Future-proof jobs: 10 careers for right now

  • Character c oncept by MAD TOY DESIGN Rendering by JEREMY COOK
  • Character c oncept by MAD TOY DESIGN Rendering by JEREMY COOK
  • Character c oncept by MAD TOY DESIGN Rendering by JEREMY COOK
  • 3ality TS3 Camera Rig
  • Character c oncept by MAD TOY DESIGN Rendering by JEREMY COOK
  • XCOR Rocket Plane
  • Character c oncept by MAD TOY DESIGN Rendering by JEREMY COOK
  • Character c oncept by MAD TOY DESIGN Rendering by JEREMY COOK
Date:31 May 2009 Tags:, , , , , , ,

Want a job?
Investment banks aren’t hiring right now, but if you’re interested in the new wave of energy exploration (underwater or on wind-swept-ridges), in digital tech (such as game design and 3D sportscasts) or even in building spaceships, we have some leads for you. Although most are US-oriented, you need to know that many tech-savvy South Africans have already made it big in America. So you’d prefer to invest your talents at home? Good for you: now go out there and start looking…

Undersea welder

Arc welding underwater with electrodes carrying 185 amps might seem unwise, but deep-diving wet welders do it every day. They build and repair pipelines and oil platforms – in January 2009 there were 313 new bids worth R4,3 billion in the western Gulf of Mexico alone. Dusty Harrison, placement director for a Florida school called the Commercial Diving Academy, says “There’s no telling how much work there is,” thanks to a decade of hurricanes and a boom in oil exploration. During the Gulf ’s hurricane season, some welders work in West Africa and Asia.
How to do it:
Oil companies hire dive outfits with welders certified by the Association of Commercial Diving Educators. Schools have four- to five-month certification courses. Swimming ability and a matric certificate are prerequisites; scuba diving isn’t.
Earning potential:
Right out of school, you’ll pull in up to R200 an hour. “After two and a half or three years, that typically doubles,” Harrison says.

Zero-energy home architect

Some houses now being built make as much energy as they consume. They rely on equipment such as solar cells to generate power, while using efficient design to keep consumption down. Michelle Kaufmann, an architect in Oakland, California, is bringing the zero-energy idea and other forms of sustainable design to prefab houses such as her mkLotus, a small, one-bedroom home. (Kaufmann worked for architecture legend Frank Gehry before founding her own firm in 2002.)

Says Kermit Baker, an economist for the American Institute of Architects (AIA): “Sustainability and architecture are now intertwined.” In a recent AIA survey, architects reported that 47 per cent of their clients in 2008 used green building elements. Despite the housing slump, Kaufmann says her 15-person staff is swamped: “We have more projects than ever before.”
How to do it:
Earn a master’s from one of the 61 US architecture programmes that offer classes with a green bent. (Yale has a joint degree in architecture and environmental management.)
Earning potential:
Nationally, staff architects earn about R450 000 to R1 million. Architects who own their firms can make much more.

Combined heat and power mechanic

Jim Bondi is an old-school electrician who embraces new-school energy production. After eight years working on projects that included solar installations, he joined Pennsylvania-based E-Finity, designing combined heat and power (CHP) plants. A CHP unit saves energy by burning fuel to produce electricity and using the excess heat for climate control and producing hot water. “With the nation’s rising energy demand and the increase in environmental stewardship, CHP is an economic and environmental no-brainer,” Bondi says. The US Department of Energy hopes the industry will grow enough to add a million workers by 2030.
How to do it:
CHP suppliers provide training. Electricians and mechanics with experience on jet and helicopter engines, which are similar to CHP turbines, find their skills are a natural fit.
Earning potential:
Salaries are R300 000 out of the gate; they top out at R750 000.

Energy engineer

When the Coronado naval base in San Diego wanted to shrink its energy consumption, it turned to the consulting firm Tetra Tech, whose energy-efficiency staff has grown sixtyfold in the past decade. “The naval base is like a small city, with office buildings, a supermarket, bowling alleys,” says Linda Hunter, a Tetra Tech energy engineer who was brought in to boost efficiency on the base and its two aircraft carriers.

Energy engineers may recommend new airconditioning equipment or solar-powered streetlights, or they may design entire renewableenergy systems, such as harnessing methane from a landfill to generate electricity.
How to do it:
Earn a degree in chemical, mechanical, electrical or civil engineering – or a newer specialty called energy resources engineering. A Certified Energy Manager (CEM) certification is useful; it demands expertise in subjects such as indoor air quality codes and standards, thermal energy storage systems and energy economics.
Earning potential:
Salaries start in the R500 000 range; with a master’s, you’ll get bumped up to around R700 000. Managers can pull in more than R1 million.

Digital detective

Red teamers focused on digital security are hired to hack into computer systems to uncover vulnerabilities. The US Department of Homeland Security plans to quadruple its cyber-security staff this year. Says Mark Mateski, a red teamer and the managing editor of Red Team Journal: “You’ll find a lot of red teamers working in war gaming and cyber security in the governmentcontracting world.” Even bigger growth may be coming in the private sector: “If your business’s survival depends on cyber security, you’re going to start looking for unconventional answers,” he says.
How to do it:
Programming skills are a must; a degree in computer science is helpful in landing a job. The Centre for Cyber Defenders Programme at New Mexico’s Sandia National Laboratories offers specific red-team training. Locally, UCT runs a post-grad course in computer forensics.
Earning potential:
R600 000 to start on the government and government-contract side; six-figure salaries are common in the private sector.

3D sports tech

Many fans already say they get a better view of sports events watching TV than sitting near the action, but 3D cements the argument. At least, that’s the view of Steve Schklair, CEO of Burbank-based 3ality Digital Systems, a company specialising in 3D technology and production.

“If you’ve got a camera down low next to the green and the golfer is putting uphill, you can actually see the roll of the green while he’s putting,” he says. Ray Hannisian, the company’s lead stereographer, uses software running complex sets of algorithms to fine-tune and synchronise the depth readings of as many as 10 cameras during events.

The technology raised its profile during this year’s US college football championships, which 3ality shot and broadcast live to 63 movie theatres in January. American consumers have already bought 1,4 million 3D-compatible television sets, and every major electronics manufacturer is now producing such sets. Of course, the bestknown 3D arena remains moviemaking. More than a dozen 3D movies are scheduled for release in 2009.
How to do it:
You can master 3D still photography on your own using a program such as HumanEyes Capture 3D Software. Also, take classes in digital videography (art schools and university film programmes offer them), then look for a job as a 2D cameraman. “With digital technology, you can learn a lot about 3D while you’re actually shooting,” Hannisian says.
Earning potential:
Salaries start at R500 000 and can go as high as R1,5 million for television work. For the elite earners in 3D movie production, Schklair says, “There is no limit.”

Fabricator of carbon-fibre spaceships and planes

“We’re like the shipbuilders of the modern era,” Reuben Garcia says. As head composite fabricator at XCOR, an aerospace company in Mojave, California, Garcia is deeply engaged in the race to make ships capable of carrying tourists into space. Garcia and his team take the plans drawn by XCOR’s engineers and make them real, using lightweight carbon composites similar to the materials used everywhere from Formula One racing cars to high-end fi shing rods.

Composite structures are built up layer by layer, and Garcia’s high-tech creations are shaped largely with such low-tech tools as squeegees filled with epoxy resin. XCOR, which plans to conduct test flights to space by 2011, is situated in a tiny town that has become a hotbed for spaceship and small-aircraft construction. “You can walk into any of the 20 or so companies here and have a job in an hour,” says Jon Sharp, owner of Nemesis Air Racing, which builds racing planes.
How to do it:
Many companies will train newbies. However, community colleges can offer a head start with introductory courses in composite fabrication.
Earning potential:
Pay starts low but can climb to R200 per hour. Managers who go on to earn engineering degrees can make up to R1 million a year.

Wind explorer

When civil and environmental engineer Mathias Craig arrived in Nicaragua in 2004, he found a stretch of Caribbean coastline where transportation consisted of horses and boats and there wasn’t a single light bulb. “It was like the Wild West 200 years ago,” he says. As founders of the non-profit Blue Energy Group, Craig and his brother organised volunteers to build wind turbines to catch the Caribbean trade winds and supply several communities with electricity.

Hugh Piggott, a Scotland-based wind-energy pioneer, has worked on similar projects in Zimbabwe, Peru and Sri Lanka. “One of the places wind energy is expanding most rapidly is the developing world,” he says. “The number of people in the world who don’t have utility power is actually increasing.” That’s because the population in many regions is growing faster than grid lines and new power plants can be constructed. Craig and his staff of 32 have already installed nine turbines in Nicaragua. They’ve also scouted sites in West Africa, and they’re in talks to expand into Honduras and Guatemala.
How to do it:
Texas Tech University’s Wind Science and Engineering Research Centre off ers a summer internship for undergrads and has one of America’s few PhD programmes in the field. However, it’s possible to jump in without an advanced degree. Piggott teaches turbinebuilding seminars worldwide; Blue Energy has an apprenticeship programme in Nicaragua.
Earning potential:
Non-profit firms based in developing countries pay from R10 000 to R40 000 a month. Annual salaries in the US currently range from R350 000 to R550 000.

Battery engineer

Will Gardner was a freshly minted university graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering when he was hired by Duracell. “I had no idea what a battery company could want with a mechanical engineer,” Gardner says, but he was drawn to the field, which combines elements of electrical engineering, chemistry, materials science and, yes, mechanical engineering. “You need to know something about each of them in order to succeed,” he says. Today, Gardner

leads a team that designs, builds and tests batteries for hybrid electric cars at A123 Systems, a fast-growing firm based in Watertown, Massachusetts. A123’s clients include Chrysler, GM and automotive upstarts Think and Better Place, and the company’s staff has jumped from 150 to 2 000 in the past three years. Ann Says Marie Sastry, who directs the University of Michigan’s master’s programme in energy systems engineering: “The DNA of the car is changing, which means the composition of the workforce has to change.” Sastry also runs her own battery company, called Sakti3. “We’re hiring,” she says. “It’s a great time to be a battery guy.”
How to do it:
A bachelor’s in maths, materials science or engineering is essential. Sastry’s programme is very highly regarded: “Students are getting jobs even before they finish their studies,” she says.
Earning potential:
To start, R500 000 to R600 000; at the senior level, R950 000.

Independent video-game designer

It took Kyle Gabler just four days to come up with the concept for his first video game, and, frankly, it didn’t seem like a blockbuster waiting to happen: the protagonists are gobs of goo. But in the growing world of independent game design, execution is key – and Gabler created a look that has drawn comparisons with filmmaker Tim Burton, supporting a story filled with intrigue and humour. The prototype became an indie hit, and in October 2008 Gabler launched the Nintendo Wii game World of Goo (above).

In an era of sequels (a dozen Medal of Honour games, eight iterations of Grand Theft Auto), the industry needs fresh ideas – and supplying them has traditionally been a designer’s main job. But as Simon Carless, publisher of the industry website Gamasutra and a former lead designer, says, “Now designers need practical skills. You need to be able to make the game”.
How to do it:
More than 200 schools offer game-design degrees, including the Art Institute of Portland, which graduates students with a BSc in Visual and Game Programming. But consumer tech is so good now that you may be able to go it alone. “You can make stuff in your bedroom that’s as good as what people are making professionally,” Carless says. Art, music and coding skills are all critical.
Earning potential:
Staff designers start at an average of R600 000, according to a survey by gamecareerguide.com. On your own, it’s feast or famine. Gabler was incomeless while designing World of Goo. In January, it became the 10th-best-selling PC game on the market.