30 September 2019 by Masego Panyane
Research has revealed that young people aged 15-24 are the most vulnerable in the South African labour market, with unemployment figures for this group sitting at 55.2% in the first quarter of 2019.
For the graduates in this group, unemployment sits at 31%, which shows that education can make a significant difference, particularly for young people. In this vein, the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Department of Historical and Heritage Studies in the Faculty of Humanities has partnered with five other local and international institutions in a programme that aims to look at the tourism sector as the solution for youth unemployment.
The project, titled “Strengthening university-enterprise cooperation in South Africa to support regional development by enhancing lifelong learning skills, social innovations and inclusivity (SUCSESS)” will look at improving the employability of graduates in the tourism sector. Some of the ways this will be achieved include strengthening cooperation between institutions and the business sector through experiential learning, project-based learning and inquiry learning which is linked to various courses, among other methods.
The project will be guided by best case practices from Europe and elsewhere where the rate of graduate employment is considered high. Playing the role of lead researcher in the project is UP’s Professor Berendien Lubbe who explained that for her the project began as a deep-seated concern about the crisis of youth unemployment in South Africa. “Research should address contemporary issues and have an impact on society – particularly a society ‘in crisis’. I believe that many of South Africa’s challenges are a result of a frustrated youth who have talents and dreams but who face the enormous burden of unemployment.”
She pointed out that the National Development Plan aims to reach an ambitious unemployment rate of 6% by 2030. “With this project we are hoping to contribute to this fight through enhancing the involvement of students in our domestic economy, creating opportunities in the job market and as entrepreneurs, thus building a more innovative and inclusive society.”
Prof Lubbe added that the tourism industry has lots of potential and could create much needed jobs. “The tourism industry, as a growing, global and labour-intensive industry is well-positioned for both formal job-creation and for stimulating entrepreneurship. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, South Africa’s travel and tourism sector directly supported 726 500 jobs in 2017, 4.5% of total employment (putting South Africa 24th in the World). This is expected to rise by 1.0% in 2018 and rise by 2.9% per annum to 980 000 jobs, 5.2% of total employment in 2028.
There is broad consensus among leading tourism organisations, academics and practitioners that job creation in the tourism industry is dependent on increased levels of both foreign and domestic investment (in transport and tourism infrastructure as well as technology), appropriate education and innovative products and services to meet the changing demographics and needs of tourists. Demand/supply skills mismatch is increasingly being viewed as a critical issue for tourism.”
Placed in the unique position of having a Cultural and Heritage Tourism Degree, UP staff will, according to Prof Lubbe use their skillset from 2020 to compile comprehensive research on how higher education institutions in South Africa are collaborating with business and tourism sectors, best case practices for such cooperation and where the gaps are. “This gap analysis, which will result in recommendations, is followed by the development and implementation of a training programme for HEI (higher education institution) staff which will promote the professional development of staff at the higher education institutions, diversify teaching methods and develop tools, especially ICTs to enhance employability at graduate level,” Prof Lubbe added.
Partners include the universities of Oulu and Haaga-Helia in Finland, the Sheffield-Hallam University in the United Kingdom, and the universities of Johannesburg and Zululand in South Africa. These institutions and UP have been awarded substantial EU-funding on the Erasmus Plus Capacity Building in Higher Education programme for a three-year period commencing in 2020.