Back in high school, one of the things that I still remember clearly is a saying by a young African American girl which was posted on one of the school’s buildings: “Go to college, continue your knowledge to be a person, smart, brave and true for if they can make penicillin out of moldy cheese, they surely can make something out of you.” Since childhood, families insist that their children have to go to college. It is a key to a successful life. Students will be in the dark without a college degree. So, people are encouraged to study, day in and day out.
In most countries around the world, including Ethiopia, a bachelor’s degree is widely regarded as a prerequisite for professional success. Individuals work around the clock to earn a degree, thinking that possessing a degree will help them grab their dream jobs. Employers also favor degree holders, believing that college graduates are more likely to work out well as employees. But are these two beliefs accurate?
It is true that earning a college degree is a very crucial step, both personally and professionally. Considering the financial and socio – cultural benefits of higher education, it is not difficult to see how a degree can make a difference in someone’s personal life and career. However, the problem with college degrees is that they do not prove someone has skills. They simply show that an individual went to college and graduated. Thus, they have some knowledge, but not the necessarily skills.
In Ethiopia, there is academic inflation where more and more people are graduating from college. The excess of college degrees makes it tougher for graduates to find a job. There are a lot of graduates engaged in labor intensive jobs. It is only a matter of time until it will be a requirement to have a bachelor’s degree and a license to work as a truck driver or to take on a lawn mowing job.
Why employability is important?
Employability is ‘’a set of achievements – skills , understandings and personal attributes – that makes graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations , which benefits themselves , the workforce , the community and the economy. Employability, therefore, is not just about getting a job; it is about a broader set of skills and attributes that will enable graduates to be successful throughout their working life.
So why does this matter to college graduates and future students? Even if someone has a first-class degree and studied a relevant subject for the career they want, they will most likely be competing against others who have the same or similar academic qualifications. Therefore, it’s their employability, the unique mix of skills; abilities and personal qualities that they have, that will make them stand out from the crowd.
Strategies to Improve Employability
With thousands of students graduating annually, as many go unemployed upon graduation. This is a sheer waste of human capital. It inflicts untold misery on unemployed graduates as they lose income, morale and self-esteem. Years of rote-learning in primary and secondary schools gets carried over into universities, which graduates leave without sharpening their critical thinking skills and lose their sense of creativity and curiosity. Adding to this, the lack of social skills, such as English-language proficiency, leadership and collaboration with others, the graduates’ prospects in the job market dip. It is therefore imperative that we need to start not only discussing about this lingering challenge but also tackle employability issues by undertaking the appropriate measures.
First, it is important that the government sets up sector-wide collaborations by involving educators and employers to bring about transformative solutions to solve the skill gap at a sector level. This collaboration helps to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the stakeholders. For instance, the government can work with different sectors and educators to identify how much manpower is required in specific geographies and skill areas and builds a plan of action to help bridge the projected skill gap. The government could use this platform to engage all stakeholders to strategically collect and use robust and accessible information on current and expected future skills to sharpen the content of curriculums and type of training required.
The governments of Singapore and Australia, for instance, require universities to provide feedback reports on graduate outcomes. This in turns sheds light on getting a sense of what works and what things need improvement. The government should also create an education to employment system linkage whereby it sets up a workforce productivity agency with the aim to provide training for high – priority industries and occupations, carrying out research on workforce and skill requirements, and providing independent advice to government entities on sector-specific and regional skill needs. I strongly advise the government to draw on experience from countries such as Australia to see how this can be successfully replicated in Ethiopia.
Universities can execute three strategies to improve the employability of their graduates. Firstly, it is essential to ensure that student employability is right up there on universities’ agenda to develop a Graduate Gateway Program to increase the graduates’ skills. The program looks at vocational skills, teamwork, communication, career planning skills as well as CV writing skills, interviewing and speed networking which all help to boost employability. By adding career management skills program to instructional plans and classroom expectations, educators help prepare students for success after graduation.
Secondly, it may not be possible to create a one-size-fits-all solutions for the specific needs of the industry, but research has shown that successful collaboration between universities and employers plays a pivotal role to address this gap. Thus, it is important for these stakeholders to come together for a joint curriculum design to identify skills gaps that universities can help to fill. The other important thing for universities to do is to factor in the future of work in designing curriculum. To be precise, the modern workplace requires employees to develop strong social skills as workplaces are transformed by technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Thus, it is essential to sharpen curriculums to embed technology – based learning and at the same time to blend it with human” soft skills ‘’ development programs such as empathy, context sensing, collaboration, and creative thinking to help increase graduates’ employability.
Employers bridge skill gaps by investing in learning and development. However, they expect graduates, like spare parts, to fit into jobs seamlessly. In the first place, employers should not expect universities to be their talent factories. They are supposed to convert the raw talent in to applicable skills, but they could take this to the next level by collaborating with the universities and government agencies to ensure that college students have vocational skills and soft skills to do the job well. This in turn would help employers to easily match fresh graduates with the job and to shorten their learning curve. Besides, they need to work hand in gloves with the government to set up innovative workforce preparation methods outside the classroom, such as apprenticeships, on-the-job rotations, and trade skill training to better prepare the workforce for the future.
The government, employers and universities need to collaborate with employment agencies to facilitate students’ understanding of self and their motivation in setting clear career goals; to offer a guidance to make sound career decisions. Info Mind Solutions, the parent organization of Ethiojobs, for instance, has a two decade track record working in Ethiopia with regards to facilitating the matching of talents to the demands of the job market. This in turn is an opportunity worth leveraging to enhance graduates employability.
Above all, college graduates should realize that a bachelor’s degree is not all that matters to their future. In itself, a bachelor’s degree is just a piece of paper. It’s the skills—and the occupation—that matter more. When it comes to employment, that’s the real goal of education.
Source: Dawit Arega
Human Resources Expert
Ethiopian Business Review