INTERVIEW: The future of work in South Africa

Given the speed at which technological innovations take place, the skilled technology worker of the future is someone who has a markedly different skill set to those required just a few years ago. While a career path in the IT space is a promising one, how does someone passionate about IT ensure they are relevant not only today but in the fast-paced future?

IT News Africa’s Jenna Cook sat down with Yolanda Smit, Regional Director at PBT Group to discuss how people now need to have more varied expertise to be able to provide the company that they work for with a competitive advantage. Here’s what transpired:

What is the most promising job currently – and what future does this role see?

Currently, given the value data holds and the ability it offers for a business to truly differentiate from competitors by offering unique, innovative and more customised solutions and services, a career path in data is very promising. As a result, the data scientist role has seen much interest and growth recently and is in very high demand across the globe.

In fact, according to research, Data Scientist is the most popular job in America for the 4th year in a row. And, with IBM publishing a study that found that the world needs another 28% of data scientists worldwide by 2020 to meet increased demand, it is clear that the future of this role is also very promising.

However, from PBT’s experience, data science is a team sport and a successful data scientist is typically supported by one or more data engineers. So, whether you are into the deep statistics, or less mathematically inclined but passionate about data and coding, there’s a very promising future in any data-related job.

How does one go about entering the data field?

Acquiring the necessary qualifications is critical, studying at a recognised institution that offers solid courses within the data science and data engineering space must be explored (and PBT excitedly notes that various respected tertiary institutions in South Africa are ramping up to offer more academic support in this field). There are also a variety of online courses dedicated to data science that can be beneficial in learning these skills.

Over and above the required theory, however, practical learning is also required and so anyone interested in the data space must also proactively seek opportunities to learn on the job. It is important to note that a person who wants to be a competitive player in this space needs to use methods and theories from many fields including the likes of statistics and mathematics, as well as economics, business and computer science.

As one cannot be an expert across all areas instantly, practical and continued training becomes key. Those with a passion for data must ensure that they work for a business that takes continued training in this area very seriously. This is to not only ensure the development of the skills needed for the future considering the likes of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, but to also achieve continued growth success as digital transformation journeys progress.

Due to the current skills shortage, why does the younger generation need to be encouraged to seek a career path within the IT field?

We are operating in an increasingly digitised world where it is almost impossible to list all the possibilities that digital transformation is bringing into the market and across a number of sectors. Digital will remain relevant for many years to come and in fact, will only evolve and progress as continued innovation occurs.

As such, the world will likely always need digital skills and expertise to leverage the advancements coming to the fore as a result of digital innovation. While the perception is that innovations like AI will provide the skills needed or will replace some jobs, the reality is that the human expertise and ‘touch’ will always play a critical role to the success of technology implementation, especially those implementations that enable AI in organisations.

Therefore, given the need for IT skills and considering that data is required and used by nearly every sector, the younger generation looking to upskill and enter the working world should consider the field of IT and data. Choosing a career path in IT is choosing a career path that is not only relevant but a career path that is guaranteed to be successful and exciting.

What are some practical tips on how to continuously upskill in the constantly evolving digital world?

It is critically important to have a passion for learning as continued learning is a requirement for sustained upskilling in this regard.

Furthermore, reading and keeping up to date with industry and technology trends is key. As technology trends unfold, take the time to grasp an understanding of the technology and experiment where possible to ensure a new skill is learnt. Keeping a finger on the pulse is key to not falling behind, which can happen very easily in an industry where things evolve almost overnight.

Where possible, continue to develop skills through relevant online courses as they become available. Another area to consider is that of knowledge sharing among colleagues which can also prove beneficial for continued learning and upskilling.

How does someone passionate about IT ensure they are relevant not only today but in a few years’ time?

The key here is to keep upskilling and to ensure that one has a good understanding of the industry, how technology is evolving and with that, how it is impacting business, the business needs and where IT can support these. Continuous upskilling is critical when developing a career within an industry characterised by much change and development. Staying on top of the industry and trends and growing one’s knowledge base is often what sets them apart and makes the individual stand out from the crowd.

Virtualisation, machine-learning, mixed reality, and other innovations mean people now need to have more varied expertise — how does this experience provide the companies they work for with a competitive advantage?

The rise of automation has resulted in the need for a mix of technology skills to allow a business to become more dynamic and digitally aware – leveraging on digital transformation for sustainable growth. Holding such skills is beneficial to an organisation as varied expertise across the business can support in better streamlining certain aspects, create better organisational outputs and all while making more informed business decisions and faster. The value in this alone can be of great benefit to a business.

Over and above this, with some tasks being moved over to technology to manage as a result of automation, in many cases, a key and very valuable asset becomes available – time. With more time being available, employees can become more strategic using the time they have to come up with new initiatives to be more efficient and add additional value to the overall business bottom-line.

By Jenna Cook

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