As National Youth month comes to an end, it is important for us as South Africans to reflect on the courage of young South Africans who fought for the betterment of the country’s education system. It is also a time for introspection and to drive crucial conversations about how we are enabling our young professionals for the workplace. What role can we play in instilling confidence and building resilience in this new way of life which is uncertain?
As a business leader within the investment management industry, I often come across young professionals seeking advice on how to navigate a career for themselves. We are faced with a very dire unemployment rate and bleak situation in our country as many of our aspiring graduates are losing hope about their future.
Building a career is a tumultuous journey in its own right. This journey starts off with the commitment to one’s studies and includes challenges along the way while getting a qualification and making sure one is employable.
The investment industry is broad with multiple avenues to consider when starting out to gain the necessary skills and experience. When I think of my very first job as an actuarial student, I was fresh out of university and my aim was to gain as much practical knowledge and insights as possible. I was lucky to land in a great company that allowed me to grow, and I soon realised that this has become the foundation to build from my theoretical knowledge. My biggest learning from my first job in the financial services industry was that you had to be brave, embrace and run with opportunities that came your way.
In more recent times, there are a plethora of graduate programmes spanning across financial services. In addition, some institutions work closely with university financial and investment faculties to bridge the gap between studies and the world of work. They do this by offering short-period internships as well as vacation work experience during academic holidays. The trick to kick-starting your career is to accept that it is not always going to be as glamorous as what you may have imagined during your years as a student. You may even have to still prove and work your way into exactly what it is you were trying to get into in the first place.
When I reflect on the early years of my career, one memory that stands out for me, is how different the industry was as there were very few women, and diversity was lacking in general. As frustrating as it was, I now understand why I had to persevere. My passion and curiosity anchored me and motivated me to keep going. I knew I had to work twice as hard to prove myself given that I was a minority at work to progress in my career. I focused on my strengths and learned from my interactions with seasoned professionals in my team and the broader organisation. In fact, I am still learning today.
One thing that has kept me sane throughout my career is my personal interests. I have found that you need to make time for yourself, given the demands of having a career in the fast-paced organisations I have had the privilege to work for. Outside of your career, you should remember that you still are an individual with other interests and activities that you are passionate about. Make time for these too, as these help you build your mind and wellness.
In closing, I believe a young aspiring investment management professional needs to be prepared to roll up their sleeves and showcase their willingness to learn. Your qualification will get you a foot in the door, but your grit, perseverance, stamina, and your ability to build relationships are what will set you apart.