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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

2011 Leadership group meets for the first time
2011-08-01

 

Photo: Hannes Pieterse

The long application process, panel interviews and nail-biting wait finally came to an end the past week, when the cream of our first-year class of 2011 gathered in the Scaena Theatre on our Bloemfontein Campus, for their first group meeting as the selected Leadership for Change cohort.

These 150 students, from all our faculties, will over the following year be groomed to be leaders, not only at the university, but also in their respective fields and chosen careers.
The first group of students will depart for their respective universities in America and Europe on 22 September 2011, where they will spend two weeks. The second group of students will depart for universities in Japan in January 2012.

Although they have all passed a gruelling selection process, the real hard work is only starting now for these bright young students.

The programme will take place in four phases. During the preparation phase, which has now kicked off, students are prepared for the experience ahead, while being made aware of exactly what to expect from the programme.

In the study-abroad phase, students will be placed at 15 partner institutions in various countries, and will be divided into groups of six to twelve people. According to Prof. Aldo Stroebel, Director of International Academic Programmes, the groups will be diverse, in that there will be a mix of races, genders and study fields, which should guarantee dynamic interaction.

During the group’s first meeting this week, they were informed of the important goals of the Leadership for Change Programme, by Mr Rudi Buys, Dean of Student Affairs.

He imparted the gravity of their selection on the students by saying, “You may not get it yet, but I understand the reason we are all here. I understand that by looking at what you achieve after this programme, we can tell what the country could possibly achieve in the future. It is immensely moving to see the way you all carry yourselves, since I can see something special and unique in each of you.”
“You are all here, not because of which school you went to, or your race, or who your parents are, but because you all show potential to be something great.”

Prof. Stroebel reminded the group that despite the excitement that they all have about visiting universities in America, Europe and Asia, these visits should be seen as study trips.

“You may have three days to acquaint yourselves with the surroundings, but after that there will be very little sightseeing and a lot of hard work.”

They will participate in programmes designed by their respective host institutions, aimed at exposing them to different cultures, lifestyles and beliefs.

They will be accompanied by our staff, who Prof. Stroebel says will grow with the students, as they will be expected to guide the students through their tasks and assignments and interact with them on a daily basis.

Upon their return, there will be a debriefing phase, during which they will be expected to provide feedback on their experiences, as well as submit assignments which they will be assigned at their respective institutions.

The final phase is known as the impact phase, as this will see the students apply what they have learned in a positive manner and help drive the university to the future and to becoming a world-leading tertiary institution.

 

Media Release
1 August 2011
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Director: Strategic Communication
Tel: 051 401 2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: news@ufs.ac.za


 

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