IN A country with high unemployment and low economic growth, there is a silver lining.

According to the 2019 South African Graduate Employers Association (SAGEA) Employer Benchmarks and Candidate Insights surveys, employers expect a 5.3% increase of vacancies for graduates in the workplace next year. However, competition for those vacancies will remain high.

About 94 of the top employers that took part in the survey said they received more than 2 000 applications a year and a quarter of them got more than 5 000. The median number of applications per vacancy was 92, which is noticeably higher than in previous years. “The competition graduates face is high,” said SAGEA director Cathy Sims.

She said that while having the right qualification is an obvious prerequisite for a successful job search, employers are on the lookout for skills over and above what is written on the graduation certificate. “There are skills every employer is looking for, not just in the finance sector,” she said, highlighting creativity, problem-solving and critical thinking as the most-sought-after skills. “These are skills employers struggle to find among graduates entering the workplace,” Sims said. “It is a global phenomenon.”

A study released in 2018 that tested how American graduates gauged themselves in workplace readiness against how employers viewed them demonstrated that these skills are a scarce commodity. The National Association of Colleges and Employers surveyed more than 4 000 students and more than 600 employers on eight competencies. These included work ethic, communication skills, leadership and career management.

When it came to critical thinking and problem-solving, about 80% of the students surveyed rated themselves as proficient enough for the workplace, while 55.8% of employers felt the same way. “I would say findings in South Africa would be similar.

These skills just aren’t nurtured in our education system,” she said. “Only at a Master’s level are people taught how to probe and analyse problems properly, then seek novel ways to solve them.” The director of AIFMRM, David Taylor, agreed with Sims on the importance of these skills.

“In the near future, artificial intelligence and machine learning may do much of what graduates in the sector are groomed to do,” he said. “So, employers are always looking for those skills that are beyond the capabilities of software.” “Critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving are skills employers seek to develop in employees through various in-house programmes. However, competition for jobs being what it is, having these skills before you get the job is becoming vital for breaking into a career and advancing one,” said Taylor.

The SAGEA survey also indicated that job-hunting early can be a crucial differentiator. “It is interesting to note that many of the candidates who said they had secured a position with their most preferred employer started their job search early. So, they had the opportunity to develop a clear understanding of what was on offer, while those who did not join their most preferred organisation were more likely to have left their job-hunting until their final year,” said Sims.

Supplied by Rothko Brand Partners

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