A major development arising from the changing world of work over the past year and a half, is the growth in the gig worker economy - that is, professionals who don't necessarily get employed full-time at a company, but sell their time and expertise to multiple clients as consultants.
In the past, permanent employment was for the most part the sought-after norm, but in recent years – even before the pandemic hit – young people increasingly sought more flexibility in the workplace. This trend was predicted by the World Economic Forum in its Future of Jobs Report of 2018, and is becoming firmly entrenched as the career path of choice for those who excel at what they do and are able to work productively, independently and at a standard that means their skills are sought after by companies outsourcing work to independent contractors.
Just like the historic jobs market however, competition is stiff in the gig economy, and those who wish to pursue this route must ensure they get a solid grounding in all the skills required to become successful.
"In the gig economy, specialisation is key and generalist skills are non-negotiable," says Dr Gillian Mooney, Dean: Academic Development and Support at The Independent Institute of Education, SA's largest and most accredited private higher education provider.
"You have to be very clear about what it is that you offer, and you have to ensure that you are the very best you can be in that field, combined with a healthy dose of being able to run the logistics of your consulting business.
Dr Mooney says it is now well-known in which professional fields specialists will be in high demand in coming years, for example anything AI, Big Data, Internet of Things, Robotics, and Encryption-related. The creative industry is also a major field in which outsourcing will continue to grow, she says.
"So what you need to do when deciding what to study now, is to match your interests to these future growth fields, and then see what options are available at various higher education institutions, because the offering varies widely in terms of curriculum content and quality, and there are constantly new programmes being developed that may not have existed a year or two ago."
For those who have a first degree, it may also be a smart investment to continue to specialise in their field by pursuing a post-graduate qualification, says Dr Mooney.
Additionally, while the intention is to prepare for the immediate future continued professional development has become necessary for everyone as a matter of course, because the world of work requires ongoing adaption and upskilling as a result of constant and rapid change.
"Doing an additional year of specialisation in your field, or investing in a few short courses to broaden your skills, is a great addition not only to your portfolio in a crowded market, but also to the development of your transferrable skills and industry contacts which are essential in the gig economy. As you continue to deliver high quality work, clients often want to work with you on other projects not necessarily within your main field. If you are able to constantly hone your skills and expand your skillset, that means you will be able to take on more and more diverse projects."
Dr Mooney says there are a number of exciting new courses being offered from next year in growth fields which will enhance a candidate's chances in both the traditional world of work as well as the gig economy. These include a Higher Certificate in Mobile Application and Web Development which will be offered at The IIE's Rosebank College, Vega, Varsity College and IIE MSA; a Post Graduate Diploma in Data Analytics (Varsity College); and a PhD in Brand Leadership, the only one of its kind in Africa, offered at The IIE's Vega, to name a few.
"These are only a fraction of the new qualifications that will be available from 2022, and there are a host more that have been developed and implemented in the past two to three years. The important thing when deciding what you are going to study next year after Matriculating, or what you are going to study if you seek to develop your professional skills with a view to making a change in your career path, is to ensure you do careful research about your options so that you don't miss out on the exciting new fields of study developed specifically with the future in mind.
"Confining your search only to those fields that were historically prominent is by definition not a forward-looking strategy, and may result in a disappointing investment of your time and money. The best way to decide on a qualification, especially if you don't have a clear direction which way you want to go, is to leave as many options open as possible in terms of the structure of your career – i.e. you will be able to be employed as well as work for yourself as a consultant, and then to match that which you are good at and passionate about to careers of the future and the qualification that will get you there."