Why future of work won’t be about college degrees

Monday, August 9th, 2021 00:00 |
Graduates say transferable skills, which include capacity for problem-solving and critical thinking, are the traits that matter most in workers, yet universities are not doing enough to ensure their students are graduating with these competencies under their belt.

After graduating  with a Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Engineering, Charles Chege expected to get a job in the wider farming sector and achieve his dreams of running a business or consultancy in his field of study.

However, things did not turn out as he expected. After struggling to find an opportunity to work in his line of study in vain, Chege embarked on a career switch that has forced him from his beloved farming career to selling alcoholic drinks and runing several wines and spirits outlets in Murang’a and Thika. 

“While the past is gone, I only wish I had known what to expect from the job market. Graduates are spending time and financial resources in college only to be disappointed by the job market,” recalls Chege.

Universities are now realising they need to teach and instruct students on courses that will fit in the emerging market demands.

The workplace is changing faster than ever, and acquiring new skills has become far more important than having the right credentials, according to experts.

“We had to scrap over 200 courses in our colleges that were deemed unsuitable to the current skill needs in the country.

Education today must train students on the emerging skill demands and avoiding wasting resources,” observed Prof. Stephen Kiama, Vice- Chancellor University of Nairobi during a local TV interview.

The University of Nairobi like other institutions of higher learning, has to grapple with numerous courses brought in through the Module Two and that are no longer useful to the market.

Changing labour market

From changing labour market needs to shifting online at the onset of the Covid- 19 pandemic, higher education institutions have to keep pace with the changing environment in which they function, according to experts.

 A recent report by the World Bank grimly notes that Kenya and other East African nations risks long-term economic challenges due to the widening disconnect between labour market skills needs and the graduates of higher education institution.

A majority of graduates lack employable skills, such as technical mastery, as well as basic work-related capabilities. 

“Less than one per cent of tertiary educated adults who completed a reading skill tests administered by the World Bank researchers, achieved level four or five in proficiency,” the report stated.

Another study by the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) observed that over 64 per cent of Kenyan university graduates lack job skills.

FKE blamed the poor quality of graduates on outdate curriculum, which emphasised lots of theory studies, leaving the all-important practical aspects needed by the job market.

According to the report dubbed Skill Mismatch Report, about 7,000 of the slightly above 10,000 yearly degree graduates in the country do not possess skills desired by their prospective employers.

This comes as the government increases investments in education.

Mismatched skills

As Covid-19 continues to ravage the world, online courses have also introduced new ways of learning skills and competences.

Kenyan graduates are also bearing the brunt of this mismatch. They have to undertake post-graduate diploma or certificates- at their own cost- further eating into their parents’ savings.

“Even with a Bachelors degree in Business Management, one has to do Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and other additional courses to be marketable and qualify for the job market,” lamented Monica Njeri, a recent graduate currently enrolled for CPA examinations.  

She also argues that universities need to start taking some meaningful steps to support continuous education, ensuring students leave their institutions not just with degrees, but transferable skills that they can apply anywhere.

Further, she calls on employers, too, to ensure they’re supporting their employees’ needs for continuing education with training, events and other opportunities for learning new skills or updating old levels of expertise.

This is not only a Kenyan problem. Approximately 40-50 per cent of employees in the United States think they are not equipped to do their current job because of how quickly technology is changing, according to a study by Columbia University

This often leads to employees feeling that they don’t have the right skills to be qualified for job openings. 

“Credentials don’t matter as much anymore. It is all about competencies that you possess to be able to work,” observed Dr Jason Wingard, dean of professional studies at Columbia University.

For instance, a majority of the US workforce today do not have college degrees and yet these workers are moving towards building ‘skills sets that are transferable’.

Future graduates will also require to be versatile like an African chameleon.

Researchers feel that ongoing digitisation and robotisation will affect both the demand for skills and the supply of qualifications.

New skills profiles will emerge, and some jobs will either take on new forms, or disappear completely. 

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