Successful matriculants not immune to the pressures South Africa faces

A matric pass rate of 81.3%, breaching the 80% threshold for the first time, no doubt cements the hunger that many students hold to learn and gain their matric qualification.

However, with a strong pool of qualified candidates now ready to study further or enter the local job market, one has to consider what impact the current tougher economic conditions are having on students? What realities do some face, despite a successful pass achievement? And with this, what do businesses need to be mindful of? Michelle Baron-Williamson, CEO of Managed Integrity Evaluation (MIE), shares her views.

“There is no doubt that education plays a critical role in building successful careers and futures, and we commend all successful 2019 matriculants for their dedication to their schooling, hard work and commitment. But as we celebrate this success and solid increase in the matric pass rate, we must be mindful that these matric graduates are not immune to the various pressures the country faces – from a struggling economy to a growing unemployment rate. And these pressures can unfortunately have a significant influence on various key aspects for those seeking to earn a living,” says Baron-Williamson.

Belts are tightening – tougher times for everyone

Schoolbooks and calculator lying on a wooden school desk in front of a green chalkboard with Mathematical formulas school

Tougher economic times is a reality for South African citizens. With the cost of living rising, many consumers are facing financial strains. This does not only have an impact on household spending and disposable income but can also affect the ability to spend towards aspects like further studies.

“While a matric qualification is a critical certification to obtain, it is only a steppingstone along the education journey and to achieving a tertiary qualification – which is required across many industries to be considered for a job. Tighter financial pressures may result in many successful matriculants today not being able to further their studies at this stage. This not only adds pressure to them – in terms of fulfilling their career aspirations and future earning potential – but can also add pressure to the broader economy in the long-term in relation to the skills crunch versus high unemployment challenges faced locally,” notes Baron-Williamson.

Over and above this, the current unemployment rate among the youth locally remains high. Unemployment among those aged 15-24 years, was 55,2% in the first quarter of 2019. Of the graduates within this group, the unemployment rate was 31,0%.

“Such statistics in a strained economy indicate that jobs are not easy to come by or readily available for the youth. Where jobs may be available, another challenge facing students is the requirement for some form of experience to be considered for the role. Corporate South Africa needs to be aware that such challenging times can often result in desperate measures,” adds Baron-Williamson.

Business must pay attention and manage risk

With job opportunities sparse, coupled with economic pressures resulting in an even more urgent need to earn an income, the pressure is on for young and entry level job seekers to ensure they stand out.

Continues Baron-Williamson; “Those businesses currently in the position to hire and who may be looking at the upcoming workforce must be cognisant of the potential risks the current market situation brings for them. No business can simply turn a blind eye. This includes the risk of fabricated experiences or skills set and more worryingly – qualification fraud – which can occur in desperate times and when markets are facing so many daunting challenges. With this reality, businesses must focus on onboarding background screening and vetting solutions to mitigate such risk.”

MIE’s latest Background Screening Index shows that qualification(s) are still the most likely aspect of a candidate’s CV to contain discrepancies. In fact, of the 530 161 qualification verifications conducted by the company in 2018, 13.35% were found to be either misrepresented, fraudulent or cancelled.

Thorough background screening plays a key role in supporting businesses to make the right hiring decision – during both tougher and more prosperous times, to ensure reputational risk management and a dedicated workforce with the required capabilities to carry out the job.

Encouraging skills development

Yet, while managing risk should be a top priority, these realities also shine a spotlight on the need to encourage students to go about obtaining experience, despite the challenges, ethically, for pro-longed future career success, and to avoid the long-term damage misrepresentation can cause. And this is where Corporate South Africa can play a role.

“The often gruelling process of securing working experience to make one more employable can be disheartening, especially off the back of a successful matric year. However, students must be encouraged to seek the opportunities that do exist and particularly with those businesses who have taken up the call to action from President Cyril Ramaphosa to employ more young people – including those who lack viable working experience – in an effort to support in curbing the unemployment rate,” add Baron-Williamson.

Graduate learning based programmes are a great and viable way for students to gain solid learning experiences – to develop not only expertise in a particular area but also the softer skills required to build strong networks and occupations today.

“Although the current environment and various factors no doubt impact the current pool of qualified matriculants – these students can still be proud of their achievements. Although these are stressful times, we encourage students to now face the world, and these challenges, head on – as it can only make them stronger,” notes Baron-Williamson.

“Opportunities do exist and especially as more of Corporate South Africa gets involved to support skills development – but it will take perseverance to find them – and it is those who persevere and don’t compromise their credibility to land a job due to the pressures being felt that will come out on top in the long-term,” concludes Baron-Williamson.

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