More young people have university degrees than ever before.
Between 1995 to 2016, the percentage of people with tertiary qualifications grew by 20%, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
As a result competition for skilled positions is steeper, particularly when entering a workplace that is increasingly pressured, globalised, diverse and fast-paced, says Rebecca Pretorius, country manager for Crimson Education – an education and mentoring company that works with high-schoolers to gain entry to top universities in the States and the United Kingdom.
She added that checking the boxes for a qualification no longer guarantees a job, and employers scan their applicant pools for individuals that stand out.
“Employers are looking for graduates with well-rounded knowledge, fresh perspectives, the ability to upskill and take on diverse roles,” she said.
“The specialised knowledge offered by traditional curricula is becoming less relevant to a workforce that requires adaptability and critical thinking skills.”
According to Pretorius, the South African tertiary curriculum is still geared towards specialised faculty-based education, with little overlap across different fields of study.
Meeting the needs of the modern workplace requires a shift towards interdisciplinary studies, with the United States’ Liberal Arts curriculums offering a good example, she said.
“A liberal arts degree develops both soft and hard skills. At graduation, students have a broad knowledge base and skill-set to bring to the working world.
“In the United States, the tertiary education system is geared towards fostering well-rounded knowledge, actively seeking to meet what employers are looking for.
“A survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 80% of employers think that students should acquire broad knowledge at university that stretches across the sciences and arts. In line with this, universities tailor their admission procedures towards finding candidates with diverse skills and interests.”
She added that while South African and UK application processes rely largely on academic results, US universities want to know a student’s passions, experience, extra-curricular projects and leadership abilities.
“A key determinant of securing a place is demonstrating a drive to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the campus in question – from cultural clubs to top internships and research groups,” Pretorius said.
“Encouraging diversity from a young age equips a student with the tools they need to take on a changing working world.”