We need to teach students how to be successful after university

2018-12-18 00:00

In a changing world, it’s vital to teach students how to be successful after university, writes Francis Petersen

The festive season is traditionally a time to reflect on the year that was and to turn your focus towards prospects for the future.

For graduates from our higher education institutions, the time has inevitably come to focus on entering the world of work.

But getting suitable employment is not always easy and straightforward.

Our unemployment rate in South Africa still hovers dangerously high at about 26%.

Stats SA recently revealed that the vast majority of this figure is made up of young people.

However, it is clear that academic qualifications make a considerable difference as the graduate unemployment rate for those aged 25 to 34 drops to 10.2% and further decreases to 4.7% for those aged 35 to 64.

But there’s admittedly still much that can be done to improve the employability of our graduates.

QS World University Rankings recently published its latest Graduate Employability Rankings, which showed the universities that produced the most effective and competent graduates.

It’s concerning to note that not one South African university made it into the top 100.

For the past couple of years, there has been an increased focus on efforts to improve the employability of graduates at our institutions of higher learning.

At the University of the Free State, we introduced a compulsory module that focuses on academic skills – success beyond the university.

The course teaches students about, among other things, interview skills, CV writing, what employers are looking for and the effect of social media on employability.

We further offer work readiness programmes and facilitate exposure to potential employers through company presentations, webinars and career fairs. We make sure that students’ career aspirations line up with their study fields.

The Business School has identified the main drivers of not being workplace ready as a lack of life skills, managerial skills and leadership skills.

It has consequently started teaming up with specific sectors offering short learning programmes to specially recruited unemployed graduates, who are placed at host companies for five months of practical work experience.

The reality is that the world of work has changed dramatically over the past few years.

All indications are that we’re in for even more drastic changes in the foreseeable future, and one of the key elements that employers are constantly looking for is adaptability.

I believe the role of the university is not only to equip students with skills, but to help them think independently and creatively.

We have a vital role in developing entrepreneurial mind-sets. But it goes even further than that.

There are different ways in which universities can produce good employees who are also good citizens.

This can be done through mentorship training, which assists senior students to get better prepared for the world of work by developing their communication and time-management skills, and also their relational skills in the form of empathy and team work.

They also get taught about giving back to society. In the process, they learn good stewardship, resourcefulness and caring.

Ultimately, we have an educational responsibility that goes beyond the content of academic curriculums and training modules.

It’s also about introducing students to an environment where values such as social justice, inclusivity and care are actively demonstrated.

These values must transpire in the way we talk to each other, listen to each other and interact with each other.

We must show them what good citizenship is all about; not only teach it to them.

I truly believe that this will ultimately lead to universities producing graduates who are not only competent and employ-able, but also ami-able, adapt-able and prefer-able.

And able to make a positive difference in the world.

Petersen is rector and vice-chancellor at the University of the Free State

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May 19 2019