Hundreds of thousands of newly graduated young people from the Class of 2016 are currently considering their next steps. While the obvious next step is throwing themselves into the business of searching for work, there are other options available which can make them bridge the gap between the world of study and the world of work, an expert says.

“For various reasons, it is not always – or even often – a straight line from lecture room to office for students who have graduated,” says Dr Gillian Mooney, Teaching and Learning Manager at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest private higher education provider.

“It is important that graduates and their parents realise this, particularly as there may be expectations that a degree or other qualification will automatically guarantee employment. Of course, that is not always the case in South Africa, given our high unemployment rate, sluggish economy and fierce competition in the job market,” she says.

“Additionally, even graduates who performed well may find that prospective employers want someone with both qualifications and experience.”

According to the 2016 South Africa Survey’s second quarter results, one’s chances of being absorbed into the workforce with matric stood at 49.8%, while tertiary education raised that number to 75.6%. That means that although one’s chances were vastly improved with a tertiary qualification, there were still more than 24% of graduates who were not employed.

Mooney says the realisation that a degree does not instantly bring stability and financial success can be a bitter pill to swallow when young people come from communities or families where they may be the first to have studied. Additionally, enabling their study often came with great sacrifice.

For these and other graduates, it is important to know that building a career takes time, perseverance, and constant strategising, she says.

“So while this may be unwelcome cold water for those who thought they would get their degree, fill in some job applications and walk into the career of their dreams before the year is out, the good news is that the situation is not hopeless, and that there are many options in terms of next steps.”

Mooney suggests that graduates consider the opportunities the following paths could offer:

Community service will allow you to make a difference in your community, it builds confidence, experience and real-life skills, and adds to your CV. Additionally, you are likely to encounter people and networks that could create new avenues of opportunity.

Working part-time or freelance
Freelancing is a way to obtain work experience outside of the formal “8 to 5”-job. Industries open to freelancing include writing, art, web development, branding and marketing and information technology. Or if you studied accountancy, for instance, start offering your services on a small scale in your community. Often these options can lead to more permanent employment.

Start your own business
There are numerous support structures and government programmes available to those who have good ideas and the skills and confidence to implement them. Yes, a secure position and a regular paycheque may have been your first choice, but you may be surprised at what you can accomplish if you courageously cast the net wider.

Continue your studies
Doing an additional year of specialisation in your field, or investing in a few short courses to broaden your skills set will not only make your CV stand out from the crowd and broaden your career options, but will also help you remain visible and involved in your industry. Network and freelance while you continue your studies, and you may find yourself in a significantly more empowered position before long.

Investigate options abroad
If your financial means allow, consider teaching or volunteering internationally. There are countless opportunities which will help you gain valuable experience and allow you to see the world.

Finally, any higher education institution worth its salt should have graduate assistance available to help their students plot their next moves, says Mooney.

“If your institution has a Careers Centre, it is worth approaching them for guidance. They may know of graduate placement programmes, internships that are available or coming up, or other opportunities in your chosen field.

“Additionally, they will be able to help you polish your CV and hone your soft skills, which are highly sought after by employers,” she says.

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