Globally, nine out of 10 businesses will hire someone with work experience over someone without any. Many international education institutions are aware of these findings, and have made internship and workplace readiness training a compulsory part of their syllabuses.
Puzzlingly, this model in South Africa is quite rare: most graduates leave colleges and universities with no work experience related to their course or degree.
For employers, this is a challenge – too many first-time job seekers lack the most basic work readiness skills they require. This is a problem not only for about 400?000 unemployed South African graduates, but also for the country.
Fortunately, tertiary institutions are starting to increase the work readiness and on-the-job training component of the courses and degrees they offer, with an emphasis on internships as a viable and
mutually beneficial solution to improving graduate employability. This increased focus on workplace experience is borne out by a number of facts:
• Tertiary institutions are now more conscious of the importance of helping their graduates to find work and many have dedicated career centres for this purpose.
• The market has changed radically over the past two years, and increasingly industry-related work experience as a criterion for qualification is required by technical and vocational education and training colleges (formerly called FET or further education and training colleges, but this year renamed technical and vocational education and training – TVET – colleges).
• All institutions recognise that graduate employability is important, and many have started work-readiness programmes to try to improve success in this area.
• Although there is a recognition that education should be more responsive to the needs of the employers, in practice too few are proactive and course content still often lags well behind market requirements.
• Many institutions struggle to get graduates to “give a damn” about employability – until they graduate and can’t find a job.
• Internship helps to bridge many of these gaps.
The Graduate Asset Programme (GAP), a private initiative by Fetola in which we are involved, has reported that about 70% of internships it has facilitated have converted into longer-term employment.
Initiatives such as GAP (gogap.co.za) and Harambee (harambee.co.za) offer work placement and internship opportunities, as well as access to training, resources and tools.
Harambee works mostly with school-leavers and matriculants, and offers work readiness in addition to job placement support.
GAP works directly with education institutes to enhance placement strategies. It provides information to match qualifications and course content with market needs.
Ensuring that tertiary qualifications meet the needs of employers and the market will help to ensure that the next generations of graduates are employable.
Abram Molelemane, a journalism graduate of Tshwane University of Technology, is media officer at Fetola, a private company that supports growth in small and medium enterprises. His work focuses mainly on the Graduate Asset Programme described in this article. Anton Ressel is a senior business consultant and mentor at Fetola