Turning the Tide of Unemployment Among Graduates
Globally the level of unemployment among graduates is growing with the problem being particularly severe in Africa.
Many attribute the issue partly to a mismatch between the skills graduates leave universities with and those actually in demand in the labour market.
Reality is that many graduates are poorly prepared to enter the labour market and therefore struggle to find employment, reinforcing a public perception that Institutions of Higher Learning are becoming factories of unemployment!
While the long established role of universities has been to transfer knowledge and prepare graduates for the labour market, I argue that now is time to expand and extend this traditional approach to seek a viable solution to the problem of unemployment. This means universities have to take cognisance of the demands of employers and concentrate on producing the type of graduates who are in demand and able to use the knowledge gained in their studies to perform efficiently in the world of work and capable of reshaping the labour market through innovative ideas.
In considering the goals and teaching methods of education for sustainable development, we need to ask ourselves whether the aim of education is to transmit information that is relevant today or whether education should aspire to develop attitudes, willingness and skills for the building of a sustainable future society?
My argument is that universities should play the role of producing job creators rather than job seekers by ensuring that transferred knowledge is monitored and transformed into socio-economic opportunities. It is important that graduates are equipped with necessary knowledge and skills that go beyond producing academic work.
I believe graduates should have first-hand experience in advancing and experimenting with the knowledge they have acquired rather than leaving the findings of their research in the hands of others to decide whether the new knowledge is relevant and thus promote the culture of entrepreneurship among graduates generally.
In order to achieve this, our traditional teaching and learning approach has to change to a situation where it is learner-centred. The learner-centred teaching and learning approach entails empowering learners to become self-driven and reflexive in their approach towards life in general and sustainable development in particular (Osterwalder,2009).
My belief is that for education to be functional, it has to be relevant and practical in the daily reality situations faced by students and the communities they come from.
It is important that the acquisition of appropriate skills and the development of competencies put the student at the centre of teaching and learning. The quality of instruction at all levels must be oriented towards emphasising the value of the acquisition of competencies necessary for self-reliance and reducing poverty, empowering the student to become more creative and innovative in converting acquired theoretical knowledge into practical skills for their betterment and that of their communities in general. This means assisting the student to convert what has been learned in the classroom into community and commercial projects.
It is worth noting that universities are generally viewed as promoters of sustainability within our societies so it stands to reason that individuals with university degrees should be seen as messengers of hope for themselves and their societies.
My belief is that when working on the curriculum, it should be established how the information being transferred in different disciplines is taken into consideration in education, what the traditions of the field of science are and what the relevant professional practices are. Likewise, one should ascertain whether the teaching related to sustainable development is based on pedagogical content knowledge, or on the traditions of the educational establishment in question, or on the relevant field of science.
Based on my teaching philosophy and rationale in my approach to education, I have developed a theoretical and practical model through which students can convert their research into a community or commercial project. This model redefines the traditional role of the transmission of the theoretical and practical knowledge in different fields of study, with the emphasis placed on the dimensions of applicability and action, and the possibility of transferability to various situations and contexts. It also incorporates the skills, attitudes and aptitudes that provide for competent professional practice derived from research and experimentation.
I have promoted the model in a series of seminars and workshops on the subject and believe it is now time that we as the UKZN community challenge ourselves and reflect on possible solutions that will bring improvements in the lives of our graduates and their communities.
Dr Joseph Rudigi Rukema is a Senior Lecturer at the Sociology Discipline in UKZN’s School of Social Sciences.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.