Johannesburg - If the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) had its way, there’d be no such thing as an unemployed graduate.
To that end, It has set up the Institute for the Future of Work (IFoW) to act as a bridging mechanism between academia and the workplace.
Very few things are as frustrating as having to sit at home twiddling your thumbs after having earned a tertiary qualification following several years of study.
Some figures suggest that 53% of recent college graduates are unemployed, or under-employed. The unemployment rate for those with a bachelor's degree or higher is 4%.
Tseliso Mohlomi, senior director at iFOW, says “the university came up with the concept to close the gap between industry and academia”.
“Over the years, the gap has become bigger, to the extent that you find the industries are using consultants; they no longer trust academia with the intel they get from the latter.
“The institute was formed to ensure... we produce graduates from the perspective of the future of work – graduates who are ready for the future... It has to be plug-and-play. When a TUT graduate leaves the institution, they need to be able to fit into any job," he said.
Mohlomi said the aim was to create graduates who have entrepreneurial minds, so instead of looking for a job, they would be able to create employment.
“By doing so, as a university, we are acknowledging the fact that in the past, we depended on a curriculum that could have been outdated. So in closing the gap between the university and industry, we listen to the industry and influence the change of the curriculum so that we provide the industry with exactly what they want.
"The other perspective is the issue of the research we are producing. The papers we are producing are not necessarily speaking to the needs of the industry. But through closing the gap, we say, 'we can and we need to partner with you to make sure the kind of research that we churn out is relevant to the needs of the industry'," Mohlomi said.
They were now engaging with industry, with the markets, and wanted to make sure the solutions and tech produced by TUT was relevant.
"It must be high-impact research, able to be commercialised. If it can't be, you don’t even need to commence on it. Don't do it.”
Mohlomi said the technology hub on TUT’s Hatfield, Pretoria campus, where IFoW is housed, is the the prototype of a smart campus.
"It is the making of a smart campus that uses green energy, digital platforms, introducing aspects of a safe campus and the use of the Internet of Things, IOT.
"They are big on this. With sensor technology, for example, the air conditioning and lights will switch on and off depending on people's presence in lecture rooms. Unlike in the past, when universities went it alone to produce what they thought the market wanted, IFoW partners with prospective employers to seek their counsel.
“We have an advisory committee, made up of 45 industry leaders. These are people from different companies. We do this so that when we speak to industry, we are singing from the same hymn book. These people will also be ambassadors of the university. They are crucial in terms of providing the resources we need so that the students we produce are future-ready, and the solutions are relevant to the market.
"We want to make sure the research is industry-focused... Central to that is the annual dialogue we have with industry – this year it will be on September 19.”
Mohlomi says the purpose of the dialogue is to influence policies.
“Second is to create an environment where we can allow industry space to influence curriculum. The dialogue creates a collaborative platform.”
The stakeholders comprised universities, government, industry, civil society and international organisations. The September 19 gathering will tackle 10 topics around the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in many spheres of school and work.
The entrepreneurial mindset of students was encouraged, and influenced by their visit to Georgia Tech in Atlanta, in the US.
“Here they are accommodated to be job providers of the future. We can no longer do things as they used to be done. The 4IR is led by industry. As a university, we need to be supporting that. We are supposed to be thought leaders," he said.
The IFoW was also concerned about the future of things, including the township economy, the green economy, financial inclusion, digital agriculture and cyber security, among others.
Mohlomi offers as an example the M-Pesa vendor numbers system used in Kenya, “which was piloted here in South Africa”.
“Let's get involved there,” he says. “In virtual reality, how do we help KZN flood victims, for example, without physical visits that re-traumatises victims?”
Workplace experience for the students was crucial, as evinced by the ongoing participation of TUT students at Gibela, the locomotive manufacturing plant in Nigel, Ekurhuleni.
Some of the cutting-edge machinery used at Gibela was developed by TUT students at Hatfield.