Unlocking economic growth

2020-04-01 06:03
Prof. Francis Petersen: Rector and Vice-Chancellor: UFS.

Prof. Francis Petersen: Rector and Vice-Chancellor: UFS.

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Entrepreneurship has a vital role to play in combating unemployment. Equipping students with an entrepreneurial mindset, is therefore a high priority, with ‘entrepreneurial thinking’ one of the university’s key graduate attributes. The University of the Free State supports the notion that preparing young jobseekers for the ever-evolving world of work is an integral aspect of their learning at university. We have a unique approach to using a compulsory foundation module to expose all our first-year students to aspects of entrepreneurship, hence sensitising them to entrepreneurship, different thinking and creative thought. These aspects are also embedded as graduate attri­butes and are captured in their studies throughout the curriculum.

The UFS Business School has developed diverse initiatives and training programmes specifically aimed at entrepreneurial enterprises. Our Centre for Business Dynamics reaches out to the business sector, helping companies to stay competitive by bridging the gap between existing skills and those required by each industry. Short courses in entrepreneurship are among the tools they use to do this. The Careers Office complements these efforts with an annual Entrepreneurs Festival. Practical impetus is provided to students with business ideas through our Student Business Incubator, while initiatives such as Young Entrepreneurs and the university’s chapter of Google’s Startup Grind further stimulate entrepreneurial thinking.

A combination of skills is required. At the UFS, we have found that – in order to help the country in solving the skills gap and allow higher education institutions to thrive – various factors, such as industry, region and job role are important. It has become all too clear that it is not enough just to have technical knowledge – a combination of skills is required for most jobs, as technology becomes an integral part of daily tasks at the workplace. Education efforts should focus on areas that set individuals apart from machines and technology. There is a need for graduates to evolve with career opportunities as many employers consider the development of critical and strategic thinking skills as fundamental in many middle-management roles. The ability to collaborate with others, negotiation, emotional intelligence, cognitive flexibility and resilience are important criteria to survive in the workplace.

Coordination and effort are much needed. The challenges posed by unemployment require a coordinated effort to ensure that young people can access opportunities that will make it possible for them to thrive and continue to reinvent themselves in the constantly changing world of work. With the right skills and networks our young population of graduates would be able to secure employment, have enterprising mindsets to support and sustain themselves and contribute to the development of their communities.

A strong focus on employability as part of the core business of a university and the ability to equip our graduates with the necessary skills will remain crucial factors – not only now, but also in the years to come – and our relationship with industry, the private sector, and commerce is key to driving this.

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