The youth unemployment rate is daunting in South Africa. Around 55 % of the individuals between the ages of 15 and 24 were unemployed in 2020. The COVID-19 situation has worsened the situation.
A relevant starting point for the project and its trainings is to find out WHY universities strive to include projects commissioned by the industry in their teaching and why it is important for the employability of our students.
The many forms of industry and university cooperation
Collaboration is the name of the game in today’s world. Collaboration ranges from formal to informal. The list of activities that the universities and companies do together is long: internships, joint projects, seminars, guest lectures, events… and many more! The objective of the university-enterprise cooperation is to promote students’ employability, to advance their work-readiness, also to update the industry understanding of lecturers and give companies fresh ideas and talents to develop with. University-enterprise cooperation is at the core of the SUCSESS project since this will enhance the competences of the graduates needed in the industry for decades to come.
We started the SUCSESS project in the beginning of 2020 with a study about how the university-enterprise collaboration is perceived from different perspectives, namely from the industry, student and lecturer perspectives. The research was carried out in all project partner universities, i.e. in South-Africa, the U.K. and Finland. The viewpoints of the students were gathered with a survey, whereas lecturers and industry representatives were interviewed. The focus was to study whether the collaboration – its benefits, challenges and success factors – differs in these countries, and to carry out a gap analysis as a foundation of the project. In practice, the research results in the gap report are used to plan the four trainings of the project to meet the local needs in South Africa.
According to the research, collaboration is beneficial for all involved. Students, as anticipated, get practical experience and an opportunity for networking. They learn about the industry and get an understanding of how a company operates. Students learn new skills such as teamwork, project and time management as well as technical tools. They also become more mature and self-confident as they get to know where they are good at and where they still need to improve. All these issues contribute to student motivation levels. Learning becomes more meaningful when topics can be learnt in practice and in collaboration with the industry. Students can find new ways of learning and collaboration with industry challenging as well, at least initially. Students are used to safe environments of the school, they are accustomed to studying for exams and it can be stressful with the change.
The results may reflect the general behaviour and characteristics of the Generation Z who are hands-on, impatient, and live in the moment and crave for experiences. Learning should be fun and engaging to keep them interested. Combining different learning methods and environments increases their creativity and ability to commit. Both skills are much needed in future work life.
For the companies, students offer innovation capacity with their fresh ideas and creativity. New ways of thinking and doing are welcomed by industry. Collaboration is also regarded as employer branding and it provides an opportunity for companies to know young talents for recruitment purposes. Worth noting are the personal benefits of the collaboration for the individual company representatives. Several company interviewees stated that they enjoy working with young people. It inspires and promotes their out-of-the-box thinking – not to mention that they feel themselves fulfilling their social responsibility.
Collaboration with industry is rewarding to the lecturers as well. It offers possibilities for knowledge transfer and helps the lecturers to include more up-to-date industry content in their courses. It also gives opportunities for networking for the research and development (RDI) activities. Industry collaboration offers plenty of opportunities for learning and thus can make the work of lecturers more meaningful.
Focus on partners and projects for mutually beneficial collaboration
Lecturers can start with their own networks and alumni, for example by posting in LinkedIn that students are looking for projects. Projects can relate to service development, event planning, marketing planning, mentoring, innovation activities and much more. Especially SMEs and start-ups are eager to join forces with universities and their student talent. There is a clear fit with entrepreneurial and case studies.
With these perspectives and insights in mind, we have started to plan the training sessions for the project: After studying the results of the gap report, we have an understanding of what is expected and needed for the trainings. Now that we know WHY we are doing this, the next step is to look at the challenges as well as the key success factors of industry collaboration. They are the topic of our next blog. Stay tuned!
SUCSESS – Strengthening university-enterprise cooperation in South Africa to support regional development by enhancing lifelong learning skills, social innovations and inclusivity.