by Charity Dakamela

Unemployed graduates

The skills shortage continues while graduates remain unemployed

Skills gap due to workplace barriers
Unemployed graduates, a missing link

South Africa currently has about 3 million young people between the ages of 18 and 24 who are not employed, in education or in training. For many of them, if they cannot get a job or some type of formal learning at this stage of their lives, they are unlikely ever to be able to gain entry into the labour market and earn a sustainable living for themselves. This is a huge waste of potential. 

The South African Graduates Development Association (Sagda) blames a number of factors for the country’s growing graduate unemployment crisis. One of them being the failure to successfully matching those with skills to the jobs which require them.

Sagda chief executive, Thamsanqa Maqubela said that among the country’s unemployed graduates were qualified accountants, despite the fact that this is one of the country’s scarcest skills.

Engineers, he says, make up the largest number of qualified graduates on their database with more than 150 of them looking for work. He says that there are even more jobless engineers out there.

Sagda was recently appointed by the Department of Trade and Industry to implement and monitor its Unemployed Graduate Work Experience Placement Programme, which aims to make graduates more employable by placing them in internship programmes.

A study by the SA Qualifications Authority and Higher Education SA in 2009 found that there was a huge gap between what employers expected and what they got after hiring a graduate straight from tertiary studies. 

The SETAs are now starting to work more closely with the public FET colleges and some universities to fund skills development programmes of various types. The SETAs, which have contacts with most employers, are well placed to assist the colleges and universities of technology to ensure that students find opportunities for work-integrated learning in public and private sector workplaces. 

Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande noted that this was a very important function, especially for black graduates. “Recent research shows that black graduates find it more difficult to find employment than their white counterparts. Recent research also shows that 55% of Black graduates from Stellenbosch are unlikely to get a job in their first year after graduation compared to 12% of Whites from the same university. Similarly, from Wits University, 29% of Black graduates do not get jobs compared to 7% of Whites,” he added. 

A growing army of unemployed graduates are now forced to either rely on their families to support them or find jobs as unskilled workers, such as waiters, clerks and office assistants.

University qualifications are as, Labour market analyst, Loane Sharp, says, are not the only qualities employers look for when recruiting. 

His advice to young people is to choose what they want to study carefully before going to university and enrolling for a course that is not in demand. While a university graduate is generally more employable than those without degrees, this largely depends on the courses he or she has studied. Graduates with degrees in the arts – including music and social sciences – are far more likely to battle to find jobs. “Not all graduates are equal in the fierce battle for jobs”, he added. A lack of work experience, however, is another significant drawback.

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This edition

Issue 58