Black graduates fail to find work

Swapna Prabhakaran

Despite efforts at affirmative action, a large number of the country’s black graduates still find themselves unemployed, unlike their white counterparts. Recent statistics supplied by the Human Sciences Research Council and Central Statistical Service show that almost a quarter of the country’s black graduates in 1996 are now jobless, while almost 98% of white graduates from the same year have found employment.

“In 1996, black graduates [31 246] constituted 7,5% of the total number of South African graduates [411 353],” says Wits Business School graduate Barry Ngobeni, who conducted a recent study into the reasons behind the alarming discrepancy. “Of the black graduates 23,35% [7 275] are unemployed, compared with 8 198 unemployed white graduates out of a total of 345 462 [2,37%].”

Ngobeni says he thinks so many black graduates are now jobless because they did not choose their degrees with a career goal in mind.

Most respondents of his study into the factors influencing the career choice of black students said they had decided on their present course of study because a parent had recommended it. Others said they had been influenced by role models in their community.

“Female respondents agree that role models had significant influence on their choice of careers, which could help to explain why most black female professionals are teachers, nurses and social workers,” Ngobeni says.

He says the factors of economic need, job opportunities and long-term career goals emerged as the least influential factor in their career choice.

“The statistics suggest that black students are mainly interested in getting degrees, and life beyond campus is not taken into account.”

Ngobeni believes this current trend is problematic and could lead to severe skills shortages and a drain on the economy. Attempts by employers to take affirmative action will stumble as they cannot hire people who are not equipped with the right degree in the right field of knowledge.

“Companies with sincere equity policies will find it difficult to meet their equity head-counts or targets due to an undersupply of black graduates in areas such as information technology, operations, manufacturing, engineering, finance, et cetera,” Ngobeni says.

He foresees dire consequences, including increased stress, demotivation and drug and alcohol abuse among unemployed graduates.

The only solution, as far as he can see, is for school pupils to be given a better understanding of the link between career choice and employment opportunities.

“I believe that all stakeholders, including business, pupils, tertiary institutions and the government, in particular, need to find common ground and new ways of aligning the profile of graduates supplied by tertiary institutions with demand and supply of skilled labour,” Ngobeni says.

His research comes on the heels of a recent study released by market-research group AC Nielsen-MRA, which shows that one fifth of the senior decision-makers in the country do not read anything - not even a business report, a newspaper or a magazine.

These “aliterates” may have passed school, but haven’t read anything since, and may even have forgotten how.

A large majority of the respondents (93%) listened to the radio, however, and all of them watch television.

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