Degrees don’t mean much in the new world of work

Expensive degrees don’t automatically mean a job. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images
Expensive degrees don’t automatically mean a job. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images

South Africa’s youth can no longer rely on the idea that a qualification – especially a degree – is an automatic license to enter the job market.

In fact, the youth must get used to the mantra: “There are no jobs! But there is work.”

Welcome to the world of work!

The harsh fact is that many big corporates actively start recruiting high achieving university students after the first semester in the second year.

That is when most academic institutions identify students who have very high marks in the semester exams and who make it on to the so-called Deans’ Lists or Golden Key Lists.

These lists showcase students who are in the Top 20th percentile of academic performance at a university.

Deans’ Listers and holders of Golden Keys are being cherry picked for the positions that prestigious employers have.

In a world where there is an oversupply of persons wishing to enter the job market, students who are not in the top 20th percentile from the second year onwards find that they have to fend for themselves.

One of the biggest complaints from employers is that freshly ground diplomats or graduates are far from work ready.

Employers point out that young diplomats or graduates are able to regurgitate theory by the reams but are not able to apply that theoretical knowledge in real work situations.

For this reason, many employers choose to recruit people who are already employed at other places.

This means that new entrants with no work experience are automatically disqualified from entering the workplace.

Newly qualified persons are also inculcated with the myth that a degree is the only key to employment.

Some parents and teachers encourage the youth to “go for any degree” because degreed persons have a greater chance of finding a job than non-degreed individuals.

These people are blissfully unaware of the fact that the country requires artisans, technologists with national diplomas and practitioners with national diplomas.

Unfortunately, for the last 10 years or so the idea that degrees are essential have done a disservice to professions where lower level qualifications are a requirement.

The media is full of stories regarding youth who say they have N6 qualifications in, for example, engineering who cannot find any work.

What the youth has never been told by some colleges is that all national accredited technical education diplomas require specific practical work-related experience and work-related portfolios of evidence before the N-qualification can be awarded.

Sausage-machining students through from N1 to N6, and boasting that people are qualified without ever completing the practical component of the national accredited technical education diploma qualifications, is deceitful.

All of the above make it seem as though there is no hope for South Africa’s youth. No matter what they study, it seems that they qualify themselves into a dead end.

Employers, parents and the youth think that all qualifications other than a degree are inferior.

There are, however a range of national qualifications that are overseen and examined by professional bodies.

Some of the qualifications in this category have a required pass mark of 60% or more, compared with the required pass mark of 50% for all other qualifications.

In addition, since some professional bodies recognise national certificates, higher certificates and national diplomas in which students meet the required pass mark of 60% or more, it stands to reason that this range of qualifications must be taken seriously.

When employers have to choose between candidates, they should consider which person would be able to add more value to an organisation; the person with a national qualification that has a required pass mark of 60% and that is recognised by a range of professional bodies, or the person whose qualification has a required pass mark of 50, and whose qualification is not recognised by a professional body?

These non-degree qualifications (60% or more required pass mark and recognised by a professional body) have one more advantage that employers, parents and students should think about.

These qualifications equip students to understand what happens in the real world.

In addition, being recognised by a range of professional bodies means that students can start their own professional practices in compliance with the mandates given to them by a whole range of professional bodies.

The end of jobs and the beginning of work

Almost 40% of South Africa’s economy is driven by small and medium enterprises.

In addition, many these enterprises do not necessarily have the skills to offer sustainable products or services to the market.

Some find it hard to understand how to effectively manage, advertise, market, sell.

Why then, could the young person with a lower qualification that is recognised by a professional body not offer their professional services to a small business?

Would it not make sense to the youth to offer their professional services at a modest fee to a small business in the community and grow in stature and competence alongside that business?

There are no jobs. But there are thousands of opportunities for anyone who has a qualification, recognised by professional bodies, to create a suite of services that they can offer to the community.

That is the true spirit of entrepreneurship.

It may take a few years to make your first million. But every millionaire had to start somewhere to convince a hard-nosed client that the product or service offered by the budding entrepreneur can make a sustainable difference to the client and to the economy.

Peter van Nieuwenhuizen is chief financial officer of the Growth Institute is a private college focusing on: management education, skills development and enterprise development

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