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Do I Need a Degree for Job Security?

by Staff Reporter

Is having a degree necessary for job security? Cara breaks down a few facts about studying and the work environment. If it’s advice you want, we have working professionals give their opinions too.

Unfortunately, the answer is not as clear as you would like it to be. Students, whether they are in their FET phase or during their tertiary phase, need to think about what industry they’d like to secure a position in. Do I need money? Yes. Do I want to be a waitress for the rest of my life? No. All industries have different requirements, the industry you’d like to work in determines whether you would need a degree or not.

Once you know where you want to be (this in itself is like solving a calculus equation from NASA), it is important that you research how to get there. If you aren’t sure which direction to go in, don’t worry, read up on a few articles on the Grade 12 Starter pack.

You see, some industries require a specific degree before they consider you as a candidate. Others place more importance on your experience in the field. Knowing what is required will help you to determine where to focus your energy. Either on building up your qualifications or building up a resume filled with referrals from your experience. It’s like studying for a math exam – it won’t help if you study your English textbook, no matter how beneficial it is.

Where Can I Study?

Before you make the commitment to study, you need to be sure about what to study. The last thing you’d want to do is waste a large sum of money and precious years of your life studying something that will never be of any use to you. To avoid career changes and wasting time, consider doing a psychometric test, job shadowing or internships.

Choose the kind of institution you want to study at wisely. Studying is expensive to fund, if you or your parents aren’t able to afford it, you should look at applying for a bursary or a student loan.

Types of Institutions in SA

(All require minimum NSC results to gain entrance).

Public Universities


  • Undergraduate degree courses and diploma courses.
  • The minimum requirements are quite high, so make sure you know the requirements of the course you’re applying to.


  • Theoretical studies leading to professional degrees.
  • Possibility for specialization through postgraduate studies.

Check out these Public Universities.

Private Institutions & Colleges


  • Most colleges tend to offer more diplomas and higher certificates and only the occasional degree.
  • Make sure the institution you choose offers you a platform of choices you are interested in.


  • Theoretical focus on specialized fields.
  • Smaller classes and more focus/attention on students.

Technical Colleges


  • Training in trades (3 months to 3 years).
  • The higher the school qualification the higher the entry level.
  • Applicants who obtain the NTC 6 (National Trade Certificate) or equivalent can enroll at a Technikon. A NTC offers a technical and vocational qualification.


  • Highly practical training in the trades.
  • Hands on training outweighs theory.

Check out these Technical Colleges.

Universities of Technology


  • Diplomas (3 years) and Certificates.
  • Some South African Technikon’s may offer a BTech which is the equivalent of a degree at a university.


  • Practical learning experience.
  • On the job training – therefore students generally find full-time employment quickly after studying.

Check out these Universities of Technology.

Learners of All Kinds

Thanks to Howard Gardner, we know that there are various kinds of intelligences. This also means that people learn in various ways. Some might thrive in academic institutions and others might thrive in a hands-on institution where you get to see the work forming in front of you. Technikons and apprenticeships are both very practical.

Alternative Study Options

All of the below courses are great to do from the comfort of your own home. Sometimes, you may even be able to find free courses too.

  • Short courses 
  • Correspondence courses

Pros and Cons of Studying

Pros of Studying Cons of Studying
If you choose your subjects correctly, you get to learn about topics YOU are interested in and build on your talents. You might not be able to afford it and can’t get a bursary. Student loans result in huge debts upon graduation.
The information and skills you learn can be applicable to more than one field. It can help you with daily life and help you to become a well-rounded individual. Not everyone uses their degree in the work place and often people end up in different fields. You might study something you don’t like, drop out and still have to pay off a loan.
You are exposed to different courses, people and a different environment. This can make you adaptable in the work place and open up your horizons. Studying takes a lot of time, (usually) three years of your life which makes it difficult to pursue any other dreams/passions while studying.
It gives you an opportunity to focus on yourself. Going straight into a full time job could prevent you from reaching your full potential. You might find limitations to your qualification that prevent you from doing what you’d like to.
Some work environments require a qualification, for example, any job in the medical, educational or engineering faculty. You often leave your institution without any practical work experience which is what employers look for in most industries.
If you have the opportunity to study and you don’t take it, you might always regret that you didn’t give it a go.  

What if I Don’t Want to Study?

Not everyone wants to study further and you don’t have to. Find a career path where you can build up your qualifications and experience at your own pace and in your own way. Not all industries require professional degrees or practical training. Some companies provide you with practical training when they hire you.

Here are a few ways to build up your qualifications while gaining experience in the field:

  • Apprenticeships

This is an opportunity to work with a skilled worker and learn a craft under them. Usually there is a law binding contract or some kind of agreement. Here are apprenticeship opportunities for 2016.

  • Learnerships

 work based learning program that directs you to your specific industry by undergoing theoretical and practical training. Eventually it leads to an NQF (link) registered qualification. Learnerships often use a legally binding agreement between the learner, employer, and the training provider. Learn more or find a learnership program that suits you!

  • Internship

An internship is an opportunity offered by employers to work for them and to gain experience. Some companies will employ the intern if they show potential. Some interns get paid but it is common for them to work for no pay. Find internships for 2016.

  • Ladder Climbing

Climbing the ladder refers to a person who starts at the bottom of a company or business and works their way up to higher positions. This usually means working in a position you might not necessarily like with little pay and sticking it through until you get promoted.

  • Starting Your Own Business

You don’t necessarily need to have a qualification to start a business. Yes, it is difficult and 63% of businesses fail in SA. BUT if you have a good business plan, capital/ investors and good business savvy, you could make it work. Just remember that you need to be knowledgeable about business and finance otherwise you could land yourself in a lot of debt. Start small and expand when your business can fund its own growth with its profit.

Remember it is YOUR decision to study or not, don’t let someone decide for you. There are billionaires all over the world who never studied – Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Richard Branson.

Vital Information to Keep in Mind

Before considering your studying and working options there are a few bits of information you need to keep in mind.

1. Limitations

As much as it would make sense that being under-qualified could limit you in certain fields, being over-qualified can too. Quite scary, I know. Some companies can’t afford your salary if you’re over-qualified. It is important to find out the limitations of your qualification.

  • Is the institution you studied at or plan to study at accredited?
  • Ask yourself these questions: Is my qualification international? Can I become a professional if I wanted to?

In an interview with Dirk Strydom, who owns a refrigeration contracting business, he opens up about the limitations of his qualification,

“Although I did my trade test through a technical college, I cannot register as a professional engineer.”

Knowing your possible limitations can help you find solutions. Applying for RPL (Recognised Prior Learning) to gain the qualifications you want without having to study from scratch is an example. Beware of specialising in a field where there are no job opportunities. You want to keep your options open, think about how your qualification or working experience can link to other industries. The more industries you can apply to for work, the more offers you will receive.

2. Experience is Key

Gaining experience is vital when you’re trying to build up your career. Many companies place a lot of importance on experience when looking for a new recruit – it brings more value to the work place. It also means that the employer spends less time and money training his new employee. Unfortunately, the younger work force struggle to find stable employment since so many industries look for experience but aren’t willing to take the chance to train someone. Even students who are qualified struggle with this cycle. They might have the qualifications but it is usually based on theory and their practical knowledge is often limited.

Dominique Wall, an administrator, states that the best way to gain experience is to start at the bottom in a junior position with low pay. She mentions,

“You may not always be doing what you want but it is a stepping stone to the position you want.”

Try to volunteer, get a student job or do vac work in your specific industry. It helps to gain experience and to build connections for a more secured position. If you are a student, you could work part-time if your varsity workload allows it. Another alternative is to first gain practical experience and then study, this method is beneficial to those studying in the trade industry.

3. Job Security in SA

In South Africa, the job market is very unpredictable and one cannot just walk into a good job. According to the latest survey in 2016, 26.7% of people between the age of 15-64 are currently unemployed. It is terrifying to think that more than a third of people who actually want to work cannot find work.

Unemployment rate for:

  • People with less than 12 years of education: 42%
  • Students who have passed matric: 29%
  • Students with a non-degree tertiary education: 16%
  • Students with a degree: 5%

In 2013 CDE Insight published Graduates in South Africa: A much exaggerated problem. In their research they mention:

 “Participation in the labour force runs between 46 and 63 per cent for people who did not finish school, but jumps dramatically for those who get matric (76 %) or study further (84 to 91 %). Importantly, employment rates also rise with education.”

If you do choose to study you can improve your chances of employment by studying a subject high in demand and gaining experience in the field while you study. The best employment rate can be found with accountants, lawyers, medical doctors and engineers. They face a 0.4% chance of unemployment.

Degrees that do well in the job market: BCom (commerce), BSc (science) and BCompt (accounting science). Studying in this field means that you have lowered your chances of unemployment to 3.1%.

In an interview with Gerard Samuel, the director of UCT School of Dance, he advises,

“I feel the younger workforce should accept that they will have 5 (or even more) possible career shifts in their working lives in SA.”

He carries on by saying,

“They should consider how the one skill set learnt applies in a different vocational/professional setting.”

With all this chaos going on, the young work force does have something backing them. An employee in South Africa is well protected by the basic conditions of the employment act and the CCMA is there to protect you and your rights if you are being mishandled by an employer. This offers some security in an unpredictable world.

4. Advice from Professionals

Here is some advice from interviewees working in various industries. Kelsey Carroll, Dominique Wall, Dirk Strydom and Gerard Samuels provide some tips for you.

  • Make sure you are knowledgeable in basic things, such as being computer literate.
  • Send your CV out to every possible job opportunity in your field and be persistent in following through. Also remember negotiations are often possible.
  • Start in a junior position and work your way up in the business.
  • Try not to switch from company to company continuously as employers respect employees who are consistent and dedicated to their jobs.
  • Be truthful about what you can offer.
  • Be prepared to learn.
  • Both your reputation and the reputation of your chosen employers are to be treasured.
  • Be open-minded and investigate all aspects of the field.

In the end – there isn’t a simple yes or no answer to whether you need to study for job security. It all depends on your chosen field and your personality. It seems that most employers value practical experience over multiple qualifications. A point made by one of the interviewees is that the theoretical content studied is often forgotten and difficult to apply in the field. This is often where the gap sits, in the application of skills.

Another interviewee argues that studying should never be viewed as an end goal but rather as an enriching process to better ourselves and our interactions with others. Whichever you believe to be true, you need to find the option which best suits you and the field of your choice.

FundiConnect 2Cents

As much as we need a good income for our daily expenses, whether you are studying or working, make sure you are in a position that can ensure your happiness over the long run. Studying is difficult and working can be draining but if you are unhappy 80% of the time, then maybe it is time to consider switching to something that can bring you happiness.

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