In the current era of the neoliberal economic revolution, the global economic order, and the rising knowledge society, the education system is becoming a more important component of national authority. To remain competitive, post-industrial economies have shifted to become knowledge-driven. As a result, enhancing workforce skills is now critical to strengthening the national economy. As a result, most governments have placed pressure on educational institutions to improve graduate employability to build human capital. Global labour markets are in a state of flux. South Africa has not been spared by the torrent of change.
Higher education, in particular, is recognized as critical to the long-term viability of human capital as well as a means to a goal in the economic development process. Education is commonly seen as a tool for empowering individuals, particularly younger generations, to achieve socio-economic growth and maintain a high level of living. Tertiary education is critical for promoting wealth for all, reducing poverty, and promoting growth. Higher education has far-reaching societal advantages.
In South Africa, there are three types of higher education institutions: universities, colleges, and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges. Their level of schooling distinguishes them. It has been suggested that to correct South Africa’s history and current socioeconomic position, everyone should have access to higher education and training. A higher degree, specifically a university degree, is widely seen as the key to advancing one’s career in South Africa.
South Africa has devised an inclusive education policy to remove barriers to learning in the educational system. Despite the development of an inclusive education plan to combat exclusion, one of the obstacles to progress is a lack of competence in curriculum adaptation to meet a variety of learning demands. Despite the enabling policy outlined above, inclusive education is only being implemented partially and slowly in South Africa. There are numerous reasons for this, including problems with the entire school system, other support networks, and poverty situations, to name a few.
The challenge of curriculum differentiation is central to the implementation of inclusion. In its apparent absence, students cannot expect to have their needs met in the least-restrictive and inclusive atmosphere with their peers. In South Africa, inclusivity initiatives seek analogous teaching approaches to assist with curricular improvements. Many students in South Africa’s educational system are falling behind due to the country’s deteriorating infrastructure, a scarcity of trained teachers, and sluggish academic progress. According to a report published in 2020 by Amnesty International titled South Africa – Broken and Unequal Education Perpetuating Poverty and Inequality, the South African education system, which is characterized by deteriorating infrastructure, crammed classrooms, and relatively poor educational outcomes, is perpetuating inequality.
According to international standards, the country’s national and young unemployment rates are both high. In 2019, South Africa had the greatest rate of mismatched workers among 30 countries, including India and Russia, with skills mismatches of more than 50% and the lowest production levels. Another research has found that educational mismatch is common in South Africa. Graduate unemployment has become a global concern, owing in part to high unemployment rates in virtually every region of the world. According to numerous global assessments, South Africa’s young unemployment rate is among the highest in the world. However, one of the causes of graduates’ job unemployment problems has been attributed to the choice of improper field of study, as well as other defects in the South African educational system.
In South Africa, typical employability accounts are problematic since they do not understand the learner on the path to future work. For example, the individual’s self-managed approach to employability via a recurring series of developmental stages. As a result, the value of education in the job market has increased while preserving its quality. As the average educational level of the workforce has increased, an indicator that the job structure has not been able to absorb the increased supply of educated individuals into their traditional occupational rungs has appeared in the labour market. Despite the prevalent belief that a college degree enhances employment prospects, young people make up a large proportion of South Africa’s unemployed population. There is no doubt that structural unemployment in South Africa is driven by a mismatch between the types of workers available and those required by the economy. A lack of demand is seen to be one of the primary factors behind post-graduate unemployment.
The transition from college to the job world has been challenging for graduates. Today, the trade-off between sacrifice and profit is unparalleled. Graduate unemployment is a problem that affects not only South Africa but also other countries. Unemployment and underemployment have been linked to a lack of personal qualities, significant skill mismatches, and general incapability. Graduates lack the skills and expertise required to navigate the challenging employment market. Graduate employability has evolved into the centerpiece of a bigger push to broaden the skill set of the youth. As a result, there are more graduates from South African higher education institutions. To be employable, a person must exhibit specific characteristics. These include anything from basic job-related talents to knowledge, attitudes, behaviour, and self-esteem. Because of a misalignment between educational standards and labour market demands, educated graduates have trouble obtaining work after graduation. For graduates to be effective assets in the labour market, the government and educational institutions should establish a relevant curriculum that prepares graduates for employment for life rather than jobs for life.
South Africa has a long history of unemployment, particularly among young people. When compared to older citizens, youth unemployment has continuously been the highest, regardless of education level. According to Statistics South Africa, young individuals have a far lower likelihood of finding work or being accepted into the labour force than older people. With 26 public universities and 130 accredited private higher education providers, the country is a leader in the African academic sector, but its graduates have a lesser likelihood of finding work. South Africa is home to some of the world’s best universities. Every year, over 250,000 new graduates enter the South African labour field, but only about 30% of them find employment. South African graduates are not just less likely to find work, but those who do are underemployed. Graduates are underemployed because they either accept jobs in fields unrelated to their expertise to make money, or they are underpaid since their pay is less than the legal minimum wage.
Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has made resolving the issue of graduate unemployment considerably more difficult. Despite government attempts, the COVID-19 outbreak raised adolescent unemployment to 74%. Youth around the world have been hit harder and faster by the pandemic’s socioeconomic consequences than any other age group. South African youth have been subjected to a range of shocks, including disruptions in their education and on-the-job training, job and income losses due to fewer hours worked or layoffs, and increased difficulties finding high-quality jobs.
South Africa has made considerable advances in pre-primary education over the previous 20 years. In terms of tertiary education, South Africa lags far behind other upper-middle-income countries. Although policy identifies “disadvantage” in terms of race and that there have been significant gains in remedies, social disparities and inequalities persist in South African higher education. Despite significant modifications to the country’s higher education system, many students continue to enroll in degrees with limited work opportunities, resulting in a chronic shortage of highly valuable skills. According to the South African Department of Higher Education and Training, many university students avoid taking courses that teach in-demand skills. In the labour market, there is an excess of qualifications for talents that are not in demand by firms or the economy. As a result, many graduates lack the skills that employers require, and even when they do find jobs, they typically labour in roles for which they are underqualified. Due to the skills gap, employers in South Africa frequently mention a lack of a sufficiently skilled labour force as one of their main concerns.
Regardless of accomplishments, degrees with poor employment prospects are occasionally associated with the higher education institution attended in South Africa. In South Africa, where getting a job has become increasingly difficult, a solid academic record is no longer considered a guarantee. Curriculum designers are sometimes blamed for the problem because they do not place enough emphasis on how students’ learned talents and competencies will affect their prospects of obtaining a job after graduation. As a result, obtaining a degree with greater employment opportunities becomes critical.
Policymakers in South Africa should implement measures to improve teaching and learning across the school system, with a concentration on the lower grades, to break the cycle of producing graduates who lack the skills required by the economy. Given the indications that the administrative component stymies efforts to improve education in South Africa, educational research should also concentrate on how education is managed at the federal and provincial levels of government. Universities in South Africa may be able to make a greater contribution to the country’s innovation system. They can accomplish this through conducting and funding research, attracting and equipping a more highly trained workforce, and appealing and equipping a more highly skilled workforce.
Dr Stanley O. Ehiane is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and Administrative Studies at the University of Botswana, Gaborone, Botswana, and a Senior Research Associate, at the School of Public Management and Governance, University of Johannesburg, South Africa He writes in his capacity.