Defend Truth


Career Management 2020

Johann Redelinghuys is previously founder and chairman of Heidrick & Struggles South Africa, now The Director of the Chairman's Institute and of Portfolio&Co

These days, universities are being held to account. In New York, a recent graduate of Monroe College is suing the college for tuition fees of $70,000 spent over three years, because, she says, “the college misled” her into believing that she would get employment once she graduates.

Again it is job creation. There is much thrashing around on this issue in South Africa at present. Pravin Gordhan working with Wayne Swan of Australia, says: “Despite a rebound in global gross domestic product growth to about 5% in 2010, and robust growth in developing countries last year, the recovery has failed to deliver a significant improvement in global employment levels. Annual global job creation is about 20-million below pre-crisis levels.”

Reported on the same day is the distressing account given by higher education minister Blade Nzimande who says there is “ little to show” for the R37.5-billion spent in the last 11 years on the Setas, the government-sponsored and operated skills training programmes. By his own admission, the failure has been due to the corruption and “self-enrichment” of the government-appointed Seta executives and their poor quality standards. He goes on to say, “The state should provide more learnerships.”

If the state has already made such a mess of things, why should it be trusted at all with the working futures of the youth? This, he acknowledges, in the same report, is a “ticking time bomb”.

All unemployment is of great concern. Graduate unemployment is even more worrying. Why would parents and students spend the funds and make the considerable efforts required for a university education if it is not going to deliver a job and in due course enable them to participate with dignity in the prosperity of the country?  Why are there increasing numbers of people, not just with under-graduate degrees, but with Master’s degrees and even PhDs, unable to find meaningful employment?

Whenever we speak to the CEOs of listed companies about the greatest challenge for the future, they say: “Talent!” or “Skills”.  Something is wrong here. Helen Zille recently said,“One of the biggest challenges we face is to align skills development programmes to meet the demands of our growing economy. The scale of the problem is highlighted by the fact that there are over 600,000 unemployed graduates in South Africa despite the fact that there are about 850,000 vacancies for skilled professionals.” The economy is starved for talent and skills, but university graduates increasingly face unemployment.

Do we still think that simply having a degree ensures an interview with a corporate recruiter and an offer of employment? Is it because graduates want to be given a job, and don’t have the ability to go out and fetch it? Everything we know now says that paradigm has changed. Employment is no longer qualification-driven, but is skills-driven. A business or institution wants to know what you can deliver, not what you hope for. They have to manage their risk. The best evidence of this is, of course, experience, but what do you do to get onto the first rung as a new graduate?

Yes, of course, we need a large scale internship programme where the private sector and not the government will be given tax benefits for taking in students before they graduate, to teach them meaningful job skills and the disciplines of working productively in business or the professions. And yes, there should be a return, as the minister says, of the state-owned enterprises once again offering apprenticeships that will boost their own work forces as well as benefit the whole economy. Eskom, Sasol, Transnet and companies like Iscor used to do this, but even they have been overtaken by short-term efficiencies and cost cutting.

More important, we believe, is a new attitude and a approach to career management. “Career Management 2020” means that for large numbers of people, and not just graduates, the reality is that jobs are going to become harder to find. Companies working smarter need fewer people to achieve the same results. Technology is the great boon of our time, but it also changes the way people work and staff their businesses. Middle-management is disappearing. There are now more opportunities for contract employment, or short-term secondment rather than the secure long-term jobs most people would want. Cosatu is striking because it doesn’t want the labour broker model of short-term contracts.

But this way of working is a reality and no amount of striking is going to change the way smart companies are managed. So increasing numbers of people will have to learn the skills of self-employment, and how to focus on what they can do and what problems they can solve for the business rather than what the company can do for them.  

The universities need to rethink what they offer. Instead of the somewhat limp career counselling that is offered presently, focussing mostly on choice of subject, they must focus on proper, skill-based career management. Employ business-minded counsellors, part-time if needed, and work closely with private sector companies to bring into the university the experience of graduate career management. Not just how to find a job, but how to conduct yourself in a future where you will need to make a living; how not to be dependent on others to determine your future, but how to script it for yourself, and remain in control of your career. Those of us who are not doing so already, will have to make our own jobs in future.

Lawyers, doctors and dentists have been doing it all along. So have musicians, artists and writers. But in the future what about Arts graduates in, say, history, or philosophy or politics? What about Science graduates in zoology, botany, geography or the social sciences?

Here’s a thought. If car manufacturers can provide a five-year service plan to ensure that their product is used in good order, why should a university not provide a service contract for their “product” – the new graduate? It could be in the form of a career start-up kit linked to the degree course and discounted into the fee structure. This would obviously not include any kind of job guarantee, but it could include six months of career coaching, help and guidance on a CV, and training in interview skills as well as a number of facilitated introductions to potential employers. I don’t think that’s so far-fetched a notion.

Even the business schools need a career management programme. Think of all those eager MBA graduates who immediately want to run a business. Many of them face similar difficulties. At least they are better equipped for the entrepreneurial stream, but all of them would benefit from instruction on sound career management in the new paradigm. DM


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