist study structures of 100 nanometres (nm) or less.


Africa is part of the larger world economy. Many multinational corporations operate within our borders, including Barclays, Cisco Systems, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Toyota and Vodafone. Because of developments in communications and transport, these multinationals are able to:

– import and export goods and services between continents and countries
– make significant investments in foreign countries
– allow local manufacturers in foreign countries to produce their products
– open manufacturing operations in foreign countries

Multinational corporations are large business companies that have a head office in their home country and offices and/or factories in different countries all over the world. Multinational corporations move operations to where they can get the lowest cost and best value. Africa has been losing jobs due to the fact that products can be manufactured more cheaply in other countries such as China. A good example of this is in our textiles industry which experienced a sharp decline due to large-scale imports of cheap textiles. Many thousands of jobs were lost. Africa needs a skilled workforce that is productive and competitive in order to attract foreign investment, particularly in areas of manufacturing which have the potential to create many jobs.

Buy local

When consumers buy locally produced products and support local service providers, the local economy is stimulated and sustainable job opportunities are created. By supporting local producers and manufacturers each and every citizen can contribute towards creating a bigger demand for home grown products and services, stimulating local economic growth, helping to prevent job losses and to create jobs. When shoppers ‘buy local’ it means that the supplier is a phone call away. Be aware that you are buying from a company that treats its employees fairly, that the company cares for the environment and that the total product is made locally or some of the products are made locally by using imported materials.

Competencies and skills for the new generation

Competencies are skills and abilities that can be measured and observed and which are necessary to perform a specific job properly. You need to be aware of these changing patterns of careers and the growth and decline of various occupations so that you can develop skills and competencies that are useful and needed. Without these skills and competencies it will become difficult to find employment. As a young person you have the disadvantage of not having a lot of experience. However, you have a number of other advantages which older people don’t have. Firstly, you are able to ‘catch on’ to new technologies more quickly than older people. You have fresh new ideas which employers are looking for and a willingness to learn. You also have big dreams and a lot of enthusiasm. Changes in the way people do jobs highlight how important it is for young workers to stay up-to-date with changing technologies. Be prepared to retrain to learn a new skill. Be prepared to change your job when necessary. When you retrain, you get new skills to do your job better or to do a new job. If you do not adapt and retrain you will be left behind.

How to stay employed
• Take initiative and do not wait to be asked to do something by your boss.
• Become self-motivated and self-driven – show your employer that you can work without supervision
• Develop your problem solving skills to come up with unusual or difficult solutions to situations
• Learn to make smart decisions based on the information and options available
• Learn to get along with others and work together as a team
• Develop good communication skills
• Try thinking out of the box, be creative and remember that there are as many solutions as there are problems.

Old Generation versus New Generation of workers

Old generation of workers New generation of workers
physical strength (in some jobs) reasoning and logical thinking
taking instructions and following orders taking initiative and making independent decisions
Able to follow rules and procedures Able to adapt to the situation
Listening to instructions communication , and cooperation
attention to production and safety procedures Attention to detail and self-control
Carrying out routine tasks Think out the box, critical thinking and problem solving
Operating, maintaining, designing mechanical machinery Operating computerized machinery
Not much change required Changes is always happening Open to new information new ideas
Same job (sometimes the same job for life) Life-long  learning

Scarce skills

Scarce skills are those occupations where there is a scarcity or shortage of qualified and experienced people. This shortage can be current (happening now) or it may be expected in the future. One way of identifying trends is to find out which jobs are listed as scarce skills before you make subject and career choices, then you will be able to choose a career field that offers opportunities. You will be able to find a job more easily and your chances are that you will be better paid and get promoted. Here is a list of the top twenty scarce skills in Africa. This list is published every two years by the Department of Higher Education (National Scarce Skills List).

Top twenty scarce skills in Africa
Electrical Engineer 
Civil Engineer
Mechanical Engineer 
Quantity Surveyor 
Programme or Project Manager 
Finance Manager 
Physical and Engineering Science Technicians*
Industrial and Production Engineers*
10 Chemical Engineer
11 Construction Project Manager 
12 Mining Engineer 
13 Accountant (General)
14 Energy Engineer
15 Materials Engineer 
16 Electronics Engineer
17 Metallurgical Engineer
18 Medical Superintendent
19 Public Health Manager
20 Energy Engineering Technologist

Most of the jobs listed in the Top 20 scarce skills list fall into three fields, engineers, artisans and financial Management. Engineers are professionals who have obtain a recognised BSc (Eng) or BEng degree after four years of university training. Engineering Technologists must qualify with a BTech or MTech degree after at least four years of training at a University of Technology. After gaining practical experience, an engineer may register as an Engineer with the Engineering Council in their country. Qualified Engineers and Engineering Technologists can expect a strong demand for their services. Maths and Science is compulsory to year 12 for entry to study in the field of engineering.

An artisan is a skilled worker or craftsperson that makes things using their hands. They receive theoretical training at TVET colleges and practical on-the-job training with an employer. The demand for artisans is expected to be high for experienced artisans as a result of the worldwide shortage of skills in this area. The manufacturing sector is the largest employer of artisans and is expected to show increasing growth in the employment of artisans, including electricians and fitters and turners. The entry requirement for a TVET college is usually a Year 9 certificate.

There is a high demand for qualified professionals in the field of finance, including chartered accountants, accountants, actuaries, economists, financial analysts and investment advisers. The reason for the high demand is that these skills are needed across all sectors of the economy. Maths and Science are compulsory to Year 12 for entry to study in finance.

Lifelong learning
We have seen how the world of work is constantly changing. In the past, it was common for people to have one job and sometimes even one employer for life. Today, we can expect to have a range of different jobs in our lifetime. Lifelong learning is learning beyond schooling and throughout your adult life. Lifelong learners do not fear change because they can learn new skills and new ways of working. Plan your career while keeping in mind trends and demands in the job market. At the same time remain flexible and keep in mind that you will always need to learn new skills by retraining. If you do not retrain, you will be left behind.