Matriculants who have not yet finalised their study options for next year, should take a serious look at vocational careers, where the demand for qualified and skilled individuals remain despite South Africa’s sluggish economy, an education expert says.

“Too many young people opt for generic degrees at universities, and then later find that they are not adequately prepared for the real world of work, where employers look for people who can do specific jobs in specific sectors,” says Elbie Liebenberg, Principal of Oxbridge Academy, which serves more than 20 000 South African distance learning students every year.

She says that there is a disproportionate focus on gaining a university degree, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of graduates are unable to find employment after spending years studying.

“Many people don’t even know that vocational training exists, and many of those who do, don’t fully understand what it is. Matriculants should make sure that they are studying for the right reasons – for instance, not simply because of any ideas of prestige attached to a university qualification – and that they have considered how their qualification will prepare them for landing a job after their studies,” says Liebenberg.

In addition to getting you ready for a specific career, vocational training is often shorter in duration, can be done via distance or part-time study, and fees are likely to be lower, she says.

Examples of vocational courses are too many to list in full, but they include:

  • Engineering studies
  • Business Management
  • Human Resources Management
  • Tourism
  • Educare
  • Contact Centre Management
  • Occupational Health and Safety
  • Supply Chain and Logistics Management

“Vocational courses are designed to equip students with job-relevant skills and provide the opportunity to earn a qualification that is directly linked to a chosen career path. Furthermore, a solid grounding in a specific vocation provides a strong position from which to start one’s own business, which means you are not at the mercy of the job market,” Liebenberg says. 

“Through vocational education, students can gain the practical knowledge and skills they need to find a job, without having to spend unnecessary time learning about theoretical principles and abstract concepts that are not directly relevant in the working environment.”

The world of work looks very different now from the way it did five or ten years ago, and it keeps changing, Liebenberg notes.

When considering how to best position yourself for a career, you can’t just decide to go study something and figure out later how you are going to apply your qualification and what you’ve learned after graduation. You have to decide right from the start what your vision for your future is after completing your studies, and determine the best route to make that happen.

“These days, many – if not most – employers prefer candidates who are able to walk in and start being productive on their first day, instead of requiring extensive training that takes up valuable time and costs the company money. This is especially true when it comes to hiring for certain positions, such as IT technicians, office managers, childcare workers, or beauty therapists.”

And before you register, always remember that in order to find the right course and the right institution, you should consider factors such as accreditation, fees, student support services, course duration, and curriculum.

“We urge prospective students to first do their homework and identify their needs and expectations, and to then consider what their personal circumstances allow before finding the course and institution that will be the best fit for them personally,” says Liebenberg.