Bridging the industry, lecture room gap
Leroy Dzenga Features Writer
There have been concerns over a disconnect on university graduate skills and job requirements of specific industries.
As a result, conversations around the state of academia in Zimbabwe have often included the phrase “half-baked graduates”.
Industry players have at times blamed institutions of higher learning for not being thorough in equipping their students with required levels of aptitude. Colleges and universities have in turn spoken of the lack of corporate will in ensuring that their prospective human resources are cultured to specificity.
Despite the differences in views on the possible causes of the gulf between industry and the lecture room, its continued existence will always impede the much needed flow of ideas between researchers and implementers.
Why are collaborations between organisations and tertiary institutions important in seeking solutions to society’s problems?
Experts believe that the relation is a catalyst for development. Great Zimbabwe University’s director of Research and Postgraduate Studies Professor Pesanayi Gwirayi said the academia, industry and Government should correlate extensively.
“For development to take place there is need for linkages between Government, academia and industry. If these three key players work together it creates fertile ground for development,” Prof Gwirayi said.
Agreements that bring mutual benefits should continue to be encouraged. “We need to strengthen these collaborations, without them our development will be compromised. Universities should be encouraged by possible benefits, Governments and industry should be drawn by the knowledge they can get from research which will aid their decision making,’’ he added.
In other countries some of the most sophisticated research projects are headed by universities funded by either private businesses or by their respective governments. The Zimbabwean Government recognises the importance of the academia in vitalising industry.
Deputy Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Dr Godfrey Gandawa recently spoke to our sister paper The Sunday Mail, on the need to breed thought leadership in industry through students. Dr Gandawa said; “The ministry is looking at another option of linking up universities and industries, with the former incubating the latter.”
Even struggling companies may benefit from fresh ideas and strategies. “For instance, experts in universities will partner with an industry that may not be performing well to come up with strategies that will revive the industry. In turn, the university brings its students there to work as attachees whilst the industry is producing,” said Dr Gandawa.
Industry players are aware of the possibilities that come embedded in working with universities and training institution. Local industry lobbyist and Buy Zimbabwe chief executive officer Mr Munyaradzi Hwengwere said businesses stand to benefit more from helping in knowledge development than waiting for finished university products.
“We have universities whose purpose is to develop knowledge. The knowledge stands to benefit the country and local businesses as it aids decision making. Businesses should support the development of knowledge to get the best out of universities,” Mr Hwengwere said.
Industry should be active in all stages of knowledge development. “In Zimbabwe, we have compartmentalisation of knowledge, which is tragic. The business sector waits for universities to produce students they can recruit, if only they could be involved in student training so that they get human resources that fit their needs. The mining industry has the biggest problem, with all the resources, the sector does not appreciate its role in knowledge development,” said Mr Hwengwere.
Mr Hwengwere added: “Universities are trying to come up with relevant information that can aid the country but it seems they are isolated. They have the methods to come up with important knowledge but it seems other sectors are not forthcoming.”
According to a 2015 report by Professor Creso M Sa, titled “Perspective of industry’s engagement with African universities, for these collaborations to bear fruit they should be governed by policy.
“The benefits that universities and firms can derive from partnerships are well documented. Universities benefit from additional funding for research, graduate training, facilities and equipment.
University researchers and their students also benefit from the opportunity to work on real-world problems faced by industry, presenting researchers with ideas that may stimulate their research agendas, and students with valuable experience,” the academic paper read.
Professor Sa goes on to suggest that students gain experience and build contacts that can be valuable upon graduation. “For industry, university partnerships provide the opportunity to access specialised expertise, the latest knowledge in relevant disciplines, and potential future employees (students). Firms also benefit from the outputs of such partnerships, in the form of additional knowledge that feeds into their own innovative processes, improved products and processes, and from technical solutions for their problems,” the paper read.
The World Economic Forum’s 2016 Future of Jobs Report suggested that businesses and governments need to find solutions to the highly changing business environment which needs constant updating of trends and data collection done through research.
“The question, then, is how business, government and individuals will react to these developments. To prevent a worst-case scenario — technological change accompanied by talent shortages, mass unemployment and growing inequality — re-skilling and up-skilling of today’s workers will be critical.
“While much has been said about the need for reform in basic education, it is simply not possible to weather the current technological revolution by waiting for the next generation’s workforce to become better prepared,” read the report.
Waiting to complain about the abilities of their workforce will not help industry more than active involvement in the training of their prospective workers. “It is critical that businesses take an active role in supporting their current workforces through re-training, that individuals take a proactive approach to their own lifelong learning and that governments create the enabling environment, rapidly and creatively, to assist these efforts,” the report said.
In Zimbabwe, the Government has created an enabling environment through establishing eight multidimensional state universities with a promise for more. What is left is the increase in collaboration between these institutions and players in various fraternities that can lead in the development of the country.
The report adds that there is an opportunity for businesses and strategic Government departments. “In particular, business collaboration within industries to create larger pools of skilled talent will become indispensable, as will multi-sector skilling partnerships that leverage the very same collaborative models that underpin many of the technology-driven business changes underway today.
“Additionally, better data and planning metrics, such as those in this Report, are critical in helping to anticipate and proactively manage the current transition in labour markets,” the report reads.
Recently, Great Zimbabwe University struck a partnership with Zvishavane-based radio station YaFM which will see students studying media getting hands on training in radio broadcasting.
The Harare Institute of Technology has also been helping in the ongoing debate around use of the contentious Kaylite ban. Contributions of this nature will help in decision making, thus cementing scholars as the true guides of intellectual development conversations.
These partnerships and involvements are indications that tertiary institutions recognise the importance of roping in stakeholders in the areas they operate in, what is left is the increase in magnitude of the nature of engagements so that the impact becomes easily noticeable.
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