As CEO of the Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF), I spend a lot of time talking to both educators and industry professionals, including CEOs and directors, but also at an operational level. What strikes me time and again is their question: “Why does it seem as if recent graduates aren’t ready to become productive members of the workforce?” It is a troubling remark to hear. It’s also a question that isn’t easy to answer, as there needs to be a symbiotic relationship between tertiary institutes and the corporate world.
Namibian institutions should be graduating students who will be welcomed with open arms by employers. This is why students get degrees, so they may improve their knowledge and skills and become productive employees that contribute to both the workforce, earn their salary and help in developing Namibia further.
This is what NSFAF helps facilitate and this is also why internships and something called Work Integrated Learning (WIL) is essential. There’s a great reliance on expatriates for skilled work in Namibia, because the employers don’t believe they can get the skilled people locally, so they source them from abroad.
This doesn’t maximise Namibia’s developmental efforts and means that instead of trying to remedy the situation by improving our own students and graduates we are hiding from the problem.
NSFAF and our fine academic institutions are there to make young graduates become highly skilled members of the Namibian society. However, if corporations and organisations don’t feel these institutions are producing the right caliber graduates, we need to address this.
One way of doing this is through Work-integrated Learning (WIL), a form of learning where periods of study are interspersed with practical or related work in business, industry or government agencies.
This way students are given the opportunity to effectively integrate the theory of the classroom with the practice and the responsibility of the workplace. They also pick up the right work ethics and habits.
This makes students desirable employees by providing the opportunity of real work experience and gives the student a head start in their professional career, positioning them for success and sustained development. Creating, developing and stimulating the right skills and work ethics is vital for students and is part of the educational process. It is worth investing in and both academic organisations and employers will benefit greatly.
If WIL is carried out properly, companies and other employers can rely on getting young and eager staff in the form of (almost) graduates, who are familiar with the tasks, obligations and responsibilities of being part of an organisation.
Knowing what is expected of you in a working environment is a critical aspect of being successful as a new entrant into the labour force. This really gives these graduates a head start and an opportunity to excel and grow at a much faster pace within an organisation. It also means that in turn wages will increase and the possibility of paying back loans will become much less of a burden. Businesses need to move away from the mindset that this is doing the students a favour. Students and organisations are very much intertwined when it comes to the success of either, especially in the long term. The more economically active people are the more potential there is of using business products and services and for the economic and intellectual growth of Namibia.
* Hilya Nghiwete is the chief executive officer at NSFAF.