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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

Johann Naudé talks at first Beyers Naudé lecture for 2012
2012-08-02

At the event were, from the left: Ms Bontle Senne, Managing Director for the PUKU Children’s Literature Foundation, Mr Sipho Hlongwane, writer and columnist for the Daily Maverick, Prof. Nicky Morgan, Vice-Rector: Operations at the UFS, Mr Themba Mola, Chief Operations Officer at Kagiso Trust, Mr Johann Naudé, son of Dr Beyers Naudé, and Dr Choice Makhetha, Vice-Rector: External Relations.
Photo: Stephen Collett
2 August 2012

The University of the Free State (UFS) together withKagiso Trust, presented the first Beyers Naudé lecture for 2012 on its South Campus in Bloemfontein last week. Speakers like Dr Wilmot James, Member of Parliament, Mr Johann Naudé, son of Dr Beyers Naudé, Mr Sipho Hlongwane, writer and columnist for the Daily Maverick and Ms Bontle Senne, Managing Director for the PUKU Children’s Literature Foundation, all gave a lecture around this year’s theme: Collaborative partnerships for social cohesion: Building a nation with ethics.

Dr Beyers Naudé played a major role in the formation of Kagiso Trust. His contribution to the trust and the fight against oppression in South Africa, as well as his challenging of the establishment from which he came, makes him one of South Africa’s courageous heroes. Kagiso Trust thus saw it fit to celebrate the life of this clerical activist through a Memorial Lecture The Beyers Naudé Memorial Lecture is an effort by the Trust to engage South Africans into a dialogue about issues affecting our nation.

Mr Johann Naudé talked about the lessons they as children learnt from their parents as well as his father’s decision to respond to the needs of the people in South Africa. Even before the Sharpeville Massacre, Dr Naudé began a self-transformation that led to his rejection of apartheid. “Apartheid had no theological or scriptural grounds and my father decided to resign from the church. After that, he started to talk openly against apartheid and he also paid the price for that. For seven years he was under house arrest and we as his children also felt the effect of his decision. At the University of Pretoria in a residence where I stayed as a student I was called in and told that I would be treated as an outcast. Loans and jobs were also closed for us as children and as a result, we all started our own businesses,” Mr Naudé said.

“Furthermore, our parents taught us to believe in ourselves. He also said we have rights and we can only demand those rights if we take the responsibility that goes with it. My father also taught us to honour and to respect our fellow men, elderly people and the culture of people different from us. We were also taught to apologise for the wrongs to our fellow men and to acknowledge earnestly that we were wrong.”

Dr Wilmot James said that there were two things consistent in the life of Dr Beyers Naudé, namely justice and fairness. “There are many Nelson Mandelas and Beyers Naudés out there. It is the responsibility of political parties and institutions to motivate such leadership. We must ask ourselves: Are my actions and decisions ethical and will they have fair consequences?” Dr James said.

Mr Hlongwane focused his presentation on the ethics part of the theme. He said: “We in South Africa fall very short of ethics. We can start by respecting each other and taking care of one another. The Constitution will not mean a thing if we fail to respect and trust one another. We will have no cohesive society if we continue to treat those different from us like dirt. It is also our ethical duty to build up the disadvantaged.

In her discussion, Ms Senne emphasised the role of the youth in South Africa. “Our youth is failing our state because our state is failing our youth. Their role is to bring cohesion and acts of courageousness to the table. For them to contribute in a practical and sustainable manner, they need to start making the changes they want to see in society. They are young people and they can make it work because they do have access to the necessary means (social networks) to get things done. They must get involved,” she said.

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