Health and Safety, as well as Educare, have emerged as the top choices for thousands of students who will study via distance learning next year. These fields are closely followed by Human Resource Management, Engineering Studies, and Business Management in the popularity stakes.

Zabo Mhleli, senior Student Advisor at Oxbridge Academy, which serves more than 20 000 South African distance learning students every year, says given South Africa’s tough economic conditions, coupled with an extremely competitive job market, prospective students and working people are increasingly opting for distance study.

“The growth in the distance learning sector means that people seeking to further their education after school, or those who want to upskill to boost their job prospects, now have an unprecedented range of quality qualifications they can pursue, without having to commit to full-time study,” he says.

Mhleli says the top 5 courses, as determined by enrolment figures, are popular because of the following reasons:

OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH & SAFETY

SA’s Occupational Health and Safety Act stipulates strict regulations to which companies must adhere. This means that all workplaces need a sufficient complement of employees who understand the rules and regulations and can put requirements in place. An OHS qualification therefore improves one’s employability and sets you apart from other applicants, because of the high demand for OHS professionals in the market.

EDUCARE

Parents are becoming much more informed about the importance of early childhood care on future outcomes for their children, and are increasingly demanding the highest quality education from an early age. This means that there is significant growth in the ECD sector, resulting in increased job opportunities, including that of Grade R assistants. In addition, an ECD qualification can kickstart entrepreneurship for those professionals who want to open their own daycare centre.

HR MANAGEMENT

As is the case with OHS, an HR qualification improves a candidate’s employability, setting them apart from their peers. Many also view an HR qualification as a stepping stone into management positions. An HR qualification provides a good foundation on which to build a career, because it exposes you to a number of different aspects within the business environment, including the elements involved in running a successful business and managing people.

ENGINEERING STUDIES

Not to be confused with specialised engineering fields, N1-N3 Engineering Studies train students to become competent in a range of high-demand vocations, such as petrol or diesel mechanics, electricians and boilermakers, Millwrights, and fitters and turners. The demand for all of these professions is extremely high and again, provides a foot in the door for those seeking to start their own businesses.

BUSINESS MANAGEMENT

A business management qualification provides students with a broad range of transferable skills, including an understanding of how organisations work, critical and analytical thinking skills, written and verbal communication skills, problem solving and decision-making skills, and digital and financial literacy. These skills can be used in any career or working environment, and provide a solid foundation from which to develop one’s career, regardless of sector.

Mhleli says that students are particularly interested in vocational training – as opposed to purely academic qualifications – which will sufficiently prepare them to get a foot in the door of a specific career after qualifying.

“Vocational training refers to training that is specific to a career or a trade, meaning that it focuses on the practical application of skills in the workplace. Instead of just giving you theoretical knowledge about a certain field, vocational training helps you develop practical skills to perform a certain role, and enables you to be productive from the first day that you walk into a job,” he says.

“We are increasingly seeing that students don’t want to gain a qualification simply for the sake of boosting their CVs, but rather to gain entry into a specific field, or to change professional direction.”

However, Mhleli warns that before opting to study via distance learning, prospective students must make an honest assessment of their current situation to determine whether they will be able to cope with the challenges of studying on their own and at their own pace.

“You need to speak to a student advisor and determine how much time you’ll need to commit to your studies on a daily and weekly basis. Also ensure that you sign up with an institution that has excellent student support and platforms for student interaction. Distance study can be lonely and isolating, which will impact on a student’s success, if there aren’t sufficient support structures in place,” he says.