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The 2017 PPS Student Confidence Index (SCI)* found that 80% of South African students feel that their degree sufficiently prepares them for their chosen profession. Conversely, the PPS Graduate Professional Index (GPI)** revealed that only 23% of professionals feel newly qualified graduates entering the workplace are adequately prepared. This is a common occurrence globally, known as the “education-workplace expectation gap”, and is important to address in order to help graduates become more employable.
According to Motshabi Nomvethe, Technical Marketing Specialist at PPS, says that when graduates embark on the transition from the tertiary education environment to the workplace, it is an exciting phase of their life as they are eager to put their studies into practice and begin earning a salary. “However, they are often shocked when they encounter the reality of actually practicing their chosen profession. They discover that they were not actually prepared for the requirements and challenges of the working world.”
“There are many possible reasons why new graduates are not properly prepared for the workplace”, says Nomvethe. “Firstly, there are soft skills, which are personal attributes that are required in the workplace environment, which are simply not taught at university. Softer skills include things like communications skills, analytical thinking, be a team player and collaborate, confidence, networking capabilities, business writing, presentation, time management and meeting deadlines, etc.”
The bigger challenge when it comes to transitioning from the tertiary to workplace environment is the hard skills required for the job at hand, she says. “There is a real disconnect between the theory that is taught at tertiary institutions, and the practical application that is required in the workplace. This is because this application of the learnings are not included as part of the studies.”
This is where the value of internships and mentorship programmes can greatly assist graduates to ease themselves into the workplace environment, to ensure they set themselves up for success, says Nomvethe. She points to the PPS SCI which found that 92% of the students realise that voluntary work or internships can improve their chances of finding employment.
Furthermore, the PPS GPI revealed that of the 23% of professionals who said they felt graduates were adequately prepared for the workplace, 51% of the respondents said this was because the graduates had taken part in an internship as part of their degree so they had some basic understanding.
“If you think about it, internships are a win-win for the graduates as well as the workplace. The graduates get first-hand work experience and become more employable, while the workplace receives skills at a minimal cost. It just takes time, patience and dedication from both parties to make it work,” says Nomvethe.
The PPS SCI also revealed that 50% of students are currently engaged in voluntary or internship work, with 36% of those who are not involved indicating their interest to partake. “It is amazing that over a third of the students are interested in internships or voluntary work but they are not making an effort towards getting involved. This could either be attributed to the fact that they do not know where to look for internships.”
The sooner young people obtain work experience, coupled with mentoring by established professionals, the more likely they will be prepared for their transition into the workplace, says Nomvethe. “Also, the more exposure they have the easier the transition will be and they will be far more attractive from an employment perspective. The main advantages of being better prepared for the workplace environment is having the ability to facilitate meaningful engagements that are accompanied with higher motivation levels, which goes a long way in employee retention and job performance.”
“For this reason, PPS created the Professionals Connect platform which connects graduates with professionals relevant to their degree to help setup internship, mentorship or job opportunities. In order for these graduates to be adequately prepared, corporate SA has to step in and the best way to do this is to make internships and mentorship programmes more accessible,” concludes Nomvethe.
* conducted among nearly 2500 students across South Africa, in the fourth year or above studying towards a profession
** conducted among almost 6000 South African graduate professionals