A degree of misunderstanding

There is still a large misconception that the only way to be successful is to first get a university degree, yet how many Bill Gates and Richard Bransons does the world need to prove this is not the case. While education is definiately still a route to better jobs, with almost 600 000 unemployed graduates in South Africa already it clearly isn’t a guaranteed path to your dream job.

At the same time statistics from the Department of Education, and in particular the Engineering Council, claim shortages in key disciplines like engineering, while employeers complain that they battle to find good quality staff. The quantity of graduates proves that it’s not the lack of intelligence that’s missing form the work place, but the gap comes more from a mismatch of skills to vacancies.

Another key problem being cited by the Council of Higher Education (CHE) is that more than half of students will drop out of higher education before attaining any higher qualification.


Work experience is an overlooked aspect of qualifications and is essential in securing employment. While getting qualified and having relevant experience are the eternal chicken and egg scenario, there is an issue with Millenials having never done a days work before graduating. As any working graduate will testify, having the theory and applying it in the workplace are two very different talents.

It is also very unfair to expect an 18 year old to select the perfect career path without having had any exposure to what the job will actually entail. Underestimating the real skills required or over estimating their personal compatability for a role are both likely to lead to failure. In many cases it’s only after the graduate has started a course in their chosen field, or started the related job, do they realise it isn’t what they were expecting and not at all what they were looking for.


A massive misunderstanding by graduates is that getting the degree is all you need. Empolyers will be able to tell you that while in many professions the qualification is a necessary starting point, that is all it is, the starting point. In most cases the academic knowledge isn’t sufficient for the specific job roles, much more learning will still be required. Either through formal programmes or on-the-job training there is still a steep learning curve for the average graduate.

Employers are also looking for a wider range of attributes from people from work ethic, people skills to gumption and problem solving. Fitting in with a company’s culture is also a key attribute in today’s recruitment. Good companies appreciate the importance of finding and keeping talent, especially after investing in upskilling them, so finding someone who will be compatible with the company ethos is an important selection criteria.


One of the ways to close this ever widening gap is to look at learnerships or apprenticeships which start before the academic training rather than at the end. There are many advantages to all parties if companies with job opportunities were involved in the training processes from the beginning.

  • As many of the qualities employers are looking for are unrelated to academic qualification the correct match of personality to company could be made before the final qualifications.
  • A week of exposure to the realities of the world of work can be more beneficial to potential graduates than months of lectures on the topic.
  • Students would have the opportunity to test the career before committing to years of study.
  • Working while studying could enable more graduates to support themselves financially.

But the onus of learnerships shouldn’t be left to the corporates and larger companies. In order to make a real difference and create the skill sets needed in the economy, small and medium sized businesses, which make up more than 50% of all employment opportunities in SA, need to step up to the challenge.

A well run apprenticeship can be a valuable investment for the small business. It can also highlight that to meet the specific needs of a particular industry a university degrees isn’t always the answer and vocational or occupational training may be more relevant. There is an ever growing range of alternative further education programmes and training facilities to upskill in any sector.

After all, training specific skills to meet the job requirement is the whole point. Creating a pool of youth with useful, applicable skills to fill the gaps in the work space is the ultimate objective.

2 thoughts on “A degree of misunderstanding

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