In recent years, the crisis in the student/graduate market has drawn considerable interest from government and business alike. Those students that are fortunate to be accepted at a tertiary institution for a degree or diploma, are unlikely to complete it – up to half of them will drop out due to poor career choices, financial and social challenges. Even if they graduate, the economic battle continues, with hundreds of thousands swelling the unemployment ranks.
To quote higher education minister Blade Nzimande:
“There are many people without jobs and many jobs without people able to do them”.
While there are numerous public and private sector initiatives, from occupational learnerships to graduate development programmes, a lot more still needs to be done.
What if it was possible for students to build their career before they graduated? In 2009, we launched the Working Edge Club, a first in the country project to assist full time students (irrespective of year or field of study) at participating institutions build their career before they graduated. Students from the University of Johannesburg, University of Western Cape, University Cape (Black Management Forum) and Cape Peninsula University of Technology have participated to date.
A club website is set up for each participating institution and students join the core programme for free. Based upon my book, Worksucks – Make Work, Work, they are granted access to a career system, revolving around fulfilment, fame and fortune. Each student is encouraged to pursue employment and entrepreneurship, unlike traditional models that concentrate on the former. The student is provided with ongoing mindsets, tools and actions to explore and go after what they want. While we will support the student, the club does not create their dream career for them. Those participating have to take the initiative and does the heavy lifting work.
Over time, we get students to rethink their career choices and expectations of work. For example, many students are given a reality check about walking from graduation into a managerial position and high remuneration package. In addition to the online components, students can participate in funky career briefings, SME showcase events and networking opportunities.
According to Ian Van Den Berg, Team Leader from the Centre for Psychological Services and Career Development, University of Johannesburg:
“While we provide comprehensive career programmes for students on campus, we welcome complementary initiatives such as the Working Edge Club, to extend their employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in a competitive market”.
To date the feedback from students that have participated in the club has been positive. According Gugu Mahlangu, a student at the University of Johannesburg that is completing her BA Development Studies:
“I learnt a lot about branding myself…also had the great advantage to interact and network with other individuals, which was a great experience.”
With HR professionals worried these days about talent engagement, the club, also provides an employer/professional body programme to build long term relationships with Generation Y. It is the difference between a graduate that passes time with an organisation to fulfil bursary obligations and really wanting to make a difference in their business.
For 2010/2011, we are planning to extend the club to other universities, provide a career e-learning programme, work related opportunities and customised support for those that want to drop out of their studies.
In conclusion, the future of our country depends on our investment in talent. Business school professor, Michael Porter captured it in the book, Competitive Advantage of Nations:
“Outstanding Talent is a scarce resource in any nation. A nation’s success largely depends on the types of education its talented people choose, where they choose to work, and their commitment and effort.”
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