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09 March 2020 | Story Prof Francis Petersen | Photo Sonia Small
Prof Francis Petersen
Professor Francis Petersen is the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State

The shortage of skills is a global phenomenon and employers are concerned about the need for skilled professionals to meet the demands of various sectors of their economies. This situation has reached worrying proportions in South Africa, where it has become apparent that there is a nonalignment between the skills graduates are equipped with and those that are required in the workforce. 
Moreover, the continuous contraction of the South African economy is further spurring the unemployment crisis: the weak economic performance is not sufficient to create jobs in line with the growth of the working-age population. It is also evident that skills shortages and a lack of social capital have become a systemic problem that prevents access to jobs. 

Preparing graduates for the world of work
Unemployment in South Africa is about 29%, according to Statistics South Africa’s latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey; the unemployment rate of people between the ages of 15 and 34 years is 56%. Earlier this month, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced in his State of the Nation address that the country is facing its highest unemployment rate since 2008. Referring to youth unemployment as a “crisis”, the president said about two-thirds of the 1.2-million young people entering the labour market each year remain outside employment, education, or training.

There is an argument that a university graduate should not necessarily be job-ready, but must have the ability to think, to adapt and to learn relatively quickly. Even with this expectation, it is critically important to understand the world of work and to have a relationship with the job market. This is not only important from a future employment perspective, but it will also bring the job market closer to the academic curriculum and the research agenda of the university. It goes a long way towards starting to co-create solutions and conceptualising futures that are more inclusive and sustainable.

UFS interventions to improve student success
The University of the Free State (UFS) has taken collaboration with the private sector, industry, and commerce very seriously — most of the academic departments have industrial or sector-specific advisory boards through which robust discussions are taking place concerning the curriculum, appropriate funding to students, interventions to improve student success, challenges of the job market, and which research projects are essential to tackle. Through these boards, a relationship between the university, industry, the private sector, and commerce is established. This is a good starting point not only to address employment, but also to provide a catalyst for optimising an ecosystem to address the country’s economic challenges.  

UFS has also established a Short Learning Programmes office, as we believe that training and retraining workers in an ever-changing job market is essential. 
Our proactiveness in creating platforms of engagement with companies about student recruitment — as well as motivating companies, donors, and funders to employ and fund our top graduates — is evident through the work of our Career Services office. Trends in job placement are identified to help us better understand which markets to tailor our programmes to, and to create corporate partnerships for job-training opportunities. Keeping our students informed about career opportunities and equipping them with the skills and grit to make them employable — whether it is to find employment or to start their own business, is the Career Services’ goal.

Developing an entrepreneurial mindset 
Entrepreneurship has a vital role in combating unemployment. Equipping students with an entrepreneurial mindset is a priority, and “entrepreneurial thinking” is one of the university’s key graduate attributes. 

UFS supports the notion that preparing young jobseekers for the ever-evolving world of work is an integral aspect of their learning at university. We offer a compulsory foundation module to expose all of our first-year students to aspects of entrepreneurship, which are also captured throughout the curriculum.  
The UFS Business School has developed initiatives and training programmes specifically aimed at entrepreneurial enterprises. Our Centre for Business Dynamics works with the business sector, helping companies to stay competitive by bridging the gap between existing skills and those required by each industry. Short courses in entrepreneurship are among the tools they use to achieve this. Practical impetus is provided to students with business ideas through our Student Business Incubator; initiatives such as Young Entrepreneurs and the local chapter of Google’s Startup Grind U further stimulate entrepreneurial thinking.

Solving the skills gap
At UFS, we have found that to help the country in solving the skills gap and allow higher education institutions to thrive, various factors, such as industry, region, and job role are important. It has become all too clear that it is not enough to have only technical knowledge — a combination of skills is required for most jobs as technology becomes an integral part of daily tasks in the workplace. Education efforts should focus on areas that set individuals apart from machines and technology. 

There is a need for graduates to evolve with career opportunities, as many employers consider critical and strategic thinking skills as fundamental in middle-management roles. Collaboration, negotiation, emotional intelligence, cognitive flexibility, and resilience are important abilities in the workplace.

With the right skills and networks, our graduates will be able to secure employment, have enterprising mindsets to support and sustain themselves, and contribute to the development of their communities. 

A strong focus on employability as part of the core business of a university and the ability to equip our graduates with the necessary skills will remain crucial factors in the years to come. Our relationship with industry, the private sector, and commerce is crucial to driving this.

This article was published in the Mail&Guardian newspaper on 6 March 2020


News Archive

Significant support for Student Safety March in Bloemfontein
2017-07-28

 Description: Student Safety March Prof Petersen Tags: Student Safety March Prof Petersen 

SK Luwaca, UFS SRC President; Thapelo Ngozo,
CUT SRC President, and Prof Francis Petersen,
UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor, during the handover of the
memorandum at the Bram Fischer Building.
Photo: Johan Roux

The University of the Free State (UFS) and the Central University of Technology (CUT) united in a Student Safety Awareness March, which took place on Thursday 27 July 2017 from the UFS Bloemfontein Campus to the Bram Fischer Building.

The peaceful march had a turnout of approximately 1 500 students and staff from both institutions, led by the Student Representative Councils (SRC) from UFS and CUT. The purpose of the march was to hand over a memorandum to the Provincial Commissioner, Lieutenant General Lebeoana Tsumane, who acknowledged it on behalf of Mr Sam Mashinini, MEC for Police, Roads, and Transport in the Free State. The memorandum includes students’ demands regarding safety around student residential areas and general student safety in the city.

Prof Francis Petersen, UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor, who – together with other members of the senior leadership group – was part of the march, says he is very impressed with the outcome of the march and the participation rate of both staff and students, as well as the joint efforts between the UFS and CUT to arrange the march.

Prof Petersen says, “There are public spaces where our students feel unsafe, and we would like the city and the province to seriously look into that and work with us to try and see if we could make those spaces safe.

A week filled with safety activities
The march was part of the Safety Week taking place from 24 to 28 July 2017, during which the UFS SRC, together with other stakeholders, took part in several activities on and off the Bloemfontein Campus. These included door-to-door visits to student homes and residences on and around campus, awareness campaigns at all the gates of the campus, and a Safety Dialogue held on 26 July 2017 at the Equitas Auditorium on campus.

The aim of the Safety Week was to focus on informing, educating, and encouraging students as well as the Mangaung community at large, to work together in creating a safe environment for students. The week started with the roll-out of an awareness campaign titled Reach Out, which was set to bring students and the community of Mangaung together to help decrease the number of violent crimes faced by students off campus. The communication plan included safety messages, using outdoor billboards, posters on lampposts around the residential student areas, local community radio stations, campus media, and the university’s social media platforms.

 Description: Student Safety March  Tags: Student Safety March  

UFS and CUT students and staff, occupying the streets of
Bloemfontein during the Safety March.
Photo: Johan Roux

Accreditation of off-campus accommodation service providers
Over and above the Safety Week and safety awareness march, the university has initiated a number of other projects as part of its student safety strategy. This includes a process to accredit off-campus accommodation service providers in Bloemfontein who provide accommodation to students. The decision to accredit these service providers comes from a concern by the university management about the safety of students and the conditions under which some of our students live in off-campus accommodation. The accreditation process entails a list of primary requirements, drafted with the cognisance of the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality and the SRC, in terms of off-campus accommodation to which private providers must adhere in order to be accredited by the university. The requirements are in line with the Policy on the Minimum Norms and Standards for Student Housing at Public Universities (Government Gazette 39238, dated 29 September 2015).

Transport to and from campus
Another project to be initiated on 31 July 2017 is a transport pilot project with Interstate Bus Lines to assist students with transport and access to the Bloemfontein Campus. The route includes various stops in the areas surrounding the campus, as well as a hop-on/hop-off route within the campus.


Released by:

Lacea Loader (Director: Communication and Brand Management)
Telephone: +27 51 401 2584 | +27 83 645 2454
Email: news@ufs.ac.za | loaderl@ufs.ac.za
Fax: +27 51 444 6393


 

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