Are New Graduates Equipped to Enter the Workplace?

new graduates entering workplace

A common complaint in industry is that new graduates are not fully equipped to enter the workforce. What is learnt in textbooks is vastly different to what can be learnt on the job. Experience accounts for much, but is it realistic to expect universities to provide this? It should be kept in mind that tertiary institutions are limited by their resources, government funding, and university politics. Perhaps it is up to industry to create the kinds of graduates they want.

Our Human Capital Lead, Emma Durkin, shares valuable insight and learning opportunities for new graduates by answering some important questions relating to preparing graduates for the working world.

Do you agree that new graduates are not fully equipped to enter the workplace? (why/why not?)

I do agree with this statement. Often, they have the necessary theoretical knowledge – some at honours or masters levels – but they do not have the soft skills and even basic technical skills that are required. Graduates often land in our business and do not have a professional grasp of business English. They type emails as if they are sending WhatsApp’s to friends – using shorthand and slang. I have worked with IT graduates who have no knowledge of how to use Word or Excel or even Outlook. Employers often expect that they will land in the business knowing the basics, but this is rarely true. What happens then is quite a hard landing for the employer and the new employee. They may feel embarrassed to ask the basics and spend the first few months unknowingly struggling making their first experience in the workplace a stressful one.

At Altron Karabina we assign all new starters a People Manager who navigates the new starters through the organisation and coaches them on soft skills, workplace etiquette, etc. This close partnership with the new starters guarantees that we identify skills gaps early and take steps to rectify the gaps to ensure their integration into the company is as seamless as possible. In addition, they are assigned a mentor who guides them on functional capabilities throughout their journey with us.

Whose responsibility should it be to get graduates ready? Is it on parents, institutions, employers, or the graduates themselves?

I think a combined approach is the best approach. I do not believe that syllabuses at schools and tertiary institutions prepare students for the world of work. I think they should relook their curriculum, giving students a practical view into the working world. Work experience should be more commonplace and encouraged. A lot is up to the individual upskilling themselves but the problem with using this one approach is that very often the graduates “don’t know what they don’t know”- they need guidance from the institutions and their parents. South Africa is probably unique in that it is not uncommon for graduates to come from previously disadvantaged homes where they are the first entrant in their family into corporate environments. In these examples, the parents are not able to get their children work ready as they do not have experience in these environments.

At Altron Karabina, with a People Management approach we ensure that the new graduates receive the guidance they need from day one to ensure they are work ready in as short a time as possible.

Given the global skills shortage, what can industry do to create more experiential learning opportunities?

Encourage internships and learnerships and on the job learning. The Altron Technology Professional Programme (TPP) is a 2-year programme focused on the development of scarce skills in Altron and the technology sector, with the ultimate objective of job creation for unemployed youth and building a talent pipeline (skills development) within the Altron Group. The skills development programme focuses on building scarce and critical skills, building a talent pipeline within strategic growth areas and building technical skills in specific competencies to strengthen strategic partnerships. Our Altron Karabina Upskill Programme has the same focus and aims, on a smaller scale. Six young graduates are brought into the business to address the scarce skills gap.

Should this be mandated/regulated, such as the community service year required by medical graduates?

I am not an advocate of mandating or regulating anything as they often end up with a negative connotation. Employers “have” to do it and with that comes an element of resentment and the passion for closing the skills gap becomes homework rather than coming from a place of passion to increase the skills base.

This is an excerpt of an article originally published in the EngineerIT eMagazine, titled “Virtual Panel Discussion: Learning Opportunities for new graduates“. Read it here.

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