Graduated, but unemployed
Higher education phase
Testimony of a graduate:
Last year, I was destined to join the labour force as one of these ill-favoured youths, and with full knowledge of the mass of disillusioned young people that I was competing with – this appeared a daunting prospect. Nonetheless, I was armed with an Honours Degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics and was confident that my academic qualifications would see me surge to the top of the pool of prospective employees. Several lukewarm responses from employers later, and my hopes were brought back down-to-earth.
The explanation for this poor reception rested in one line that marred my chances with most employers: ‘no work experience’. The Catch-22 of ‘you cannot get work experience without work experience’ became a dismal reality for me. I eventually emerged from the job-searching doldrums when I received some positive feedback from a small but growing Enterprise Development firm. In January of this year, I was employed there as a business intern.
After a few weeks of working at the firm it became apparent that there was just cause for most firms’ reluctance to hire graduates; namely that we lack workplace skills. As a business graduate, I was fortunate enough to be proficient in various computer programmes and could add value in this area; however, this is not the case with many other graduates, who do not learn these skills during their studying period. These skills deficiencies, as well as poor communication and presentation skills, make it difficult for many graduates to provide real and productive value to their employers. Consequently, this fuels the growing stigma towards graduates as being under-prepared for the realities of working life.
For a graduate, the first weeks of work are a baptism of fire. One is confronted with responsibilities that can make a tangible change in the real world; failure to manage these responsibilities can have ripple effects that extend far beyond the confines of a report card. This is far removed from the world of malleable essay deadlines that graduates are used to. In short, work experience is where real-world learning takes place. Working at the firm has taught me the value of effective communication and administrative skills, as well as a work ethic that formal education could seldom instil. This kind of experience is essential for graduates to succeed in the business world.
Top skills and attitudes employers look for
These are the skills & attitudes top graduate recruiters look for:
• Teamwork, communication, customer care, emotional intelligence
• Problem solving, creativity, enterprise, commercial awareness
• Leadership, time management, IT and digital literacy skills.
• Passion, energy, can-do approach, flexibility, resilience
• Self-reliance, respect for others, focus on personal development.
Make sure you can demonstrate them in applications and interviews.
How to make yourself more employable as a graduate.
1. Work on your CV
Keep it short and simple. This has two aspects. First you need to improve the actual CV document, so focus on the way you are presenting the information to an employer. Is the layout correct? Does the most important information stand out? Are your qualifications and experience obvious to those who don’t know you? Think about improving the appearance of the document to make it more eye-catching, but don’t let it become gimmicky. Try to show your CV to people in your workplace or on your course to get feedback on the impression it produces.
You should also think about developing your CV by improving the contents. You could focus on your teaching, or research/publication or administration record for a year. Where do you fall short, and how could you boost that area? Is there anything you can offer to do in your current job that would get you more experience?
2. Cover Letter:
A cover letter is where you get your chance to stand out from everyone else. HR might have seen your resume and you might have the same experience as another candidate, but lucky for you, you’ve added a cover letter. Here are some further tips:
• Keep it short and simple; try to keep it under a page.
• In the first paragraph, introduce yourself and show how you heard of the company and how they might know you.
• In the second paragraph, write about your personal and professional qualities that you could bring to the job. Entice the reader and show them why they should consider you for this position. Avoid re-writing your resume in this paragraph – be creative but also be professional.
• In the closing paragraph, be sure to add your contact information and say something along the lines of “I’d like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to apply for this position”. Show them that you appreciate their time in considering you.
3. Social media:
Do you use social media? The age of social media is upon us and hiring managers realize that. Many will look at their pile of applicants and fill in a Google search to see what comes up. Job seekers can use social media to follow their prospective employers on sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube or Google+. They can use this extra knowledge to gain more information about their company, see which qualities they desire and put together a more effective application. Who knows, following a company on Twitter might score you an interview!
4. Personal website
Designing a website is probably one of the best things you can do in developing your application. In a study done by Forbes Magazine, they found that the majority of hiring managers:
They were more impressed by a candidate’s personal website than any other type of personal branding tool.
The fact that very few people have a personal website can really boost you up in the candidate pool.
Use your website to showcase your skills and knowledge related to the career field you desire. Take your time with the site. Do not rush to add half-baked content. For starters, attempt to add one quality piece of work (i.e., art piece, article, blog post, lines of code and etc.), once a week to slowly build up your site.
5. Develop new skills
This is closely linked to point one. Once you have worked out how to enhance your CV, you might find that you need to develop new skills or areas of expertise in order to achieve your goals. This could mean going on training or professional development courses. There are many different courses on offer. Choose something that you will enjoy and that will be useful in the future.
6. Change your job application pattern
Perhaps you have got into a rut with your job applications. You may send out so many applications that they start to blur after a while. While you might change your application slightly for each job to tailor it to the job specification, you might still rely on a cover letter and personal statement that was written months ago. Try starting again from scratch. How would you sell your experience and skills now?
7. Broaden your horizons!
Although it is easy to become single minded when looking for a job, it is important to constantly reassess the situation. Are you sure that you really want to work in the field for which you are applying? If you have any doubts, perhaps it’s time to come up with an alternative plan. There are many other ways of finding fulfilling work apart from doing a permanent job. Many scholars have portfolio careers where they work for a number of different universities, perhaps doing freelance tutoring or exam marking as well.
TVET: Technical Vocational Education and Training courses are vocational or occupational by nature meaning that the student receives education and training with a view towards a specific range of jobs or employment possibilities. Under certain conditions, some students may qualify for admission to a University of Technology to continue their studies at a higher level in the same field of study as they were studying at the TVET College.
There are fifty registered and accredited public TVET Colleges in South Africa which operate on more than 264 campuses spread across the rural and urban areas of the country. Public TVET Colleges are established and operated under the authority of the Continuing Education and Training Act 16 of 2006 and resort under the Department of Higher Education and Training. Public TVET Colleges are subsidised by the state with approximately R6billion per year.
Public TVET Colleges offer a very wide range of courses/programmes that have been developed to respond to the scarce skills needed by employers. Courses vary in duration from a short course of a few hours to formal diploma courses of three years. Naturally the costs of the courses also vary considerably but it is important to remember that Department of Higher Education and Training courses are subsidised by 80% of the delivery cost and for the remaining 20% that would be paid by the student, many full bursaries are available.
List of Courses
Beauty Therapy Courses
Child Care Courses
Events Management Courses
Financial Management Courses
Forensic Science Courses
Graphic Design Courses
HR Management Courses
Interior Decorating & Design Courses
Police Training Courses
Project Management Courses
Radio & Sound Engineering Courses
Small Business Management Courses
Sport and Fitness Courses
Web Design Courses
Wedding Planning Courses
Department of Higher Education and Training offers bursaries which are available for National Certificate Vocational courses and Report 191 (NATED or ‘N’) courses at public TVET Colleges to students who meet the criteria. These bursaries are not loans. The bursaries are administered by the National Student Financial Aid Service (NSFAS). Other bursaries are also available, which will vary from college to college. Prospective students should enquire at the college at which you plan to enrol as to what bursaries are available for the course that you would like to study. During 2015 approximately 200 000 students at TVET Colleges will benefit from DHET bursaries administered by NSFAS.
Department of Higher Education and Training, TVET College bursaries that are administered by the NSFAS, are readily available but are subject to two important criteria. Namely, the prospective student will be required to undergo a ‘means test’ that will indicate that the student really does need financial assistance and secondly, that the student has a good academic performance record. Prospective students who believe that they may meet these criteria should contact their nearest public TVET College. The college will provide the application forms and oversee the application process.
Modes of Delivery
Various modes of delivery exist at the colleges, depending on the nature of the course. Some colleges also offer blended learning (e-learning) facilities for some course content. A number of the larger campuses have Open Learning Centres. Further information can be given by the college on this aspect when applying or enrolling for course admission.
If you need more help or advice, you may chat to an online facilitator on the Live Chat. The service is free and you may stay anonymous.
Are you a graduate looking for an internship or work? You can look at some options on www.gradx.net.