Atypical build up to a successful career is that at Form Four stage, we spend a lot of time thinking about what profession we want to join. We then embark on a course in that direction. Desirably, everyone wants to try to go to university. If university is not an option or not possible, we try colleges and other tertiary institutions of learning. Once we get our degree or diploma, we start seeking jobs directly in the line of our training. But this is fast changing. Some young people are increasingly opening up to different options, to a widening range of opportunities.
Case in point: I recently met a young database engineer who travelled from West Africa coming to Malawi to deliver training to fellow database engineers for the international company that he works for. As I was digging into his academic background, he laughed as he told me that it had nothing to do with information technology (IT) in general or databases in particular. He trained as a biochemist! He said there were two of them, biochemists in the IT department where he works. There was a more extreme case with one of their colleagues who had a degree in philosophy. Interestingly, these are some of the outstanding and successful IT gurus-with ‘strange’ or ‘unlikely’ academic background.
What triggers these changes? Mostly it is lack of jobs in the field one is trained, or lack of career progression or lack of interest as one grows. As we grow, our passions and interests also change. Therefore, our career planning too needs to respond to such dynamics. But that is not all. The job market too is ever-changing. What we knew when we decided which course to pursue may no longer be correct today. Plus, the time we were deciding which course to pursue, we used certain assumptions and hypotheses about the job market. As you graduate, you now face reality which may be completely different from what you thought originally. This may trigger the need to review the approach to career. Do not be static. Be dynamic. Be flexible. Remember, from Biology we learn that it is not the strongest of living things that survive the test of time, rather those that dynamically respond to changes in their environment.
I will give another example. Sometime back, one of the best networking engineers I had in my IT team shocked me when one day he revealed that he was an economist by training. I could not understand at all. He was so good at his IT job as if he had a bachelor’s and master’s degree in the field. He did not! Of course, he had to find ways of building the required body of knowledge in IT and he continuously learns and upgrades, collecting several professional certifications along the way. Interestingly, he too was from another West African country. He told me that in his country, graduates are not fixed to their field of training. Indeed, I recall that while at the University of Malawi, some lecturers used to tell us that they were training us to be capable of doing anything or learning any new things-not necessarily to box us into the content that we were learning. But few really understood this. Very few have put this to practice.
Some do. I know that most of the people who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education in my year have gone into non-governmental organisations, the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA), human resources, journalism and many other fields not involving teaching or development of curriculum. With the increasing number of universities and subsequently, with the increasing number of graduates that come into the market, the chance to find a job in one’s field of training may be dwindling. This is the time to seriously think like West Africans. Open up your horizons. Do not be boxed up. Be flexible and develop a mind that is ready to embark on paths you never thought of before.
Be there next week when we will delve into how you can make the change. How can you transition from your field of training into another field for work. Good luck! n