The difficult transition from the classroom to the workplace

11 Jun 2018

It’s one of the recurring topics in which there is consensus amongst employers – the job unpreparedness of many new graduates who enter the job market. So how real and/or widespread is it?

In the absence of any research on the matter in Botswana, we don’t have local data. But studies conducted in other markets, specifically the United States and Europe, suggest that a majority of fresh graduates are not adequately equipped for the tasks that they spent all those years in college presumably preparing for.

One such study was conducted on behalf of the US-based global architectural firm Woods Bagot. The firm commissioned research outfit Global Strategy Group to find out if recent graduates from higher education providers are ready for the rigours of today’s workforce. The results show that of the 500 elite business decision-makers polled, close to half (49%) believed today’s graduates are less prepared for work than they were in the previous 15 years. The majority (70%) of executives said that fewer than half of graduates entering their companies had the skills to succeed in entry-level positions.  Many top executives also held the view that less than a quarter (21%) of graduates applying to their company had the skills to advance past those entry level jobs. 

So where does the problem lie?

The survey showed that business leaders feel the three most important skills to have when entering the business sector are problem-solving (49%), collaboration (43%) and critical thinking (36%) – and these are the skills that most graduates were found to lack. Quite interestingly, coming right at the bottom was technological/social media skills (5%). 

According to one respondent cited in the survey:  “Younger people are so dependent on shortcuts through texting and other social media that they avoid proper grammar and interpersonal verbal skills that are necessary in the 'working world’.” 

One more study, by yet another US firm – the online benefits and compensation information company, PayScale – polled  63,924 managers and 14,167 recent graduates. The results showed that certain ‘soft’ and ‘hard skills’ tend to be missing from young graduates.

Among the ‘hard skills’ – these being the primary proficiencies useful to carry out the job – business leaders said new entrants lacked writing proficiency. Other interview respondents decried the lack of public speaking skills, as well as data analysis abilities.

With regard to the ‘soft skills’, according to PayScale’s survey, 60% of the managers claim the new graduates that join their organisations do not have the critical thinking and problem solving skills they feel are necessary for a successful career. Additionally, 56% of managers said the new graduates do not pay attention to detail, while 46% said their new subordinates needed to hone their communication skills. Some 44% of managers reported a lack of leadership qualities, and 36% described lower-than-needed interpersonal and teamwork skills.

Back home, Shameela Winston – chief executive of a Gaborone-based human resource consultancy Olive Tree – points out that the concern about lack of job preparedness of new graduates is a source of worry throughout the world, including in Botswana. Interestingly, she states that this is not a new phenomenon.

“We have experienced skills gaps before and will probably continue to experience them as the economy evolves,” says Winston. “As you can imagine, the economy is the skills-market…new graduates are expected to come in with skills that are relevant to the direction and agenda that is dictated by the economic climate of the day. This is why we see the ebb and flow of interest and investment in education.”

From interactions she has had with young job seekers, her interpretation is that the underlying factor is personal orientation and attitude.

 

Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA) was established by law to address concerns such as weak coordination of the education and training system, skills mismatch, and fragmentation of the system.

 

The BQA Acting Chief Executive, Selebo Jobe, has heard concerns ranging from graduates who are not job ready, to those that border on lack of soft skills (such as poor communication, lack of report writing skills, poor customer service, lack of assertiveness, and poor work ethic).

 

She explains that the reforms currently taking place in Botswana’s education and training system require dialogue between demand (industry) and supply (education and training providers) to eliminate skills mismatch.

 

“Industry is expected to play an important role in defining industry needs,” Jobe says. “BQA therefore engages employers, professional bodies and associations in the process of development of qualifications and during learning programme accreditation. These parties avail subject matter experts to validate or verify that the technical requirements are met.”

She explains that one of the key accreditation requirements for learning programmes is internship, attachments, apprenticeship, and blended learning to give learners practical experience and make them job-ready. Further, she points out, introduction of the National Credit and Qualifications Framework (NCQF) – a ten-level Framework that details qualifications from level 1 (PSLE or TVET equivalent) to level 10 (PhD), including early childhood education and lifelong learning will bring with it several benefits. With emphasis being on outcomes, assessments will be to measure the extent to which a candidate recalls, is able to apply knowledge gained, analyses, evaluates and creates new knowledge.

“In other words,” Jobe says, “the emphasis is on skills, knowledge and competencies.” 

The framework calls for regular review of qualifications and learning programmes to keep up with the changes in the world of work. Qualifications and learning programmes are valid for a period not exceeding five years, and when necessary calls for early reviews are made. The NCQF also promotes lifelong learning which includes, amongst others in-service and on the job training to close skills gaps.

However, Jobe cautions that the impact of a common quality assurance platform and development and maintenance of the National Credit and Qualifications Framework are yet to be realised since the implementation of the BQA Regulations started in earnest in January 2017, while it usually takes a number of years for  an NCQF system to mature and yield the desired outcomes.

Winston says that out of realisation of the need to create a bridge between the classroom and the workplace, progressive organisations have long introduced graduate development programmes, which are generally a year or 18-month long training schemes through which new graduates are put on a very detailed and comprehensive learning programme in the workplace, thereby exposing them to the realities, expectations, dynamics, operations and processes that they will work in. She suggests that more companies should  give graduates a real opportunity through graduate development plans.

“The Government has also introduced the internship programme, which, if managed by the host organisation properly, should work like a graduate development programme and help the candidate cultivate those skills, attitudes and other competencies needed to retain a job and perform effectively,” says Winston.