The Independent Institute of Education's Nola Payne on how to find the right graduates.
Social media is awash with pictures of proud graduates, degree in hand and ready to embark on the next stage in their lives: searching for their first job and building the career of their dreams. Unfortunately, too many of them will soon be confronted with the realities of the job market. With the economy remaining sluggish, the political environment volatile, and the risk inherent in making a new appointment high, many employers elect to play it safe rather than recruit at this stage.
But there is a way for businesses – from consultancies, small enterprises and startups to big companies and even multi-nationals – to take the gamble out of appointing new graduates.
It is understandable that employers are hesitant to appoint graduates fresh out of university with little or no work experience, given the current constraints we face. But the benefit to a business of appointing someone fresh out of higher education, who has a solid understanding of a specific industry and the most recent trends and developments in this industry, who also has the ability to implement what they have learnt in the real world of work, should not be under-estimated.
Growth does not happen without appointing the best people to make it happen, and young recruits are uniquely positioned to bring fresh insights and opportunities to a business. However, this would require many employers to review their approach to recruitment, to ensure they are not stuck in past ways of doing things, which may be the reason for their inability to land the candidates their business really need.
Just as we advise prospective students to thoroughly investigate their options before settling on a qualification and an institution, so we also advise companies to thoroughly do their homework to determine which institutions are likely to produce graduates who are work-ready, who bring more than theoretical knowledge to the table, and who are ready to make a contribution from the very first day on the job.
The best way to do this is for employers to first determine to what degree an institution, whether it be a public university or a private one, invests in the work-readiness of graduates beyond mere academics. Additionally, a good sign would be if an institution and a qualification is closely linked to its related industry.
7 questions to ask about the institutions graduates attended
To determine this, there are a number of questions employers can ask, for instance:
- Have an institution’s lecturers only been standing at the front of a class for the past 30 years, or are they still active in the industry?
- Is the curriculum of a specific qualification aligned to current best practice in an industry?
- Does it incorporate work-integrated learning and is it career-focused rather than just theory-intensive?
- Do students get real-life work experience as part of their studies, with real-life challenges to solve?
- Do they exit their institution of higher learning with a portfolio of evidence?
- Does the institution ensure that all graduates are not only equipped for their industry, but also with the soft skills they will require when stepping into the workplace?
- Does an institution develop the student’s ability to creatively solve problems and continue learning, rather than simply closing the book after their initial 3-4 years of study?
The higher education sector has changed dramatically over the past decade, and as recently confirmed by the High Court, a registered and accredited qualification from a registered and accredited private institution is at the very least on par with one attained at a public university.
So one has to go beyond what the papers say, and determine from where the most capable and empowered graduates are emanating in 2019. This takes time, but the initial investment of speaking to and even partnering with quality institutions of higher learning, beyond the traditional focus on a handful of public universities, has the potential to pay off well into the future for companies seeking to grow well into the future.
The most important thing is to find those candidates who have demonstrated that they will and want to continue growing. Employers must not simply appoint graduates to complete tasks – they must look for those people who they can see sticking around for five years or more, who can help them grow their business beyond what is currently envisioned.
Nola Payne is the Head of Information and Communications Technology Faculty at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest private higher education institution.