From education to employability: Industry and higher education institutions must collaborate to fight unemployment

Posted on November 10, 2020

Collaboration between industry and higher education institutions is key to solving the problem of graduate unemployment.

This was the sentiment at a webinar recently hosted by the Sucsess Project, of which UP is a partner, titled ‘Finding a pathway from education to employability: Higher education and tourism and hospitality industry collaboration’.

The Sucsess Project aims to strengthen university-enterprise cooperation in South Africa to support regional development by enhancing lifelong learning skills, social innovations and inclusivity. By benchmarking against best practices, the three-year project will show how students can benefit through experiential learning, project-based learning and enquiry learning. The project is made possible through funding from the European Union’s Erasmus+ Capacity Building Programme and with the support of UP for the research and development of innovative training and technologies.

There are six partners in the project: in South Africa, these are UP, which led the research phase, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and the University of Zululand (UniZulu); while the international partners are the University of Oulu and Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences in Finland, and Sheffield Hallam University in the UK.

Panellists and participants in the webinar included Professor Berendien Lubbe of UP’s Department of Historical and Heritage Studies; Professor Ikechukwu Ezeuduji of UniZulu; Tracy Daniels of UJ; Jarmo Ritalahti of Haaga-Helia University; and industry partners Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa and Jerry Mabena, CEO of Thebe Investments.

The participants discussed research conducted by the Sucsess Project in South Africa, the UK and Finland, looking at how higher education institutions can prepare students for the workplace and exploring ideas from the tourism, hospitality and business sectors on how higher education institutions can collaborate with industry to solve the graduate unemployment problem.

The study found that in the UK and Finland, collaboration between industry and higher education institutions was better than in South Africa. As a way to remedy this, Prof Lubbe recommended that other avenues of collaboration be explored, and for there to be incentives for successful collaboration. 

“We need to look towards technology to form the basis of collaboration as a substitute to what we have, which is mainly physical or on-site activities,” she said. “Students’ involvement in collaboration activities should be credit-bearing and compulsory at universities. Lecturers should also be incentivised to include collaboration in their teaching portfolio.” 

Daniels added that traditional collaborative efforts came in the form of internships, but that this had its disadvantages.

“The problem with these internships is that the students are taken only for a short period, and during this time they are often given quite menial tasks,” Daniels said. “We don’t want to admit it, but they are also often used as cheap labour.”

She said that it is worrisome that internships seldom become opportunities for full-time employment and that, as a result, industry is not capitalising on the opportunity that collaboration provides.

“These benefits can be a pipeline for future employees, contributing to BEE schemes and skills development; it can form part of their corporate social responsibility. The research shows us that service businesses can benefit from the professional development of students.”

Sharing insights from Finland, Ritalathi stated that higher education institutions there collaborate with industry because it has been legislated. “There are a lot of provisions that have been made in our legislation regulating the universities of applied sciences,” Ritalathi said. “One of these is that a certain amount of internship must be included in the course credits; without that, students can’t get their degree. This is at the bachelor’s degree, undergraduate level. At master’s level, students are expected to have at least two years of work experience. These are some of the things that enhance the employability of our students.”

Speaking from the point of view of industry, Mabena the CEO of Thebe Investments, said we should avoid seeing students as a homogenous group when dealing with this issue.

“It’s a bit problematic in the South African context to view all these students in this way because they come from different backgrounds,” he said. “For instance, someone who grew up in a rural area coming into an urban environment is expected to operate in a five-star environment, which is completely foreign to them. At times, it’s also foreign to the lecturers who are trying to teach them, as they are going to take the information directly from a book and impart this to students – therein lies another gap that we must try to deal with.”

Click here to learn more about The Sucsess Project. 

WATCH: SUCSESS Project Webinar

- Author Masego Panyane

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