Foreword by Prof Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector UFS
Not a day goes by without some head of business and industry telling me that ‘your universities are not providing us with the right kind of skills.’ I have heard this so often, in so many different countries, that I started to believe that there is exactly one set of skills that can be pinned down and incorporated into curricula that allows universities to produce ready-made graduates for any occupational context. This of course is nonsense. Jobs differ across contexts and job specifications change within contexts. We thankfully no longer see those thick planning documents that used to come out of post-colonial Africa called ‘Manpower Development Plans IV.’ The world is too complex and the global economy to volatile to give any business the perfect graduate. As a leader on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange once told me, ‘you educate them, I will train them.’
That said, there is a puzzle that will not go away. Why is it that tens of thousands of graduates are unemployed while there are record vacancies published for work in both the public and private sectors? The answers are complex, I am sure, but this I know: our graduates are hopelessly underprepared for the workplace. On the basics, I am astounded how many young people do not know how to dress, how to write, how to interview, how to prepare a curriculum vitae and, in general, how to behave when seeking or doing work.
When I published through my weekly Times column the piece titled ‘Dear Jobless Graduate’ all hell broke loose. In no time more than 1000 readers ‘recommended’ the piece online (this is a record response for anything I’ve written in the media) and my twitter account was ambushed by hundreds of very, very angry responders. No doubt, some of these respondents were jobless young people. One of them, a hostile young woman from Cape Town, made it clear that I should go back to Europe. I am still trying to figure that one out.
Why this unbelievable barrage of attack to an article on why young people do not get jobs? Okay, I suppose it was written in the first-person and with some rather direct and provocative comments on ‘how to’ approach a job opportunity. But I think the main reason is that the truth hurts.
If, therefore, you are the sensitive type, do not read Your First Year of Work because this is ‘truth-telling’ like you’ve never heard it before. In fact, if Shelagh Foster had not written this book, somebody would have had to do it. I wish this book was around when I first entered the job market in my late teens. The message, though, is ‘timeless’—your chances of getting a job, and succeeding in one, depend on doing simple things well.
There is no such book in the marketplace that combines simple advice with profound insight into the operations of the modern workplace. The examples given are real and familiar, and very helpful if you wanted to match the principle – ‘the power of communication’ – with the action: ‘open your mouth.’ Some of the advice is so obvious – ‘arrive on time’ for an interview – and yet I know that many candidates lost points in their interviews simply because this kind of diligence was lacking.
I love this book. Every college and university should have this book, in numbers, in their libraries, bookstores, and Career Centres. Every School Guidance Counsellor should have one. And every parent should purchase a copy for their child as a precious gift on the day of graduation. I have just ordered two copies for my two children who plan to graduate next year.