Is employment crisis due to lack of people to hire, or no job openings?
MONEY & MARKET
By Antoney Luvinzu | October 2nd 2021
The World Bank’s 2020 global employment statistics place Kenya’s unemployment rate at three per cent. This is a conservative figure going by the indicators used. We all know the actual numbers are way higher, the situation more dire.
Like Christmas, yet another graduation season is fast approaching, and throngs of college graduates will be lining up to enter the workforce. We will, yet again, be regaled with tales of graduates who cannot get jobs. We will castigate the government for failing to create employment for our youth. But where, really, is the problem?
This past week saw a viral video of a seemingly frustrated man arguing that when it comes to jobs, the problem isn’t really lack of opportunities, but lack of employable young people. The short video drew mixed feelings, and rather strong reactions. But to what extent is this assertion accurate?
The fundamental question is whether opportunities are in fact scarce, or are the graduates from our institutions of higher learning simply inept and lack certain key qualities, know how, skills and competencies required in the job market. This is because while the youth decry the lack of employment opportunities, employers are, on the hand, expressing concerns that majority of the graduates lack the requisite qualities like honesty, diligence, consistency, initiative, a teachable spirit et cetera that would make them attractive to employ. In short, employers are arguing that our young people are not employable.
Understanding the gap
Employers have listed understanding the role and expectations in the workplace as the largest preparedness gap. Another large gap is accepting critique and direction in the workplace. Employers have also aired out various fundamental aptitudes and qualities lacking in graduates. The skills include dealing with conflict constructively, building professional relationships, career and self-development, leadership, technological skills, humility, communication, critical thinking, work ethic, personal judgment, problem solving, time management, collaboration, self-confidence, teamwork, creativity, positive attitude and flexibility in the work setting.
A survey of 1,012 graduates and 531 senior HR professionals was undertaken by Survation, a polling and market research agency based in England in November last year. The survey depicted that one-fifth of graduates are unprepared for the workplace when they leave university, HR managers feel, and many lack crucial skills including leadership, negotiation and planning. Just 13 per cent of graduates were seen by HR as “ready to hit the ground running” when they entered the workplace, while two-thirds were seen as “somewhat ready” to work.
The key skills HR professionals believed the graduate workforce was lacking included leadership (cited by 48 per cent of HR managers), negotiation (44 per cent), and strategy and planning (38 per cent). However, they were seen as well-equipped with teamwork skills (cited by 76 per cent of HR professionals), problem solving (76 per cent), communication skills (75 per cent) and research abilities (75 per cent).
Graduates also believed their time at university had not prepared them for work (18 per cent). More than one-third felt they were missing leadership skills, 25 per cent lacked negotiation skills and 23 per cent did not possess the technical skills needed. The results showed that higher education institutions needed to collaborate with businesses to ensure that graduates are equipped with the skills that will maximise their employability.
It doesn’t matter where a graduate may go; a different city or continent. These are the same skills employees are looking out for. These results convey that employers are increasingly looking for applicants who have developed employability skills and have gained experience whilst studying for their degree. There have been great gains in recent years in integrating higher education with industry, but clearly there is still more to be done.
In a competitive graduate marketplace, firms are increasingly looking for applicants who have real world experience of the workplace. Higher education institutions need to do more to give students the chance to gain the workplace experience that is vital in today’s job market through building strong links with local businesses and leaders in the industry.
The survey also revealed that new graduates felt underprepared for the recruitment process once they left university. Just a quarter undertook a mock interview while studying, while only 37 per cent had spoken to a career adviser.
Sixty-one per cent of HR managers said relevant work experience was more important than the grades achieved by graduates. Three-quarters of them had undertaken work experience while at university.
The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) released a report in August this year on how colleges contribute to workforce success, and employer views on the fundamentals is something of a mixed bag for higher education.
The AAC&U surveyed nearly 500 executives and hiring managers from businesses of varying size. Technology was the most represented sector, at 27 per cent of respondents, following by banking/financial services (12 per cent), manufacturing (nine per cent), professional services (nine per cent), health care and medicine (nine per cent), construction (nine per cent), among others.
The AAC&U asked employers about which and how mind-sets and aptitudes matter in hiring and the workplace. Employers said they appreciate breadth and depth of learning, too, as reflected in their desire that students learn to think for themselves, to be adaptable and versatile, to be technically capable and well-rounded.
Ninety-two percent of employers said it’s very important or somewhat important that students have been exposed to a wide variety of academic topics and disciplines. At least half of employers think it is “very important” for college graduates to possess a range of mind-sets and aptitudes to be successful.
On high-impact practices, the AAC&U found that more than four in five employers would be either “somewhat more likely” or “much more likely” to consider hiring recent college graduates if they had completed an active or applied experience in college. Internships and apprenticeships top the experience list, followed by working in community settings with diverse community partners. Employers value work-study experiences and portfolios, along with global learning and mentored experiences. Comprehensive research and writing experiences stood out, too.
The country’s training institutions lack the essential facilities and technology to prepare students for the challenging market demands. Our tertiary institutions must share the blame for not meeting the workforce needs of the job market. Skills shortages in both numbers and quality has reached a point of major concern and institutions have clearly failed in that line. Declining staff qualifications, little money for educational inputs, run down and over-burdened physical facilities, and limited incentives for research make it hard to produce highly skilled personnel. Most students are also enrolled in ‘soft’ disciplines and research funds have been “siphoned” to cover the costs of more students.
To close these skill gaps our colleges ought to revisit the skills they pass on to students, and focus more on instilling the desired knowledge, skills and competencies required by employees and the job market at large. Institutions of higher learning should give a premium to teaching and sharpening such aptitudes as persistence; helping students understand that failure is an opportunity to grow. Change, by teaching students to accept that this is the norm and teaching them how to adapt. Ambiguity, by teaching students it is a part of life and that they find direction by listening, asking questions and thinking creatively.
Lecturers should equally play their part. They should engage students, encourage independent thinking and make themselves available to students as much as possible. Lecturers should also be able to relate the knowledge they offer to practical experiences in the job market and give students practical hands-on skills to enable them to adapt easily to the world of work.
The ways in which the complex challenges we will be facing in the future, as individuals, as a nation and as members of a global community, will require the integration of advanced skills and competencies across disciplines and the examination of issues from a diversity of perspectives.
Above all, students should and must do their part too. Focus on self-improvement. Discard the misplaced sense of entitlement prevalent today. Cultivate a positive outlook, be teachable, thoroughly understand their trade, uphold honesty and be trustworthy.
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