In South African society, university degrees still hold high social prestige. They’re a mark of affluence, privilege, and intellect. But despite all of this, degrees don’t hold the same value in the labour market as they once did.
For most employers, a degree just doesn’t cut it anymore—which is why successful professionals are relying more heavily on some of the following strategies to demonstrate their professional credibility and build their careers:Developing credentials
From 1994 to 2014, annual university enrolment numbers across South African universities almost doubled from 495,356 to 938,201
(SA Government News Agency). While this is a boon for the South African economy in general, it conversely means that holding a university degree doesn’t distinguish you as much in the labour market as it used to.
Increasingly, it is those who hold additional—more current and more specialised—professional credentials that are sought out by employers. Professional organisation membership
While registering with a professional organisation is not a requirement for all professions, membership to such an organisation undoubtedly helps your career—regardless of what industry you are working in.
For example: If you complete an ICB bookkeeping course
and join the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers and Accountants (ICBA), you will be able to increase your standing with employers in the following ways:
- You will be able to use the ICBA professional designation after your name.
- Your professional membership will show employers that you take your career seriously, and that you are part of a respected professional community.
- You will be required to have a certain amount of work experience before you qualify for membership, which means that membership status is a mark of professional accomplishment.
- To retain your membership, you will need to complete 20 hours of annual professional training, which will show employers that you are committed to continuous professional development.
Professionals in the IT industry are no strangers to the importance of certification. While a BSc Computer Science degree can act as a strong foundation for your career, in this industry you will need an array of professional certificates to show that you are competent in areas of specialisation, new technologies, individual software packages and platforms, and coding languages.
But it’s not only the IT profession that benefits from professional certification. For example:
- Project managers can benefit from the PMI’s Project Management Professional Certification
- Accountants can benefit from SAGE Pastel Certification
- Occupational Health and Safety workers can benefit from OHSAS 18001 Certification
Certification not only increases your earning potential, but also your employability. According to the Earning Power: Project Management Salary Survey, PMP certification holders earn 20% more than their non-certified project management peers
. And in Manpower South Africa’s 2015 annual Talent Shortage Survey, 30% of South African employers cited the lack of industry-specific qualifications or certifications as a challenge in filling vacant positions
. Expanding skillsets
According to the same Manpower South Africa survey mentioned above, 47% of employers cited the lack of technical competencies or hard skills as a reason why they struggled to fill vacant positions.
While a degree programme might equip you with certain work-related skills, there is often a mismatch between those skills and the vocational skills employers actually want. Few undergraduate programmes, for example, will give you the concrete management skills required for nearly half of the 829 000 job vacancies in corporate South Africa
(Manpower South Africa). Skills development
, in its various forms, is thus an essential career development tool for the modern professional.Diversifying skills
The demands of a fluctuating global economy, shifting modes of production, and rapid technological changes place a lot of pressure on modern businesses. Consequently, employers look for versatile, multi-skilled professionals as core employees, while regarding single-skilled labourers as more expendable.
Taking a short course in a field related—or even unrelated—to your profession is the best way to expand your skillset, take on more key responsibilities, and increase your value as an employee:
The best way to make yourself indispensable to your organisation is to ensure that your employer will need to appoint two different people to replace you. Upskilling
There is a rising distrust of degrees amongst South African employers. This stems from an increasing fear of inflated grade averages, lowered institutional standards, and wide-spread credential fraud.
Upskilling can help build on your degree by equipping you with tangible skills related to your field of study. Moreover, the benefits of upskilling include:
- Expanding your current skillset
- Updating old skills
- Catching up with new industry advancements
- Revitalising a stagnant career with new skills
You don’t need to do your master’s degree to upgrade your skillset, however. There are many distance learning colleges, such as Oxbridge Academy
, that make it easy for professionals to complete a variety of skills development courses on a part-time basis from home. Soft skills
There is a difference between a qualified employee and a good employee. While a degree might give you expertise in a certain field, most degrees don’t give you the core “soft” skills you need to become a successful working professional. Oxbridge Training Institute
defines soft skills as a “cluster of personality traits, social skills, communication skills, personal habits, and leadership qualities” that will “improve your efficiency and productivity, thereby increasing the likelihood that you will be able to achieve your organisation’s goals, as well as your own career goals.”
Soft skills include:
- Business etiquette
- Business writing
- Change management
- Creative problem solving
- Motivational skills
- Negotiation skills
- Presentation skills
- Proposal writing
Impressive workplace skills and practiced professionalism can set you apart from other degree-holding employees. In a 2014 survey by CareerBuilder, for example, 77% of surveyed employers said they actively seek candidates with soft skills, while 16% went as far as to say that these skills are more valued than ‘hard’ skills
.Engaging in online learning
Insurance Manager Graeme Gallichan
became Oxbridge Academy’s first online short course
graduate earlier this year. Upon completion of the course, we asked him what the biggest benefit of online learning is:
“I believe in our pressurised lives where we have very little available time for learning, that online learning is a very worthwhile tool as you can study at your own pace and when you have time available. It is easy enough to have access from anywhere and do bit by bit when you can.”
Online learning has become the perfect tool for professionals who want to expand their skillsets without wasting time. Moreover, there is an endless array of digital mediums and platforms to facilitate online learning—from online colleges, to YouTube channels and open learning websites. Why continuous development matters
All of the above strategies for career advancement pivot around the idea of continuous development. As Graeme Gallichan—who already holds a BCompt degree—motivates his decision to enrol for an online course at Oxbridge Academy:
“Any course I do is mainly for my personal benefit and then hopefully will have a positive effect on my career. I do courses to keep up to date with new ideas. I think continuous skills development is extremely important in today’s working environment.”
While earning a degree might have helped you kick off your career, advancing that career will rely on what steps you decide to take next. Continuously developing as a modern professional means that you will have to keep your skills sharp and your credentials updated. To learn more about enrolling for a skills development course, online course, or qualification via distance learning, you can visit www.oxbridgeacademy.edu.zaSources: