Game developer, content creator or drone pilot: are these the careers of the future?

The future of work is now.
The future of work is now.
Image: 123/Aleksandr Khakimullin

A few decades ago, when a young person was asked what they want to be when they grow up, the reply would most likely have been the more traditional roles of doctor, nurse, or teacher.

With a shift over time, as opportunities became more readily available, the response would have turned into more niche options such as pilot or engineer. But in 2021, a lot has changed as we’ve started to see a major change in the career options available for our kids, such as game developer, content creator, and drone pilot.

At just 10 years old, Kader Ncube, who hopes to be a game developer, has already developed his own video game, programming it from conception to the point where he feels “it’s perfect.” His father taught him coding from the age of eight and he has been learning various design software such as Photoshop and CorelDraw from when he could navigate a mouse.

It is however, not only the career consciousness of the young that is shifting with the progression of time, but also adults who are reimagining their own career paths as well.

“When I was in high school I could have never guessed that 17+ years later I would be a mobile-app developer, mainly because mobile apps didn’t exist,” says Jonson Ncube, who went from being a graphic designer to brand strategist, and is now an app developer.

“Programming and software engineering in themselves are not new careers, but with the introduction of smartphones and mobile apps, a new career path was forged, in which I find myself in today — an incredibly profitable profession, I might add.”

The development of mobile apps such as Instagram and TikTok has also sprung other profitable career options, albeit sometimes misunderstood, such as content creation — more popularly known as “influencing”.

Writer and content creator Sibulelo Manamatela explains why it’s often misunderstood. “The term ‘influencer’ is an extension of what the job really is. It’s not just about influencing people to buy certain things or live a certain way; the primary job is content creation,” she says. “I am essentially the photographer, editor, copywriter, and the talent for my personal brand. The content is the occupation; ‘the influence’ only exists because of the people who receive and enjoy the content I have produced.” 

Manamatela has endorsed major brands like Lindt and Lego through her content creation. “You need to think of it as building a community first: you need to connect with people for your personal brand to be effective. Secondly, for you to monetise, you need to have a niche. It’s easy for brands to find and work with you when they know what you and your community have in common.

"If you like and need certain products, a lot of your community will too, and that is how the brands will make sales and go into business with you. So you have to know what your people like and give them that. And lastly, the way everything looks matters! Learn the art of aesthetics.”

Are these the careers of the future? Is digital the end of “traditional careers” as we know them? With new realities brought by fourth industrial revolution, the work landscape across all industries is shifting drastically and rapidly.

The World Economic Forum reports that due to the adoption of new technologies and structural changes in the labour market, there is a possible displacement of 75-million jobs. A horrifying thought, until a subsequent prediction is that, simultaneously, 133-million new jobs will be created. It seems the key is to carve an irreplaceable career path, one that can be aligned to these technologies.

Nuclear scientist, and 4IR commissioner in the Presidency, Nonso Kana, says, “The future is now driven by our behavioural patterns and way of doing work. Companies are now deriving valuefrom the market by being proactive to the needs of the market.

"Therefore, the future of work includes more digital-inclined skills, creative thinking and epithetical ways of dealing with marketing needs. This includes the gig economy, digitised-entertainment industry, and more Stem professionals with high aptitude for product development and digital applications development (mobile with AI models).”

It seems every epoch dawns with career aspirations of its own, influenced by a complexity of variables, from the sociopolitics to economics to the advancement of technology.

There was a time when a woman, whether Black or white, could never dream of being a doctor, and a Black man couldn’t imagine working as a pilot. Today we not only have scores of black pilots, but also even a reconstruction of what a pilot is.

Sikhumbuzo Nhlapo grew up in Soweto and currently lives in Northcliff, Johannesburg. Nhlapho is a certified drone pilot who works predominantly in the film industry. Having worked as a film editor for years, he bought his first drone and enrolled into aviation school in 2017.

“As soon as I got my licence, bookings started flooding in because the work is in demand. The job comes with a lot of travel and it added to my income significantly, to the extent that it became my main source,” he says. “The other beauty is that it goes beyond film — as a drone pilot I was a part of a court case that resulted in a family getting their land back, this made me realise that it can even change lives.”

Nhlapho’s career is one that most of us would not have imagined a decade ago. However, how sustainable are these “new” careers? Kana paints the broader picture: “The emergence of big data and numerous devices connecting to the net ensures job security for many professionals in the data-management sectors. New careers such as drone operators can benefit aviation professionals, and programmers are not only coming into new, emerging industries, but are also bringing new business models to existing ones.

"Drone pilots tap into logistics in industries such as mining, agriculture, and film, and software developers are getting into machine learning and artificial intelligence in building those models that are related to your fintech, agritech, and telemedicine. These kinds of careers will be with us for a very long time.”

The digital age is not only creating viable new careers, it is also transforming what we have long understood to be traditional career paths. For every job destroyed a new job is created; one that is less repetitive, more fulfilling, and on average, better paying too. Ours therefore, it appears, is to embrace this change and advance along with it.

This article first appeared in the May/June print edition of S Mag.