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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

UFS intensifies its advocacy on humanity and solidarity to Japan
2011-03-08

Staff and students from our university, marching for humanity
Photo: Stephen Collett

Staff and students from the University of the Free State (UFS) representing various associations and student bodies, together with Kovsie supporters, braved the cold and wet weather yesterday (17 March) as they embarked on a march for humanity. This occurred just two days after an urgent meeting had been called by the Dean of Student Affairs, Mr Rudi Buys to create a platform for students to deliberate on mechanisms to be used in supporting Japan, which is facing immense challenges, thereby responding to their unfortunate current situation. It is also a day after the direct conversation between the UFS and the South African ambassador to Japan, Mr Gert Grobler, a Kovsie alumnus.

The visibly spirited group started their march from the Main Building on the UFS Main Campus in Bloemfontein. Within minutes the Callie Human Centre – assembly point for the participants – was occupied by students and staff members who arrived in their numbers, carrying banners with messages of support for Japan.

Modieyi Motholo, ISC Chairperson, read a memorandum in the presence of more than 300 students. “We, the community of the University of the Free State, as sons and daughters of South Africa and the world, by our very action in this march today, celebrate our shared humanity, declare our solidarity with the people of Japan, and join the movement to build a culture of Human Rights. We declare our commitment to the cause of human dignity and equality, and the promotion of human rights, non-racialism and non-sexism,” read the memorandum. 

“Japan is far; we shall never be able to take the entire Kovsie community there to assist the Japanese in rebuilding their homes. However, we can show our solidarity and raise an awareness for their unfortunate circumstances by our numbers,” Modieyi said.

Mr Buys admitted to being overwhelmed by the united Kovsie community he witnessed standing up for a cause they believed in. On receiving the memorandum on behalf of the UFS management, he stated: “There is a different and new set of values in our student community. We have the best students in the world, driven by a pioneering spirit aimed at building a new society. We have come so far in a short period of time. You deserve recognition as a student population.”

The march was also organised to declare the UFS’s support and solidarity for the people of Japan. The solidarity campaign has further been intensified with the establishment of committees comprising fundraising, research, marketing and awareness, spirituality and volunteers. Nida Jooste, the ISC Vice-Chairperson, said that the research committee was busy conducting a comprehensive study on how the UFS can be of assistance to the Japan. “With the report we will be able to design and implement programmes that will be aligned with the needs of the people of Japan. “In the meantime, we will carry out small projects that will keep the flame of solidarity burning on our campus,” she concluded.

Noticeable amongst the attendees were Mr John Samuels, the current Director of the International Institute for Studies in Race, Reconciliation and Social Justice.

 

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