The decision to take up a particular career is one that most young people face soon before they graduate from high school. Choosing a vocational path is synonymous to choosing a lifestyle and is definitely a very delicate decision to make.That single choice influences almost completely one’s perspective and views of life and the society surround- ing them. It is influenced by the back- ground that one has, the exposure that they may have enjoyed as they were growing up and the people that surround them in the latter days of their secondary education. It stems from the preferences and strengths of an individual, their mental and phys- ical abilities, their areas of strength and their points of weakness. If not handled carefully, it has the potential of rendering a ‘poor chooser’ miserable for a whole lifetime. Forbes Africa recently reported that a wrong career choice could lead to poor performance on the job, early ageing from stress, dragging of work and even social disregard by isolating themselves from colleagues or peers who may seem to be enjoying their jobs.
Whether for the rest of their lives one decides to take up the late hours required of journalism, or the hands-on expectations of medical personnel; these decisions are made at a rather earlier stage of one’s life. Considering the significance of such a move one would normally expect the decision to be made from an informed and definite mind set. This however does not always seem to be the case. A considerable per- centage of students enrolling into universities find themselves changing courses by their second year. The porous nature of the system may aid the existing nature of things making it easier for students to migrate from one course to another without a strict system to check on all such movements and to seek validity of any such attempts. According to unofficial University of Namibia statistics, in 2011, over 11 percent of the students enrolled in both science and engineering changed courses. In 2012, the School of Medicine lost almost 17 percent of students to other faculties. External students together with those in science were the largest group of course shifters with over 5 percent in each faculty in 2013. In 2014, a total of 1.69 percent of students changed fac- ulties, while 2015 saw 2.16 percent of the total students enrolled migrating with the School of Medicine being the only faculty with no changes.
University of Namibia Secretary for Information and Publicity, Letta Muleka, speaking during a Career Fair this week said “some students are blown away by the winds of peer pressure… from their chit-chats with friends they are misled into thinking that one course is easier than another or that despite the commitment required, one programme is more prestigious than the next, making it easier for them to make flawed decisions. “The career guidance programmes that are offered at the institution largely affect the consciousness of their students in making decisions regarding their career. Some schools offer compulsory career programmes for all their students allowing them to interact with tertiary institutions and giving them a first-hand impression of what the various programmes have to offer. One such effort was recently made by the University of Namibia that held a career forum where it invited high school learners to interact with university students and inquire on the requirements of various programmes on offer and what it takes to succeed in various careers.
She noted how most students who attended the fair expressed desire to study all the big names in terms of vocations of which very few had the know-how of what it took to achieve most of these credentials. Other schools invite companies and organisations with different backgrounds and in diverse industries to give talks, motivation and familia- risation to high school apprentices. Windhoek Gymnasium has for the past year been running a career guidance programme known as ‘Discovery Series’ that seeks to identify the strengths of various students. What is it that motivates students to migrate from one programme to another, in some cases making complete changes in the nature of programmes that they take up? One student who preferred to speak anonymously shared how she repeated her first year for the past 3 years. Having been accepted for an engineering programme; she then realised that it was not her calling and migrated to computer sciences the year after. This also proved not the best course and the student is currently pursuing their degree in economics. The Patriot sought to establish what lies behind such decisions on career programmes and what consequences they may have on graduates and their contribution in the marketplace.
Elrea Dreyer, school career guidance officer, says, “We are moving away from a system of carrying out aptitude tests to determine student strengths in order to recommend a particular field for them. We real- ised these tests are favourable only to students with academic strength, whereas others with more vocational abilities are somewhat sidelined. The new system aims at accommodating learners from all walks of life and different strengths based on that.” She notes how times are changing with industries favouring a much more entrepreneurial approach. This is evident in universities where students are pursuing academic affiliations while concurrently taking part in extra-curricular ventures to boost their individual skills in numerous trades. Tracy Kapaala, is a public relations officer in the making, who says she engages in other projects in order to help her avoid relying completely on her career when she graduates. She sells various goods to her fellow students through an online business website and says that the undertaking has strongly strengthened her sales skills. This may be a means to show that the generations as they come rely less on academic accreditation and more on personal abilities that may not otherwise be found of tangible value in an academic setup.
Also some fields are more hands-on than others and the Namibian market seems to be quite accommodative of these fields, such as tourism and fisheries. Religious scholars refer to parents as a form of earthly ‘god’ figure for their children. The influences they have on the decisions children make and the way they perform is very cardinal. Some students have claimed that the programmes they are currently pursuing are in fact those that their parents would have wanted to pursue themselves but were unable due to varying obstacles. So as a way to portray themselves in their children they influence them towards a certain career choice, one that may not necessarily be the students’ penchant.
Amakali, a second year student says, “My mother really wanted to be a radio personality but she ended up doing nursing – guess who is studying towards being a journalist now?” Such cases are said to be numerous where individuals realise after they have already started their programmes that they actually would rather have something different. Opting as such to abandon a course they have begun, for another that is more favourable to them. Also of significant concern is how much knowledge there is about the requirements of particular programmes. Some programmes require more than just academic know-how, the drama and arts field, for example, requires the contribution of a touch of eccentricity, as well as some charisma in being able to conquer the demands of this sector. A potential pursuant of such a career must be inspired by more than just their role models but even their in-built abilities. For example, understanding that becoming a lawyer requires more than just being able to talk, but also an in-depth interest and skill in reading and mastering long texts, or that Geography Information Sciences actually has some Biology in it, or even that Business Management is largely a game of numbers.
These infinitesimal but significant details can determine whether or not one is suited for a particular course despite their liking or motivation. Familiarisation platforms are, therefore, necessary for learners to acquaint themselves with the careers they wish to pursue. Whereas a large part of this responsibility is taken by the career guidance and individual preferences; the system of changing courses at tertiary level must be looked into. Though some students honestly find it difficult to handle the requirements of a given programme, others inten- tionally enrol into a programme for the benefit of already being in the system and thus making it easier for them to change later to a course of their choice. This is problematic as there are students that are denied places in preferred programmes on the basis of spaces being filled up. Some of them are forced to take gap years that they may not really need just so they can try again in the next registration period. It raises questions whether tertiary institutions should not make it particularly difficult to change courses after a year of pursuing one programme.
While this would possibly curtail the current situation, “it would also force into careers individuals who are not happy with what they are doing” said one faculty dean. The Namibian Governments Vision 2030 demands a highly productive and skilled la- bour force. This must be streamlined with the National Development Plans to meet the economy’s developmental needs. Dreyer finally recommends the use of interest questionnaires, personality tests, value analyses and learning profiles to assess what it is that the learners prefer regarding their working environment and job requirements. Answering these questions at secondary school level will enable schools to tailor subject groups that accommodate the changing times and varying preferences.