South Africa’s education system is flooding the jobs market with graduates who do not possess the skills that match what the economy requires.
Experts warn that unless radical change takes root, the unemployment problem will persist, and even matching up to the requirements of the 4th Industrial Revolution could be a pipedream.
Independent economist Kwena Matjekane says there needs to be closer engagement between the leaders of institutions of higher learning and the captains of the industry.
“Employers within industries need to specify the types of graduates they need so that institutions of higher learning can rework the curriculum to one that will produce graduates needed in the industry and avoid over-supply of graduates,” says Matjekane.
The Labour Force Survey released this week by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) shows that in the 1st quarter of 2019 employment decreased in all the four sectors namely, formal, informal, private and agriculture.
The formal sector recorded the largest employment losses of 126,000 followed by the informal sector with 68,000. On the other hand, private households recorded a loss of 31,000 with Agriculture recording a loss of 12,000 jobs.
Moreover, the report further reveals that in six of the 10 industries, the largest decreases recorded were 142,000 job losses in construction.
In finance and other business services 94,000 jobs were lost, 50,000 more recorded in the community and social service industry while private households only lost 31,000.
However, employment gains were recorded in transport with 59,000, trade with 25,000, utilities with 16,000 and manufacturing with 14,000 jobs.
Utilities industry refer to electricity, gas and water supply while trade refers to wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles, motor cycles and personal and household goods; hotels and restaurants. Finance refers to financial intermediation, insurance, real estate and business services.
In April 2019 a Career Junction report based on comprehensive data gathered from the recruitment company’s website showed the most in-demand job skills were software developers, managers and sales consultants being in high demand across most job sectors.
Software development remains at the top of recruiters’ most wanted list while middle/department managers remain highly sought-after; particularly finance managers who take up their share of about 35% of associated jobs. Sales representatives/consultants are high in demand within the South African job market.
The report said jobs in the admin, office and support, business and management and construction sectors remain considerably lower than the same period last year. April saw a notable decrease in jobs due to the high number of public holidays, particularly in the business & management sector where job volumes are 29% lower year-on-year.
Meanwhile, the engineering, manufacturing, finance and ICT sectors saw an unexpected dip in job volumes recently due to the school and public holidays. Nonetheless, Stats SA reveals that finance and other business services had the largest gain of 114,000 in the first quarter of 2019.
In April President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a new 30-person Presidential Commission on the 4IR, which will be chaired by the president himself.
The role of the commission is to assist government in taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the digital industrial revolution.
But Matjekane wonders if the country is even ready for the 4IR.
“Are we even ready for that? Are the institutions even producing graduates that are ready to engage the concept? What about globalisation 4.0 that is close ahead? Technology is going ahead; global systems and standards need to be considered more than your domestic standards and technology because there might be a serious mismatch.”
“There is no way that we can exclude ourselves from the global village because we are impacted by what is happening globally. We cannot be happy by producing so many graduates who cannot even become competitive at the international level,” he says.
Matjekane says the country also needs to produce graduates who will become entrepreneurs, engagers of inventions and designers of new things, something that the global economy needs.
With graduation season in full swing currently, Stats SA shows that only 2,1% of the unemployed persons were graduates while 6,9% had other tertiary qualifications as their highest level of education.
University of Venda economics lecturer Azwifaneli Nemushungwa says the thinking that educated people are those who have gone to university and worn university regalia should be done away with.
“We tend to have a huge number of high school drop outs who showed potential of being future employees through handwork skills but because the current education does not support that, they end up on the streets,” she says.
“How many people are graduating yearly but do not even remember half of the things they were taught, including those who passed with flying colours during their matric year? Education should be something that helps me as a person, my neighbour as well as my country,” she says.
She further says the country’s education system is bombarding students with outdated skills that are no match to the skills foreigners are bringing into the country. They (foreigners) come into the country with ‘investment thinking’ which means they seek to be job creators and not job seekers.
“As a country, we are not aligning the current education syllabus with the modern way of living and doing things. For instance, graduates come from institutions of higher learning with only the theoretical part and not with the skills needed for one to be competitive within the working environment,” argues Nemushungwa.