The new world of work is an exhilarating landscape, of which technological advancements are the defining feature. As these innovations continue to find their way into our daily lives, prospective students need to consider the impact of these advancements on the workspace.
Selecting a university is one of the most important decisions for school-leavers, and it is vital that would-be students think about how a university can prepare them for the future and the new world of work.
The University of Pretoria (UP) has made considerable inroads into determining which essential skills need to be developed for its graduates to function optimally in the new world of work, and to contribute to the development of South Africa and Africa.
“It is crucial for the University of Pretoria to prepare and equip its students for the future world of work, which is anticipated to be vastly different from the current one,” says Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UP.
UP is one of the country’s largest producers of graduates: its alumni represent 13.7% of the highly skilled workforce in Gauteng and 7.7% of the highly skilled workforce in South Africa. It produces all of the country’s veterinarians, almost one-third of all engineers and just under 15% of all doctors in South Africa.
The University aims to future-proof its graduates through work-integrated learning, curriculum transformation, transdisciplinary education, career development initiatives, lifelong learning opportunities and entrepreneurship development.
To prepare students for a workspace that features artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the internet of things and big data, UP has incorporated a rich curriculum that includes fundamental and foundational skills in mathematics, programming, electronics and other STEM-based disciplines. It also focuses on soft skills like problem-solving and critical thinking, which are necessary in an ever-changing information society, along with aspects pertaining to professional practice, communication skills, ethics, environmental and social responsibility.
UP also launched the Centre for the Future of Work (CFoW), which collaboratively produces transdisciplinary research to advance the knowledge field of the future of work. It aims to prepare the University’s students for future jobs and help organisations future-proof their workforce by determining what is required to reskill, upskill and train their employees.
“We need to create an inclusive, diverse, human-centred society that can prosper within an environment of technology and change,” says former CFoW Director Professor Natasja Holtzhausen. “This is in line with the concept of Society 5.0, a system where the combination of human skills, collaborative robotics and AI complement one another in the service of humanity and the planet.”
By harnessing the power of technology and a reskilled workforce, it is UP’s hope that initiatives such as the CFoW will contribute to bringing Africa into Society 5.0 with the rest of the world.
Yet another initiative that will contribute to gearing students up for future employability is the University’s recently launched Digital Capability Laboratory, a state-of-the-art facility that aims to upskill students to develop them into employable, innovative, solution-driven graduates.
The lab features cutting-edge technologies that will offer a creative space for hands-on digital capability building. Students will have access to technologies used in various industries that will enable them to find innovative solutions to industry-specific problems and equip them with the digital, technical, management and people skills required in the world of work.
“The next generation of graduates is expected to change jobs and professions multiple times across many emerging sectors, and will need to continuously upskill in order to stay employable,” Prof Kupe said at the launch. “It’s important that we recognise which essential skills need to be developed for our graduates to function optimally in the workplace, and contribute to the developmental aspirations of South Africa and Africa.”
Through its various employability-focused programmes and facilities, UP strives to ensure that students are able to translate their qualifications into careers that meet the demands of the fourth industrial revolution, and inspire them to adopt a human-centred approach to their chosen field.
UP recognises that entrepreneurship is a major driver of innovation and job creation. As such, through its business incubator, TuksNovation, high-tech start-ups developed by students are given support and opportunities for commercialisation of technology with industry partners, venture capitalists and other funding agencies.
Additionally, the Ready for Work programme assists students with the transition from university to the workplace, by preparing them for job interviews and teaching them to navigate work life, among others.
UP centres its initiatives on the idea that the combination of a highly skilled, future-fit pool of graduates, together with social and community impact, is what is needed to achieve the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with SDG 8 calling for the promotion of sustained, inclusive economic growth and “full and productive employment and decent work for all”. It is a highly stimulating challenge that the University will endeavour to meet.