In the dynamic tapestry of a nation’s economy, the true driving force lies within the aspirations, skills, and motivation of its workforce. South Africa, with its vast resource opportunities, is no exception. In a recent Vantage Point survey conducted by esteemed African research company Bateleur Brand Planning, we dive deep into the evolving vocational aspirations of South Africans and their implications for the country’s future.
The Shifting Landscape of Ambitions
South Africans fondly recall the question posed in the schoolyard: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” However, as we explore the survey results, it’s evident that the dreams of youth often differ over time.
The survey canvassed 1592 South Africans and uncovered the top 10 career aspirations during their school days:
- Medical Doctor (36%): A perennial favourite cherished by all, regardless of gender.
- Teacher (33%): Predominantly favoured by girls, it exhibits a decline in popularity among younger respondents.
- Lawyer (32%): Particularly aspirational among the younger generation.
- Engineer (30%): A favoured choice among boys, though waning in popularity among younger respondents.
- Accountant (29%): A timeless aspiration for both genders, especially among upmarket respondents.
- Pilot (23%): Highly desired by boys.
- Scientist (17%): Showing signs of decline, more common among older respondents.
- Nurse (17%): Predominantly chosen by girls.
- Architect (17%): A fancy held largely in the Western Cape among upmarket respondents.
- Veterinarian (16%): Inclined towards female respondents, but fading among younger generations.
In addition, the survey noted that the younger generation predominantly harbours dreams of becoming an entrepreneur. At the same time, aspirations for farming appear to be fading away but are still held by some, especially Afrikaans-speaking males.
A New Generation, New Aspirations
When we examine the aspirations of South African children and their friends today, a few constants remain, including dreams of becoming doctors, engineers, and accountants. However, significant shifts have occurred, with some vocations losing their lustre.
Notable declining aspirations include teachers, lawyers, pilots, nurses, scientists, farmers, veterinarians, writers, and librarians. One profession stands out as a burgeoning aspiration: software development, with a remarkable 38% aspiring towards it, making it the most sought-after vocation.
The digital age has sparked an interest in careers as social media influencers (18%), video game designers, and professional gamers. Professional sports, especially soccer, have also gained traction as an aspirational vocation. Importantly, more children now aspire to become “entrepreneurs” than in the past.
Influences Shaping Aspirations
These vocational dreams are not formed in isolation; they are shaped by various influences. Family and friends play a crucial role, inspiring 45% of respondents. Mothers appear to exert more influence than fathers in South Africa.
Entrepreneurs, known for their innovation and success, influence 41% of respondents, with Elon Musk leading the pack, followed by Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs. Nelson Mandela, a symbol of leadership and change, remains a significant influencer.
Cultural and spiritual figures like Sathya Sai Baba, Mother Teresa, and Mahatma Gandhi reflect the impact of spiritual and humanitarian leaders. Local heroes and role models, such as DJ Black Coffee, Dr John Kani, and President Cyril Ramaphosa, also leave their mark. Global icons like Michael Jackson, John Cena, and Oprah Winfrey further shape aspirations.
While philanthropy and social impact occupy a smaller space, figures like Oprah Winfrey, Mark Rober, and Gift of the Givers (Imtiaz Sooliman) are recognised for inspiring future vocational goals.
A Concerning Educational Landscape
Despite these lofty aspirations, the survey reveals a sobering reality. A mere 4% of respondents believe that South African schools adequately prepare students for the job market, with a resounding 70% disagreeing with this notion.
The AI Dilemma
Amid the current buzz surrounding artificial intelligence (AI), respondents expressed divided sentiments. Approximately 52% felt fear, while the remaining 48% expressed excitement. Concerns included the fear of increased laziness, decreased creativity, and job displacement due to AI, with a significant 71% believing that AI will replace human jobs, in contrast to the 11% who see AI as a creator of new job opportunities.
Engagement and Wealth
In the workplace, only 53% of working South Africans describe themselves as “engaged” with their jobs. Notably, younger employees tend to be less engaged, with a direct correlation between age and job engagement. Additionally, wealthier individuals are more likely to be engaged in their work. Cause or effect?
In conclusion, South Africa appears to be experiencing a shift from backbone to wishbone when it comes to vocational and economic aspirations. Aspirations toward fanciful vocations with the promise of quick riches are on the rise. Acknowledging the education system’s shortcomings, coupled with the impending impact of AI on jobs, presents significant challenges. The question remains: What will it take to align the wishbone aspirations with the backbone required for a prosperous future?
By Gordon Hooper: MD of Bateleur Brand Planning