Monday, 10 November 2014

7. Employability: a qualification alone might not be enough - part 1

When I entered university for the first time, graduate attributes were the last thing on my mind. I did not even know what a graduate attribute was. I entered university with the mentality of getting the degree, proceed further to obtain a higher qualification so that I could complete my training and get a permanent job. Apparently, that is not all that is required to be an employable graduate.

I only heard about graduate attributes during my second year at university from Mr Rodrique E. George, my then lecturer of the ‘Intensive Reading and Writing’ module. Graduate attributes are the qualities, skills and knowledge that we as students must develop while at university. Some graduate attributes include: the ability to use knowledge to solve problems; the ability to use and apply information effectively; the ability to interact with people from different backgrounds and being able to understand their views, to name a few.

There are characteristics and skills that stem from graduate attributes, some of which include: leadership skills, determination and commitment, good communication skills, problem-solving skills, computer literacy, ability to work in a team, innovative ability.

So, how can we acquire these graduate attributes? Some graduate attributes are integrated in the modules/programmes of faculties at different universities. The University of the Western Cape (UWC), where I completed my undergraduate studies, is an example of such a university. UWC created this embedded graduate attributes strategic plan, which demonstrates how lecturers ought to integrate the relevant graduate attributes in their modules.

As much as some graduate attributes are integrated in modules, there are characteristics and skills that cannot be developed in an academic environment. I realized this when I discovered that I was lacking in some skills. I discovered this after I had a very bad interview with a firm when I was applying for vacation work. I was referred to UWC's Student Development Office by the interviewer and spoke to Ms Nazrana Parker, the co-ordinator of career services. I told her about the interview and she helped me realize that there were very important skills and characteristics that I was lacking. She informed me about the Leadership and Social Responsibility office (LSR).

I fell in love with that office the moment I discovered what it was about. I could not believe that I had not known about this office until my fourth year at university. I joined their Remember And Give programme (RAG). Through the programme, I had the privilege of tutoring Mathematics with other students at Hague Primary School in Delft (Cape Town, Western Cape). I also facilitated in a few educational outreach programmes, including one for the Ark Home (Cape Town, Western Cape); participated in the Mandela Day promotion and in UWC’s Open Day at the university in 2014.

Being part of the RAG department helped me realize that I can develop communication skills and work on my time-management skills (since I was also busy with undergraduate studies). It allowed me to come out of my shell, to discover who I am, and this was the start of my journey to discovering the outgoing and courageous person I did not know I was.

I then joined the Emerging leaders programme last year (2015), a co-curriculum programme through which students develop leadership skills in order to be responsive citizens to the needs of South Africa. Having attended the sessions, I learnt a great deal about leadership and also had the privilege to facilitate at a Lead-A-Leader programme to amazing individuals who had initiated projects or ventures; individuals who wanted to improve their leadership skills in order to elevate their communities further. I had to research and share insightful information about what it means to be a role model, having received guidance from the LSR office. This experience helped me develop my people’s skills: being able to interact with people from different backgrounds, people with different views. It helped me overcome my fear of public-speaking; to overcome inarticulacy. It helped me develop the ability to research, complete, prepare and present a PowerPoint presentation together with my fellow co-facilitator, Jessie Kanyerere, within the required time.

After having learnt about graduate attributes and discovered the skills I was lacking from the interview, I realized how important it is to invest time in developing those skills that the workplace and the world expect. A degree/qualification alone is really not enough. Finding out what characteristics/ skills are needed for our desired occupation is a great start. 

I certainly trust that this is of great help. Please feel free to share your views and thoughts on this topic, contribute any more useful information pertaining this topic, or perhaps your experience in working on those graduate attributes.
Be sure to share your thoughts, experiences, insight and / or advice on this topic on the comments section below. You can also share on the blog's Facebook page: Student-Talk is also on Twitter:

Thank you so much for your time and consideration. Until next time :).


  1. Well said and very important! As students we certainly enter the university environment with the primary goal to succeed academically, obtain our degree(s) and move on to employment, forgetting that in order to contribute fully to any organizations or society, one needs to develop holistically. This is something I learnt early in my varsity experience and have since then committed myself to holistic development, in attainment of the graduate attributes. Students are often skeptical when it comes to committing to extra-mural activities such as the programs mentioned above as they fear that it may take too much of their time and that their academics may suffer. Interestingly enough I found that the more I participated in these development programs, the better I got at managing my time, prioritizing and working with people from diverse backgrounds. These (and so much more!) all actually improved the way I tackled my academic work and ultimately led to greater results! So I would challenge all students and prospective students to get involved in at least one development program and see the difference in just one year!

    1. Most certainly Lorene! Your achievements and how you've carried yourself as a student are also a true reflection of how well you actually manage your time and prioritize! You've even proven to me that I DO have time for academics AND extra-mural activities, especially those of such great value as the programmes mentioned above. Thanks so much for your comment :D