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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

First-year students encouraged to attend UFS welcoming function
2006-01-12

The University of the Free State (UFS) will host a welcoming function for all new first-year students and their parents on Saturday 14 January 2006 in the Callie Human Centre on the Main Campus in Bloemfontein.

The function starts at 11:00 and will be addressed by the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, Prof Frederick Fourie. UFS staff will also be available to provide vital information to first-year students on academic matters.

According to Mr Vernon Collett, Registrar: Academic Student Services at the UFS, Saturday’s welcoming function can assist students and parents by providing vital information on the many high quality academic learning programmes on offer at the UFS in six faculties.

“If students and parents have this information it will make the registration process, which starts next week Tuesday 17 January 2006, much smoother,” Mr Collett said.

The UFS has split the registration process into various categories of students and Mr Collett appealed to all students to adhere to the dates and times which apply to them as a one-stop service will be available so as to avoid unnecessary delays in the registration process.

The registration of first-time entering first-year students who applied before 30 November 2005 to study at the Bloemfontein Campus will take place from Tuesday 17 January 2006 at the Callie Human Centre.

Senior undergraduate students (that is, students entering their second or later year of study) may register from 23 January 2006.

Postgraduate students, first-time entering first-year students and other students who applied for admission to the main campus after 30 November 2005 must register at the Callie Human from 2 February 2006. 

Late applications will be accepted until Wednesday 25 January 2006 at the Information Centre on the Main Campus’ Thakaneng Bridge. These applications will be regarded as pending and will be processed as places become available on the programme the student has applied for,” said Mr Collett. 

Vista Campus:
The Vista Campus in Bloemfontein – which was incorporated into the UFS in January 2004 – no longer accepts applications from first-year students. Such prospective students had to apply to the UFS Main Campus. Students who had been registered on the Vista campus last year must register at the Vista Campus on the same dates as applicable on the Main Campus.

Qwaqwa Campus:
At the Qwaqwa Campus of the UFS, all first-time entering first-year students must report on Thursday 19 January 2006, after which the registration of these students will take place according to a specific programme. The official welcoming functioning for new first-years at the Qwaqwa campus of the UFS will take place on Saturday 11 February 2006 at 08:00 in the Rolihlahla Mandela Hall on the Qwaqwa Campus.

Mr Collett appealed to first-year students who have applied to study at the Qwaqwa Campus and their parents to attend this function which fulfils the same role as the one held on the Bloemfontein Main Campus.

Detailed information on the dates and times of registration for the various faculties and academic learning programmes is available on the UFS website at www.uovs.ac.za. Prospective students may also call the Main Campus in Bloemfontein on (051) 401-3000 or the Qwaqwa Campus on (058) 718-5000 for more information.

Media release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Media Representative
Tel: (051) 401-2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl.stg@mail.uovs.ac.za
10 January 2006

 

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