Lift­ing the lid on why we waste our bright young minds

Daily Dispatch - - Opinion -

Grad­u­ate un­der­em­ploy­ment is not new; nei­ther will it dis­ap­pear any time soon. In fact, it is bound to worsen as the econ­omy de­clines and with it, em­ploy­ment.

With so many peo­ple chas­ing the few avail­able jobs, not ev­ery­one can re­ject offers, de­spite dis­sat­is­fac­tion over be­ing un­der­paid and un­der­utilised.

Grad­u­ate un­der­em­ploy­ment is not an easy vari­able to col­lect data on.

Un­der­em­ploy­ment de­scribes a con­di­tion in which peo­ple are em­ployed in jobs that are not full-time or in reg­u­lar jobs that are in­ad­e­quate with re­spect to their train­ing, stud­ies or eco­nomic needs. These can be di­vided into three cat­e­gories: skilled work­ers in low-in­come jobs; skilled work­ers in jobs that do not fully use their skills; and part-time work­ers who would rather work full-time.

The pop­u­lar nar­ra­tive com­monly used by uni­ver­si­ties in an at­tempt to com­pet­i­tively mar­ket, po­si­tion and at­tract the best stu­dents with high aca­demic po­ten­tial is the prom­ise of al­most im­me­di­ate ab­sorp­tion into the labour mar­ket and be­ing an ac­tive par­tic­i­pant in the econ­omy.

The Univer­sity of the

Wit­wa­ter­srand states that 97% of its grad­u­ates find em­ploy­ment within six months of com­ple­tion, with the Univer­sity of Cape Town (UCT) a close com­peti­tor, claim­ing that from their class of 2018, 80% of their grad­u­ates were “mean­ing­fully” em­ployed. UCT fur­ther states that 20% of its grad­u­ates earn more than R20,000 per month.

The sta­tis­tics pro­vided by these uni­ver­si­ties pro­voke a lot of ques­tions. What method of data col­lec­tion was used to make these find­ings? What mean­ing can be at­trib­uted to lan­guage such as “mean­ing­fully em­ployed” and how did they au­dit the data so as to dis­miss any la­tent bias to­wards them and the univer­sity brand?

These two uni­ver­si­ties, how­ever, are not the only in­sti­tu­tions who col­lect such sta­tis­tics and make such claims to bol­ster their brands.

The sta­tis­tics col­lected by all the South African uni­ver­si­ties who con­duct such stud­ies are fo­cused solely on the em­ploy­ment con­text.

The word un­em­ploy­ment in these ex­er­cises is hardly ever used, and un­der­em­ploy­ment never. This, of course, is done de­lib­er­ately to fo­cus the prospec­tive stu­dent, par­ent or/and guardian on the brand and what ben­e­fits as­so­ci­ated with that brand can help prospec­tive stu­dents af­ter they grad­u­ate.

The Quar­terly Labour Force Sur­vey by Stats SA — first quar­ter of 2020 — breaks down un­em­ploy­ment by ed­u­ca­tion level in the fol­low­ing way:

● 54.8% of those with less than matric;

● 35.4% with matric;

● 6.8% with ter­tiary qual­i­fi­ca­tions not from a univer­sity branch; and

● 2.3% grad­u­ates and 0.7% clas­si­fied as other.

Grad­u­ates in­creas­ingly find them­selves in dead-end in­tern­ships and learn­er­ships.

Learn­er­ships that his­tor­i­cally em­ployed matrics are now in­creas­ing their ed­u­ca­tion re­quire­ment level to a bach­e­lor’s de­gree.

These in­tern­ships and learn­er­ships lure grad­u­ates with the prom­ise of equip­ping them with skills that will make them more at­trac­tive in the labour mar­ket when their con­tract ends. They prom­ise to give grad­u­ates an op­por­tu­nity to prac­tise un­der the su­per­vi­sion of sea­soned pro­fes­sion­als, al­low­ing them to ac­cu­mu­late ex­pe­ri­ence to com­ple­ment their qual­i­fi­ca­tion and gen­eral work ex­pe­ri­ence.

These em­ploy­ers rou­tinely state that they are un­der no obli­ga­tion to ab­sorb the grad­u­ate when the con­tract ex­pires. Some, if not most, don’t even con­trac­tu­ally state their re­spon­si­bil­ity to equip the grad­u­ate with a skill, even though they are sub­sidised by the state to do so and even score BBBEE points for pro­vid­ing train­ing.

This has led to grad­u­ates be­ing re­duced to mak­ing cof­fee, pre­par­ing meet­ing rooms, print­ing copies and other re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that are de­tached from their pur­pose of em­ploy­ment.

Those lucky enough to get some form of train­ing, re­ceive train­ing that is not fit for pur­pose and adds lit­tle of value to their fu­ture job hunt.

No in­di­vid­ual per­son or in­sti­tu­tion, in­ter­nally or ex­ter­nally, mon­i­tors and reg­u­lates this, leav­ing these grad­u­ates to fend for them­selves in the work space.

Some of these grad­u­ates hold crit­i­cal qual­i­fi­ca­tions in science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing, math­e­mat­ics and fi­nance.

They hold qual­i­fi­ca­tions in gov­er­nance, so­cial work, psy­chol­ogy and other qual­i­fi­caUn­til tions needed by the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor to ad­vance the coun­try eco­nom­i­cally and so­cially. Some are post­grad­u­ates with a proven track record in re­search.

They now sit un­der­utilised or not used at all for 12 to 24 months while col­lect­ing a stipend or salary.

There are some grad­u­ates who have vol­un­tar­ily taken up op­por­tu­ni­ties that don’t re­quire a grad­u­ate qual­i­fi­ca­tion, to score a job teach­ing English in China. This, of course, has sur­vival as the driv­ing force.

It is rather chal­leng­ing to ac­cu­rately track and quan­tify grad­u­ate un­der­em­ploy­ment, but what is harder is get­ting a univer­sity, or any other agency, to de­velop the in­cen­tive to do so, or at least speak about it.

South African uni­ver­si­ties do pro­duce bright young minds, that if prop­erly trained us­ing the ex­ist­ing train­ing schemes and pro­gres­sive leg­is­la­tion, such as sec­tion 20, sub sec­tion 3 and sec­tion 4 of the Em­ploy­ment Eq­uity Act can work to the ben­e­fit of the coun­try and curb the brain drain.

Bon­gani K Mahlangu is a PhD can­di­date at the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand. He writes in his per­sonal ca­pac­ity

Grad­u­ate un­der­em­ploy­ment is not an easy vari­able to col­lect data on

Pic­ture: REUTERS

NO GUAR­AN­TEES: Grad­u­ates in­creas­ingly find them­selves in dead-end in­tern­ships and learn­er­ships.

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