'Too many skilled graduates for too few jobs': Experts share the skillsets needed to secure employment

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"Only 2-3% of employment applications result in an interview out of 250 job applications received." Photo: Getty Images
"Only 2-3% of employment applications result in an interview out of 250 job applications received." Photo: Getty Images

Stats SA's Quarterly Labour Force Survey for 2021 published that unemployment among university graduates was 9.3%, a huge number considering the emphasis on education in the job process.

Feedback from employment experts, like Biron Clark, a founder of, showed that "only 2-3% of employment applications result in an interview out of 250 job applications received."

How cruel is that, considering a recent report published by Youth Capital, which revealed that young people spend R938 when looking for a job on average.

We can't help but wonder where the problem is regarding graduate employability in South Africa.

Read: Young people spend on average R938 when looking for a job, reports Youth Capital

News24 approached Fenella Somerville, Postdoctoral research fellow in the SARChI Chair Higher Education and Human Development research programme at the University of the Free State, to share her thoughts on what is causing the unemployment of graduates in SA.

Although her recent research focused on the employability of media graduates, Somerville shared that "graduates need the particular technical and practical skills of their craft."

"They also need creative skills, soft skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills such as empathy, and communication," she added.

A shortage of jobs 

However, Somerville found in her research that the graduates looking for jobs were well-skilled, well-prepared, well-qualified, and suitable candidates for work in the media, but could not be employed due to a shortage of jobs.

"Skills alone do not make a person employable. There are just too many skilled graduates for too few jobs," says Somerville.

"Graduates do not struggle to find jobs because they come from low-fee institutions per se. The factors that count towards employability are determined more by employers than they are by graduates' skills, their education or the institution," stated Somerville.

"Employers only recruit employees who have a base of one to two years of experience. This experience can be built in internships, which provide new graduates with on-the-job training," she says.

"However, the stipend paid to interns is generally very low and not sufficient for living," added Somerville.

She says that this may lead to graduates from poor households not affording these internships and taking any jobs that will provide them with an earning such as call centre jobs or retail jobs.

Technology is bringing new work opportunities globally. Jobs in the formal sector are diminishing, and people can't rely on employers, says Somerville.

Also read: 'One-size-fits-all approach': The current education system does not help graduates with employability

Ask the right questions

The Managing Director of Varsity College and IIE MSA, Louise Wiseman, told us that "Beyond the development of specific and aligned technical skills, students are also challenged to build their subject understanding while developing their creative, critical thinking and problem-solving skills when in college."

"Students' learning is designed to develop the students' ability to think and ask the right questions," she added.

Regarding Varsity College and IIE MSA, she shared that their lecturers are current and active in their industries, which means that the world of work is central to all student learning and the development of employability skills that will allow the students to thrive in the workplace.

But she says, "the trick is to take the technical knowledge and teach students to apply the principles of this knowledge to any business corporation whether it be a big global manufacturing entity or the mom & pop Italian restaurant in their local neighbourhood."

In addition to that, institutions can also offer year-long integrated modules which will teach students real-world skills such as effective teamwork, working with clients and stakeholders, working with communities less privileged and finally how to overcome the barriers of teams that do not perform.


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