In pursuit of this objective, they place their trust in universities and other higher education institutions to properly prepare their children for the ever-changing job landscape.
However, given how dramatically the world of work has changed and continues to change, it is crucial for all higher education institutions to consider and in many cases review their offering, to ensure they deliver relevant and integrated curricula that adequately meet employer demands and enable students to excel in their chosen fields, an education expert says.
“Higher education institutions must therefore now - more than ever before - include and be intentional in integrating 21st Century and industry aligned graduate attributes into all curricula,” says Cymbeline Harilal, Instructional Designer at The Independent Institute of Education (The IIE), SA’s leading private higher education provider.
Harilal notes that between the corporate and educational sectors, there is a concerning mismatch between industry demands and graduate attributes developed in universities.
“It is necessary for universities to bridge the gap through the delivery of dynamic curricula that addresses the disparity between skills supply and industry demand. The relevant skills outlined in the World Economic Forum's report on 21st-century requirements highlight the significance of an adaptable curriculum in response to changing job demands. These 21st-century skills are comprised of foundational, competencies, character qualities and technical skills.”
These skills can be broadly described as:
Students must be able to apply the core skills of literacy, numeracy, scientific, IT and financial literacy. These are predominantly developed in school but some students that matriculated from schools in disadvantaged communities may need additional support.
Critical thinking, creativity, clear communication skills (both written and spoken), problem-solving abilities and collaboration are critical for interacting in a corporate environment where these skills are required to drive the business to be effective, efficient, and competitive. An additional competency that has recently become important is the ability to apply oneself independently in a remote work environment.
These are more difficult to integrate into a curriculum as they ultimately boil down to personality traits but it is important to note that they can be introduced and developed. Curiosity, confidence, initiative, persistence (grit), emotional intelligence, adaptability, leadership, resilience, and social/cultural awareness are among the traits that are valued in the workplace.
Proficiency in complex technologies, data manipulation, and strategic utilisation of technology has become essential for gaining a competitive edge geared towards bridging the gap between the skills demanded by industries and those provided by higher education institutions.
Harilal further explains how as expectations evolve and the future job market remains uncertain, many graduates express apprehension about their employment prospects. Higher educational institutions’ role in bridging this gap through a dynamic curriculum is pivotal in aligning employer demands with 21st-century skills. This requires continuous research into industry needs and the integration of essential skills within their curricula.
“Universities are duty-bound through their curriculum and learning design to develop and shape critical and independent thinkers, equipping students with the necessary attributes to thrive in the ever-evolving world of work. Recognising the scarcity of employment opportunities, curricula must go beyond compliance with policies and regulations, to continuously evolve and remain flexible, ensuring that students' education aligns with employers' expectations.”
She says students should be provided with opportunities to evaluate conceptual knowledge, analyse complex ideas, and generate innovative solutions, enabling the development of numeracy, writing, communication, and technological skills to meet industry demands.
“By bridging the gap between employer expectations and the skills possessed by graduates, a seamless transition into the professional world of work becomes more likely – to the benefit both of the graduates and industry in South Africa.”