CourseraHow skills education can mould job-ready graduates in South Africa

How skills education can mould job-ready graduates in South Africa

With South Africa facing record high unemployment, the country’s universities must deliver graduates ready to meet the demands of modern industry

Webinar took place in December 2021. 

Working with industry on curricula design and embedding the skills needed “beyond the classroom” can help South African universities improve graduate employability and boost regional investment.

At a Times Higher Education webinar, held in partnership with Coursera for Campus, experts from academia and industry discussed how to boost employability in South Africa through skills education.

Chair Ashton Wenborn, special projects deputy editor at Times Higher Education, said South Africa was facing a period of record high unemployment. She said universities could tackle this issue by ensuring their students are taught the skills they need to become employable graduates.

David Kabwa, former president of the Student Representative Council at the University of Pretoria, said several institutions had programmes designed to give students skills beyond the theory of their specific degree. The University of Pretoria’s Ready for Work Programme, for example, teaches students “the skills that are needed beyond the classroom”.

“These skills range from how to engage in an interview to project management to ensuring that one is able to assimilate very well within the workspace,” he said. “Right now, employers are not only looking for someone who is qualified, but someone who will mesh well within a particular team.” 

Brenda Martin, director of the careers service at the University of Cape Town, said it was important to understand higher education institutions had not traditionally been places where skills were the focus. “More recently, there’s been recognition of things like interdisciplinary skills that are valuable in terms of enhancing employability,” she said. “And there’s also been a recognition of the need to think about skills right from year one.”

Martin said the university worked to make graduates more attractive employees in several ways, including curriculum interventions, where faculties have adjusted curricula to reflect changes in the industry.

Students themselves were calling for more job-readiness training, said Sandile Songca, deputy-vice-chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and the consequences could be positive for the local economy. “When there is a critical mass of workplace skillsets for employability in the economy, it is an attractant for investment,” he said. “Investors, whether local or from abroad, come in because they know there’s somebody there who’s going to do the job.”

Frances Quirke, director of partnerships at Coursera, said universities were rushing to create content for blended learning, but had the option to embed existing skills-training into programmes. Coursera leverages insights from 92 million learners globally and 6,500 governments and organisations to support institutions in truly transitioning to become data-driven. By leveraging these insights, universities can create future-facing curriculums to attract learners and develop the theory, practical and technical skills needed by employers. 

“If every university is creating content on ‘introduction to AI’, is that a useful amount of energy going in to baseline subjects like that?” she asked. 

Nikki Williamson, instructional designer and training facilitator at Eiffel Corp, argued for involving industry experts in curriculum development. She said this ensured courses were “not just aligned in terms of academic work, but also in terms of the skills the learners actually need.”

Myles Thies, director of digital learning services at Eiffel Corp, agreed it was essential that universities collaborate with industry to produce job-ready graduates, otherwise industry would look at alternatives.

“Industry is going to go and find other ways of creating graduates for themselves,” he said. “Industry, with the types of pressures they have, will try and find a solution and that means universities have to innovate very, very quickly to be able to stay relevant.”

The panel: 

  • David Kabwa, former president of the Student Representative Council, University of Pretoria
  • Brenda Martin, director of the careers service, University of Cape Town
  • Frances Quirke, director of partnerships, Coursera
  • Sandile Songca, deputy vice-chancellor, University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • Myles Thies, director of digital learning services, Eiffel Corp
  • Ashton Wenborn, special projects deputy editor, Times Higher Education (chair)
  • Nikki Williamson, instructional designer and training facilitator, Eiffel Corp

Watch the webinar on demand above or on the THE Connect YouTube channel.

Find out more about Coursera for Campus.

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