Interview of the Month : Edephonce Ngemera Nfuka
We hear a lot about the skills gap between university graduates and the labour market. What would you say are the main contributing factors that lead to this disparity?
Well, the skills gap between university graduates and the labour market is a daunting issue in our society. There are thousands of recent graduates ready to work, but business needs skills that these graduates never got. These graduates end up experiencing a difficult college-to-work transition, and in some cases, businesses are unable to find suitable candidates for their positions.
The main contributing factors that lead to the disparity of skills gaps between university graduates and the labour market, despite commendable higher education expansion and improvement, is the skills mismatch. This mismatch is in terms of inadequate general employability skills including communication skills, Teamwork skills, Problem-solving, Initiative and corporate skills, and Planning and organizational. Others include Learning skills, Digital fluency, and Self-management skills. Additionally, there is inadequacy provision of the required personal attributes that contribute to overall employability capabilities including commitment, adaptability, honesty and integrity, reliability, ability to deal with pressure, motivation, and cultural fit with the employing organization. This also applies to inadequacy provision of entrepreneurship skills across all fields that are necessary for contributing to their business creation thus stimulating the necessary economic dynamism to generate new jobs in the society.
Additionally, there is an issue of how educators and carrier guidance counselors are continually equipped with the current and future trends on social economic and technological development and contemporary career guidance. If both are handled and incorporated well and timely in the supply chain might further help to inform educational and career choices that are in line with available and foreseen job demand and labour market opportunities. For example, we now see the Fourth Industry Revolution (4IR) coming along but how are we prepared as education institutions and the industry to produce and have the relevant expertise for this era.
Furthermore, there are issues of inadequate practice-focused teaching and learning that include practical training, industrial attachment and inviting experts from the industry to lecture in some field-oriented courses that may also add value in creating an employable graduate thus reducing disparity. Lastly, these disparities on the knowledge generated in the educational system and the skills demanded by employers have been fertilized in some cases by some unfavorable educational policies, reforms and or strategies right from the primary to tertiary levels. This is in terms of teaching and learning the infrastructure, resources, and competency-based pedagogical approaches put in place as well as associated monitoring and enforcement mechanisms.
Therefore, the higher education curriculum and associated supporting mechanisms need to be responsive to the interests of employers and take a plan of action in line with all those factors that were mentioned here so as to equip graduates with the required and up-to-date employability skills. Efforts for the development of employability skills and attributes should be integrated within the curriculum. This situation can be improved and various studies indicate that having links and collaboration among educators, government and employers can help in determining knowledge, skills, and competencies required in the industry and developing appropriate policies, reforms, and strategies to minimize the disparities. This also applies to use of advancing technologies such as e-Portfolio that can capture, track and increase the visibility of the graduate achieved competencies to educators and employers. All these can provide graduates with the chance to maximize their potential, be for self-employment or being employed. The employer can also reduce the effect of skills gaps such as unnecessarily costly and time-consuming outsourcing, skills imports, short-term training, and co-coaching. Doing all of these interventions also contributes to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) No. 8 on promoting in our societies inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all by 2030.
From your point of view, which academic fields, businesses or industries suffer the most because of this, especially in Tanzania?
I see academic fields, businesses or industries related to the need for higher customer care, communication skills and creativity such as hospitality industry suffering the most. This also applies to academic fields, businesses or industries related to the need of higher practical oriented, innovative and problem-solving skills such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) based industries like science and mathematics teachers for secondary school and medical doctors.
What is an ePortfolio and how is it different from a CV or a graduate certificate?
An ePortfolio is a record or digital collection of student self-created artifacts associated with their courses and academic programs. It is also said to be a collection of electronic evidence assembled and managed by a user, usually on the web in which such electronic evidence may include input text, electronic files, images, multimedia, blog entries, and hyperlinks. An efficient ePortfolio provides an extensive view of student learning progress and corresponding didactic activities, which can be packaged in a way that can be assessed by the academic institution and made visible in a simplified way to employers.
The ePortfolio is different from a CV or a graduate certificate as the latter is a type of summary that is used to describe your skills, talent, and experiences in a compact and mostly textual version, graduate certificate just indicates the qualification and area you graduated-in, while the e-portfolio, provides a collection of your electronic evidence in terms of texts, files, images, multimedia, blog entries, and hyperlinks which give a tangible aspect to your work-related capability and experience.
How, in your opinion, does having an ePortfolio benefit a student and graduate?
ePortfolio benefit a student and graduate by displaying achievements while still studying or when has finished the program. With a student or graduate control on what and to whom can be displayed or shared, the achievement can be made visible to potential employer thus earned evidence-based competencies to be evaluated. Its benefit to a student is also providing a rich resource to learn about the achievement of important outcomes over time, make connections among disparate parts of the curriculum, and gaining insights leading to improvement, skill mastery and eventually competency achievement. Generally it offers to the students the platform to develop the online presence and showcase their competencies concerning employability capabilities to potential employers.
Who stands to benefit from receiving access to an ePortfolio, i.e. how will this be useful to employers?
Employers will also benefit from getting access to an ePortfolio given the fact that it generates evidence of the employability skills valued by graduate employers, including digital literacy, self-management, creativity and innovation, communication and problem solving, to name but a few. Providing this evidence and overall insight into graduate capabilities and employability may enhance the opportunity for graduate employers to source the best candidate thus high productivity in their organizations.
How has this idea been received by those who stand to benefit from it?
I see three types of beneficiaries who stand to benefit from e-Portfolio. The first one is students or graduates that see this as a tool to assist them in capturing, track their learning achievement and share competency-based evidence to potential employers. The second one is Employers who see this as a tool to assist them in reviewing graduates evidence and overall insight into graduate capabilities and employability and source the best candidate.
The third one is the educational institutions (lecturer & administrator) that among others, see this as a tool to assist them to implement a digitally-enabled competency-based approach through a competency framework. With this framework, a student can register & visualize which competencies have already been achieved, thus providing the institutions with the possibility to assess students progress and view their achievement made.
Institutions also may specifically get the flexible and accessible digital mechanism of managing supervisions and collection of evidence when students are undertaking placements such as fields and teaching practice in varied places that otherwise were costly and taking a lot of time of supervisors from their working stations. With this ePortfolio, students can do self-blogging and collect a compilation of artefacts such as on-site videos, images, and reports while giving supervisors an ability to assess and evaluate their competence levels as they progress and finish with their fields or teaching practice.
Can you point to an instance where this idea has flourished before? What can we learn from those instances?
ePortfolios is becoming popular with students around the world as a tool to enhance learning, assist with personal career development and documenting graduate attributes or competencies that can help in describe a graduate better when searching for employment. An example of place where this idea has flourished before is Europe, North America and Australia where there a number of Universities using ePortfolio such as Federation University (https://eportfolios.federation.edu.au) that use it in advancing teaching and learning from students documenting and following up their progress to staff assessing students’ progress and students/graduates sharing evidence-based competencies achievement to potential employees.
In Subsaharan Africa, there still seems to exist a paucity of empirical evidence on the use of ePortfolio mainly in South Africa. Central University of Technology (CUT) and Stellenbosch University (SU) are good examples of South African higher learning institutions that provide students with ePortfolio. Lectures can share and critique the information provided by students on the ePortfolio by collaboratively giving them constructive feedback regarding the quality and authenticity of the evidence that they produce. Students also use the ePortfolio to showcase their skills and abilities to prospective employers. For instance, while at CUT the staff members of the peer mentorship program and the careers office support students in compiling and managing their ePortfolio, at SU the ePortfolio concept is applied within the context of teacher training and in the faculty of economic and management sciences. As such, implementation of the ePortfolio concept the associated empirical evidence indicates that its use is not widespread in Subsaharan Africa and cases reported are experienced in single courses and or as pilot studies while it is critical to students learning achievement and visibility to employers.
What do you think are the most crucial coming steps that need to be negotiated for a successful implementation of EPICA’s strategy, such as overcoming technological requirements, increasing the visibility of the initiative, improving funding, etc.?
Apart from the ongoing implementation to integrate ePortfolio with local LMS platforms at the three Universities by SSO, six months ePortfolio pilot to start in January 2020 and the participation in different events for more EPICA visibility, the most crucial coming steps that need to be worked out further for a successful implementation of EPICA’s strategy are mainly having cost-effective technological requirements, a sustainable business model, and the funding for the initial implementation. EPICA Project which is ‘Strategic Partnership for the co-design of an innovative and scalable ePortfolio ecosystem to improve the quality and visibility of skills’ aims at contributing to modernizing the educational and training systems of selected universities in Sub-Saharan countries i.e. Open University of Tanzania (Tanzania), Makerere University (Uganda), and Maseno University (Kenya) and thereafter others in Sub-Sahara Africa.
On having a sustainable business model to be used during the initial implementation of e-Portfolio the strategy is to adopt the model in which the Universities will only outsource the specialized technical support from My Documenta -MYD (e-portfolio main developer) and Universities using their internally developed capacity during EPICA project will provide the rest i.e. teacher training, development of specific materials and user support.
Finally regarding initial implementation of ePortfolio in the first three Universities after EPICA project has ended the strategy is preparation of proposal in the course of finalizing the ongoing project that can be submitted within these Universities to explore opportunities availed internally such as using a certain percentage of tuition fees for e-portfolio and out there for example to International Facility for Funding Education (IFFeD) for post-secondary funding that among others supports institutions championing e-portfolio.