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Developing graduate employability skills, qualities

College education is thought to be ‘the ticket to a higher level of life’. But is a degree all one needs for the labour market? The education vs. experience debate is a seemingly never-ending one. In today’s world, many wonder if a college degree is still a worthwhile investment. 

Many argue that employers today want to know if a graduate is capable of accomplishing specific tasks, and do not just consider possession of academic certificates.

 

According to Olivier Minani, a teacher and IT expert, there are three reasons for the existence of higher learning institutions; filtration, education and placement.

 

In particular, Minani points out that even though higher learning institutions are expected to provide general specialised skills according to what a student majors in, many universities — both local and across the world — are not in sync with the changing times.

 

“In regards to providing education, where students are expected to learn some general and specialised skills depending on what they major in, this is the least useful role. Because higher education in most parts of the world has not really moved with the changing times,” he says.

 “Today, most universities have programmes that are not directly relevant to what is needed in real life and workplaces. For instance, from personal experience, most universities do not train people considerably on soft skills. Rather, they prefer (hard) academic disciplines, which have less use for most people compared to skills,” Minani adds.

Universities in most cases are slow to move to relevant skills. They actually teach 5 to 10 years behind the industry. Hence, the idea of skills that don’t match the job market, says Juan Kelvin Rwema Ndizihiwe, a robotics expert and mechanical engineering student.

“Only students with the best grades can enrol in good universities, this means that a number of students are deprived of the chance to join higher learning institutions. Hence, the idea that universities are guided more by internal politics than what the industry demands,” Ndizihiwe says. 

He adds that employers still complain about lack of skills among graduates. Universities should put more effort in preparing students for the industry than the theoretical academia.

A focus on skills to link higher education and employment

The attention of education policy-makers and the international education community is moving away from raising literacy levels and increasing access to secondary and higher education, towards skills required by the workforce to promote economic growth.

Higher education experts say that universities are under increasing pressure to ensure that their graduates are ‘employable’, although preparation for ‘employability’ is still only rarely incorporated in university courses, and the skills that could make a difference in finding employment and ways to deliver those skills are still not evident.

Higher education systems and institutions, according to University of Rwanda’s acting Deputy Chancellor for academic affairs and research, Emile Bienvenu, are under pressure to reform to provide adequate skills and knowledge for the evolving labour market.

“This is increasingly important in countries which are moving towards middle-income status and aspiring to be knowledge economies, increasing the demand for higher skills.”

Instead, higher education must diversify, Bienvenu adds, to provide the right mix of more vocational skills that serve the labour market, and higher-end research and science graduates that can fuel innovation for economic growth.

Speaking from a job-oriented view, Cherish Nkurunziza, a teacher at Kigali City School, is of the view that universities are not as relevant in the present, as far as acquisition of skills obtained by graduates is concerned.

“Universities are not doing enough in the present context as far as acquiring skills is concerned. In order to prosper in today’s fast-paced environment, it is important for one to acquire more skills and be able to articulate them, this is viable in order to establish a successful preferred career,” she highlights.

Daisy Uwonkunda, a teacher at Excella School, says that students should be exposed to other different platforms and incentives that expose them to hands-on skills. 

“Students learn better through on-the-job trainings, coding boot camps, internships, among others. Universities might teach you physics, chemistry or history, but what’s truly needed in the jobs is being taught in the companies themselves.”

In an earlier interview with The New Times, Claudette Irere, State Minister in charge of ICT and TVET education, said that TVET graduates are set to be equipped with the necessary skills to cope with the current job market.

eashimwe@newtimesrwanda.com

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