Urgent solutions are required to address graduate employability



It is evident that poor educational standards in South Africa are not only jeopardizing the future of the country’s youth but also pulling the brakes on economic growth in Africa’s second-largest economy, contributing to a 27.1% jobless rate and a youth unemployment rate of 55%.

While there are thousands of young people graduating from universities and higher education institutions every year, the private sector faces the challenge of finding people with the right skills and competencies to stimulate their growth.

QS Top Universities recently released its first full edition of the QS Graduate Employability Rankings 2017, showing which universities are best at supporting strong career outcomes. The rankings were based on:

  • Employer reputation (30%)
  • Alumni outcomes (20%)
  • Employer partnerships (25%)
  • Employer-student connections (15%)
  • Graduate employment rate (10%)

Only four African universities feature with the highest in the ranking being the University of Cape Town (101-150) followed by The American University in Cairo, Cairo University and The University of Witwatersrand all ranked (201+)

There is patently a mismatch between what the South African basic and tertiary education sectors are providing and the changing needs and requirements of the private sector.

The South African educational  system’s ability to meet the needs of a competitive economy  ranked close to the bottom of the barrel in the IMD World Competitiveness report ranking 60 out of 63.


There are a number of reasons for this mismatch between graduates and the requirements of industry.

1)Students misinformed about the job market needs

Graduates are misinformed about what skills are most needed by the job market and a result they have educational profiles that are inconsistent with business requirements.

Many tertiary education institutions in South Africa are producing a generation of young graduates without the adequate training and skills to contribute productively to the economy:

In addition there is no planning between the private sector and public institutions on the one side and higher education institutions on the other side.

Often there is very little communication about industry’s technological development and new models of production, which have rapidly changed the profile of talents required by the private sector.

2) Businesses and the education sector need to work together:

Businesses and the education sector need to identify the jobs that present quick employment opportunities and at the same time contribute to the growth of the business. Businesses need to specify the skills needed to tertiary institutions and to develop the suitable training programmes to prepare young people to assume these jobs.

3)Better training programs which focus on “Execution Capabilities” in business.

Governments need to offer the private sector incentive schemes that encourage recruiting young graduates. An example is the South African government’s ETI tax incentive that was introduced to encourage employers to hire young unskilled labour.

Regulation can also be used to  promote youth employment. In 2016, Kenya, for example, enacted a law to implement the government’s policy of allocating 30% of all government tenders to youth, women and people with disabilities.

The private sector and government need to develop additional training programs to bridge the technology gap in order to absorb and stimulate innovation in the private sector; this is a priority if the African region’s economies are to remain viable in the global economy.  There is finally also a need to develop national teaching capacity at best international standards.


Business executives canvassed by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum considered an inadequately skilled workforce as the third-most problematic factor for doing business in South Africa, after government bureaucracy and restrictive labour regulations.

In a survey run by IMD World Competiveness Centre in 2016 asking South African executives to identify the 15 indicators they perceived as key attractiveness factors of South African’s economy both “skilled workforce” and “high education level” ranked respectively number 10 and 14 highlighting the challenges the executives are facing when it comes finding the right skills for their enterprises.

Matching youth skills and private and public sector needs clearly needs immediate intervention if we want to avert a major youth unemployment crisis and skills shortage in the near future.

There are a range of continent wide initiatives that have started to address the education/skills mismatch in Africa.

Jobs for Youth in Africa involves collaboration between the African Development Bank and key partners in the public and private sectors across Africa to address the continent’s youth employment challenge. It aims to create 25 million jobs and impact 50 million youth over the next decade. High-priority sectors will be tailored to country contexts, implemented in partnership with the private sector, evaluated, refined, and scaled. This will include creating new rural micro-enterprises, quipping skilled youth to launch larger-scale agribusinesses, and providing human capital for agro-industrialization, strengthening digital literacy and computational thinking in secondary schools, and developing coding academies that teach skills ranging from basic digital design to advanced coding languages.

To address the need for a broader skills set based on collaboration, creativity, innovation and flexibility, UCT this year launched the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design Thinking to train students to collaboratively and creatively address real world problems. Hundreds of UCT post graduate students from all disciplines and from across the African continent have had the opportunity to help solve challenges posed by businesses like Old Mutual, Standard Bank and Pick and Pay, preparing students to work in diverse teams and to understand what end user needs in business, local government and NGO’s are before posing solutions.

What is ultimately required is for  a new paradigm to be adopted by government, the private sector and education institutions to overcome Africa’s challenge of youth employment.

There are a number of options:

  1. The government-led planning model :

Government agencies could be established to work with major economic sectors to identify the future skills the economy will need. The agency, such as Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower, would oversee the development of a detailed human capital plan with specific requirements, down to the number of students in each discipline at universities.

  1. b) The industry–government coordination model

This model requires government oversight of a group with representation from the economic and education ministries and specific industry associations.

In Ireland, the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) identifies crucial sectors, establishes plans to meet their future needs and provides guidance to industry, the educational system and the government.

  1. c) The laissez-faire model

The laissez-faire model exemplified by the US and other large, mature economies in which government, business and educational institutions collaborate ad hoc in a less structured manner relies on enabling institutions, such as think tanks and industry associations, to facilitate coordination between business and academia. They do so in an environment enriched by openly accessible and reliable available data.

These global precedents are available for South Africa to learn from. This combined with uniquely African ideas and most importantly action to address the challenge will be a step in the right direction to address the urgency of the youth employment crisis.



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