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Going with the flow of love, life and work

cropped-1444856698794_14448563479521.jpgBY HEATHER ROBERTSON

WHEN  I was appointed editor of The Herald in Port Elizabeth in 2010, as  the first woman in the position, I felt pressured to prove that I could work as hard and smart as all my male predecessors (there were only male editors since The Herald was launched in 1845).

I ended up pulling long hours day and night, behaving like the female version of the Man from La Mancha frenetically fighting the windmills of the global decline of   newspaper circulation, sighing a breath of relief when the ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation) figures showed the copy sales were stable and blaming myself when there was a dip.

I was in the newsroom fighting the windmill at about 7pm at night on June 17, 2014 when my older brother Michael called me to say my parents had been in a car accident outside Johannesburg, over 1000km away from Port Elizabeth. Dad was bruised and dazed  and Mom’s ankles were broken and she had internal injuries. My younger brother Peter put his phone to my mother’s ear so I could speak to her, just before she was wheeled into theatre. That was the last time I heard my mother’s voice.

The thing about the absolute finality of death is  that it makes you acutely aware of how precious every moment of life is. Up till the point you lose someone close to you, you behave like an immortal.  I did. I was sucked into the social media and print media maelstrom. A mediated  world in cyberspace. I lived in front of a keyboard. Chasing likes and follows. Copy sales and unique browsers. I literally did not smell the coffee or see the beautiful wide open African sky outside the office window. The only time I inhaled fresh air was to smoke cigarette after cigarette as a form of stress relief on the shabby balcony on the top floor of Newspaper House. I did not eat supper with my partner and two sons every night. I arrived home when the boys were sleeping and collapsed in front of the television. Something had to give. First to go was my sponsorship of the tobacco industry’s damage to my lungs and heart. I quit smoking. Next was  my job as editor at the end of 2015.

I escaped the ritual of running to my bolt-hole of fixed employment. My days are now both exhilarating and terrifying. I started off

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Changes are inevitable

 spending much more time with my sons and partner, going on walks to the park, riding bicycles, playing lego, playing guitar, but when more work started streaming in from different clients, I threw myself head first into  it, pushing long hours into the night to meet deadlines. I verged on beating myself up about this, but on reflection maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Doing  one’s best to deliver the best possible service is a worthwhile pursuit as long as there are set boundaries and limits. I do enjoy spending  time with my family and friends and  I do love my work, specially now that I have the freedom of determining with whom, when, where and how I work.

I kicked off my first year of self-employment  working three days a week facilitating change in newsrooms for a client till November. I did  social media training with Social Weaver, speaking face to face with teachers and lecturers at King Hintsa Technical College in Butterworth and at Walter Sisulu University in East London, helping them use social media tools as an effective means of networking, curating content, researching, marketing and planning in their work. Facilitating these workshops has helped me  rediscover my passion for teaching.

My passion for learning has also been reignited by  studying for my masters in digital journalism at Rhodes University, learning with inspiring fellow students in the media industry and equally inspiring course leader Prof Harry Dugmore. I also rediscovered my love of interviewing, research and writing for a book chapter project on “Women in MK” I was commissioned to write by Ryland Fisher,  a former  colleague of mine who I met when I started as a journalist at the now defunct South newspaper,

I do sometimes slide  into old habits, I  get totally absorbed in a project and switch off to everything else around me like I did  when  developing this website  and blog while on holiday, which led my ten year old son to say “Mommy you are working more on your laptop now that you are home with us.” A bit rich from the guy who spends the whole night watching Dan TDM, Pewtie Pie and Think Noodle on his laptop, but I humbly accept he has a point.

The trick, I guess,  is to be flexible in one’s routine, to give and take. As life coach Lauren Laitin writes: “When you learn to set boundaries based on your various priorities and obligations, you’ll feel in control and at liberty to make decisions that work for you and the kind of life you want to lead—not the kind of life you’re supposed to lead.” If work is an integral part of your life as much as  eating healthily, going for a walk and  playing uno with your kids, then work-life balance is not what we seek, but the flexibility and common sense to prioritise what is important at a  specific moment in time, to basically “go with the flow” as my mother used to say.

CHANGE

Urgent solutions are required to address graduate employability

BY HISCHAM EL AGAMY AND HEATHER ROBERTSON

SOUTH AFRICA’S EDUCATION RANKING

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.

WHY DOES THIS PROBLEM PERSIST?

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.

OPTIONS FOR SOUTH AFRICA

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.