How graduates exploit technology to transition from university to the workplace

At the EDHE Lekgotla 2020, during a session titled University Entrepreneurship in Africa, a guest speaker from the University of Nigeria shared important insights on Transition to the workplace: How could graduates bridge the gap between university and the workplace by leveraging technology?

Mr Charles Emembolu, Founder and Director of Roar Hub, an incubation facility for technology-driven student start-up enterprises at the University of Nigeria, kicked off the session by sharing trends emerging from the 4th Industrial revolution era. He said technology had become so key in all areas of life: from running machinery and robotics, driving social media and virtual reality to decision-making in political and social sciences. He added that even non-technical people now need to know how data affects their daily lives.

He said things had advanced so much that people can now live in one area and work in another – transcending regions through internet connectivity. He made an example of software-talented students, who were now working from their homes for global organisations. He made a specific example of a group of young men in his region, who started mimicking Hollywood characters and posted their performances in cyberspace for global viewing. They ended up being invited to Hollywood to perform.

The COVID-19 era, though disruptive in the way that it had shut down universities, had also created a skills development opportunity as many people -- students and adults past mid-life, alike, took to developing themselves via technology. "People discovered lots of learning facilities outside of the classroom -- at a much lower cost."

So, what actions should a graduate be taking to find a workplace of their choice?

Emembolu said one thing that graduates should aspire to do – and there were not many options -- was to create jobs. "Your job of choice could be sitting in you." He added that it may be too late to plan for entrepreneurship when one graduates. He therefore advised students that fruitful action starts much earlier. "Start a business while studying," this entrepreneurship guru advised. "If you fail, go on and start another venture. Failure at that time removes fear to fail [later in life] and helps to transition you from student to employer when you leave the study environment."

He said even though the African continent was known to be a hub of innovation, "that needs to change." Those involved in moulding students should also provide the right kind of advice: for example, on technology transfer, to help students exploit available opportunities. He said prior to 2015, it was difficult to register one's business idea and to take one's invention to the market. So it was no more enough to just garner professional skills. Students ought to innovate and take new products to market, he emphasised.

Mr Charles Emembolu
"Start early," Mr Charles Emembolu, Founder and Director of Roar Hub at the University of Nigeria, says. "It may be too late to plan for entrepreneurship when you graduate."

Another point he made, which he said tends to elude young people, is personal compact marketing. "When you pitch for business, I want to see your LinkedIn page; how you manage it and what you have done or achieved before – essentially, your credentials: how creative are you, how charismatic or how much of a leader are you?" He said technology is used very deliberately to achieve specific goals. He also added that graduates need to volunteer a lot more; identify what it is they can do for free and put it out there. In so doing, he advised them to not limit themselves to personal interests, and to rather open themselves up to broad learning.

Professor Cheryl Foxcroft

The session moderator, Professor Cheryl Foxcroft (left), Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Learning & Teaching at Nelson Mandela University, posed the following questions to the guest.

Question: How well are students equipped to use the right tools to engage the workplace and to market themselves?
Answer: From Sub-Saharan Africa, students are ill-prepared but solutions are accessible online. Institutions of higher learning need to actively seek industry-to-academia collaborations. Universities need to understand industry needs and actively equip students with that knowledge. "Project-based learning gives those skills. Even though some institutions are hampered by infrastructure limitations – lack of labs, internet connectivity, etc., anyone with a mobile phone, who can access mobile internet, can improve their skills. People just need an attitude to learn.

Question: In other words, the institution, work spaces, incubation centres and the students themselves, share the responsibility for students' effective learning?
Answer: How much the university will achieve also depends on the type of funding available. He who pays the piper dictates the tune. That's as real as it gets. Donor agency and international research funding determines what type of research the university will prioritise. Governments need to be deliberate about the type of funding that universities have access to. The source and type of funding determines whether a university develops students for the market, or not.

In Sweden, for example, the more industry-fit students an institution creates, the more funding it attracts. A lot more Africa-centric organisations need to fund research in African institutions to find solutions best suited for solving Africa's problems, to stimulate innovation and grow entrepreneurship.

Question: What is the workplace of the future going to look like?
Answer: Workplaces, today, have scattered everywhere. With smart phones coming to the workplace we started carrying our work around. Today, not only our emails come home with us but entire workplace management systems follow us wherever we go. The workplace has become a lot more virtual. To plug into it, we need to train our minds to adapt. Infrastructure is also important. Every lecturer, every person managing campus labs needs to be equipped to even respond to emergencies from home. We need to instil the right mindset, still remembering to maintain work-life-balance. If I can cite Nigeria, my own country, as an example in Africa, policy may drive infrastructure but mindsets are key in determining what humans can achieve.

COVID-19 has accelerated digitisation

In 2020, Covid-19 has become a bigger catalyst for digitisation. Even the previously most traditional of public sector servants have now broken down digital barriers. They have embraced working more digitally than ever before.

According to its website, the Roar Hub that Emembolu founded and is heading up, is said to be Nigeria's premier university-embedded technology hub and incubator. It was established to develop entrepreneurship among students and faculty on the University of Nigeria's Nsukka Campus, and also to bridge the gap between academia, industry and the general public.

Another speaker during this University Entrepreneurship in Africa session, who spoke alongside Charles Emembolu, was a Mr Temitope Toogun, Founder: Cognity Advisory, Nigeria. He addressed the conference on Closing the gap between innovative ideas and implementation: pointers for African leaders.

All-in-all, the EDHE Lekgotla 2020 attracted 1221 attendees, mainly students, academics, senior leadership of universities and higher education policy makers from South Africa's higher education system. Other attendees dialed in from Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania, and even from locations in Europe and the United States.

The primary purpose of the annual EDHE Lekgotla is to facilitate information exchange and the sharing of thought leadership and best practices in entrepreneurship between trail blazers in business, leading academics, other experts, policy makers and the budding student entrepreneurs. The virtual 2020 edition was the 4th Lekgotla since the establishment of the EDHE programme in 2016.

EDHE is one of Universities South Africa's flagship undertakings funded mainly from the Department of Higher Education and Training's University Capacity Development Programme.


'Mateboho Green, the Author, is the Manager: Corporate Communication at Universities South Africa.

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