The match between a qualification and the prospects of finding employment is one of the things aspirant students need to take increasingly into consideration given tough economic conditions, an education expert says.
“Given the competition for limited employment opportunities, the gap between the world of work and higher education must keep narrowing to enable new graduates to contribute quickly and effectively in the workplace,” says Dr Felicity Coughlan, Director of The Independent Institute of Education, the largest private higher education institution in South Africa.
But she warns that institutions’ claims of ‘work readiness’ are not all of equal value, so just as a prospective student should interrogate and verify the accreditation of qualifications on offer at a higher education institution, they should also ensure that they find out about an institution’s success rates relating to other claims.
Coughlan says some institutions are rushing to emulate what others have built successfully over time, in an effort to attract new students, but that they are not able to deliver on promises because of a lack of understanding and experience of how key elements must be aligned to make graduates more employable.
“A career centre office with glossy marketing material and ‘career preparation workshops’ can miss the mark entirely and prospective students should ask for evidence of claims of impact,” she says.
She says all of the following elements need to work in synergy, so students and their parents should carefully consider them before signing up with an institution:
The most important determinant of employability is the full curriculum of a qualification, and, because of the ever-evolving nature of most careers, the extent to which it enables students to develop skills to keep learning – and not rely only on what they are taught in the form of content. A sound curriculum has current and relevant content and the opportunity to apply it to develop skills.
To be able to deliver this, an institution must have advisory structures of respected professionals that regularly meet to engage deeply with curriculum. For instance, The IIE’s Vega School has panels of academic and industry leaders ensuring students are exposed to the latest insights and learnings needed to succeed in the field.
EMPLOYMENT SUPPORT INITIATIVES
Almost all institutions now list the companies their graduates work at – the strong ones will be able to communicate how often those companies come back to the institution for additional graduates. Employer satisfaction is more important than initial placement.
PORTFOLIOS OF EVIDENCE
Upon graduation, students should already have built up documented evidence of what they are able to do. In the past, such portfolios were mostly the domain of creative disciplines says Shevon Lurie, MD of The IIE’s Design School Southern Africa (DSSA), adding that because a portfolio of work accumulated during the course of study gives graduates the edge over their peers applying for the same position, DSSA and Vega have for decades ensured that graduates are able to showcase their ability to traverse real-life work challenges.
In recent years, portfolios have also become essential for graduates in non-creative disciplines, such as IT and Business Science, says Simon Nicolson, Head of The Business School at The IIE’s Varsity College.
He says regardless of the discipline; higher education institutions should ensure that all students are able to compile samples of their work to support their CVs.
SOFT SKILLS COACHING & PART-TIME WORK AND INTERNSHIP OPPORTUNITIES
Even if a graduate performed top of class, organisations still want to know that a person will be the right fit, which represents another area of competition when interviewing.
Lilian Bususu of The IIE’s Rosebank College says it is critical that students present themselves well – from the first interaction in the form of a CV through the follow ups in interviews. She says interview preparation and CV grooming should form a staple part of a career centre’s student support, and believes that has been key to the success of the institution placing more than 4160 students in the past 3 years.
Furthermore, part-time work during study is a very useful way to get an interview after graduation, because it demonstrates commitment and personal responsibility. Institutions should be on the ground and in the know about such opportunities, and actively work to create them where they do not already exist to ensure students have sufficient real-life experience by graduation.
“The offering of various higher education institutions should form a package deal that strategically and effectively prepares their students to shine and excel after their studies,” says Coughlan.
“While we see it as a real commitment to the future of all SA students that many others in the private sector are now setting up programmes and structures similar to ours, we urge all roleplayers to ensure that promises stand up to scrutiny. And we urge all prospective students to ensure they do their homework thoroughly before making the tremendous investment of time and money further study requires.”