The missing link

Bridging the gap between university and workplace

The missing link
Bridging the gap between university and workplace

The recently released Adcorp Employment Index March 2013 reported that in 2012, 829 000 vacancies for skilled people were unfilled in the private sector and that 580 000 graduates remained unemployed.

According to Gerrie van Biljon, executive director of Business Partners Limited, this emphasises the need for the private sector to assist with rectifying the dire skills shortage in South Africa.

The figures also revealed that more than 12 000 highly skilled South Africans lost their jobs last month. Van Biljon says these statistics highlight how vital skills and training are. “When looking at how many skilled employees have recently lost their jobs, one realises how much more difficult it currently is for inexperienced graduates to find employment.”

He says that due to the high percentage of unemployed graduates in South Africa, the local business community needs to adopt a system whereby these graduates are able to bridge the gap between university and a professional environment.

Van Biljon says that graduates often have a rude awakening when looking to enter the job market and suddenly realise that a qualification does not necessarily guarantee a job.  He says that although the competitive corporate market place is becoming increasingly challenging, many within the space are not supporting graduates sufficiently, as they often prefer to employ candidates with a certain level of experience.

“Unfortunately qualifications are no longer the most important attribute employers look at when hiring staff. Industry experience is fast becoming the most important trait potential employers will consider. This changing environment does however leave South African graduates in a difficult situation.”

He says that any person joining an organisation without industry experience requires a certain amount of assistance, guidance and training. “Many employers however are just not able to provide this and therefore hire the candidate that requires less training and has existing knowledge of the industry.

Van Biljon appeals to the SME business community to consider implementing certain systems to train graduates who show great potential. “Although many corporate organisations do have systems in place, we encourage all businesses, as well as SMEs, to consider this sustainable way forward for the industries that they operate in.”

He says proof of how successful this system can be is the Business Partners Limited Graduate Programme, launched 12 years ago, which aims to bridge the gap between academic study and workplace requirements. “Educational internship programmes, like this one, offer graduates the opportunity to integrate their knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical experience in a professional environment.

“Many of the graduates that took part is this programme today occupy senior positions in companies across various sectors, including within Business Partners itself. The programme, which includes continued academic training and a strong focus to get graduates market ready, has advanced and developed throughout the years to make as much of a positive impact as possible.”

According to Thandeka Mbatha, a graduate intern currently taking part in the programme, the experience is rewarding as well as challenging. “To reconcile and apply my studies while gaining a wealth of knowledge from experienced and supportive colleagues has positively reinforced my career path with intellectual, professional and personal growth.

“I am fortunate to have been granted the opportunity to build a very strong backbone on which only a successful career can arise. The proverbial saying of “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” is very true, and programmes such as these are a good example of what can be taught.”

Van Biljon says that educational internship programmes that provide graduates with more opportunity for work experience are proven to be one of the best methods to combat unemployment. “The private sector needs to embrace and create industry-specific internship programmes in order to boost young individuals’ life chances and build the skills that drive economic growth.

“After spending years at university the future leaders of tomorrow must be given an opportunity. Local employers need to change their approach and include the recruitment of young graduates as a strategic decision which will not only contribute towards economic growth, but also improve the quality of talent within their respective industries,” concludes van Biljon.

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