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Providing students with a map that navigates the future

by Gerrit Bester

Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) aims to produce graduates who are not only degree holders, but also industry-ready professionals who can make a meaningful contribution to the world of work. The WIL & Graduate Employability Summit, attended by staff from the Faculty of Arts and Design last year, highlighted this as a key focus.

In her presentation, Work-Integrated Learning in the Creative Industries: Perspectives from the 2023 WIL & Graduate Employability Summit, Monique du Plessis, lecturer and WIL coordinator in the Department of Visual Communication (Commercial Photography), reflected on the summit she attended with five colleagues during the Faculty's first A Re Bueng seminar series of the year on 26 February.

The summit brought together various stakeholders to discuss the multi-faceted aspects of WIL, including the role of artificial intelligence (AI), bridging the gap between education and employability, and the Gen Z mindset.

Du Plessis emphasised that the soft skills required by industry should be prioritised in the curriculum by using AI tools and that it is important for WIL coordinators to manage industry expectations in this regard prior to placement. The soft skills she mentioned included communication, self-confidence, continuous learning, creative problem solving, adaptability, teamwork and technological literacy.

According to her, research shows that 23% of jobs as we know them today will change drastically by 2027, and the skills required for those jobs will change by 65%.

To AI or not? That is no longer an option, Du Plessis stressed, saying that academics need to learn and use AI tools and help their students, who are mostly Generation Z, to learn and use them too. Allaying fears about AI, she said that AI will not replace humans, but someone using it can.

On the positive side, she said that AI will create new jobs, that people's unique skills rather than titles will be valued more, and that it will unlock productivity by allowing workers to spend less time on repetitive administrative tasks.

Du Plessis stressed that academics must guard against the so-called education gap. "They need to engage more with industry to ensure that what they are teaching in the lecture halls is applicable out there," she said. "There should be synergy in our efforts, and academics should lead this conversation together with industry."

In her view, programme advisory boards that are representative of the types of industries in which students end up working can play an important role in ensuring that what is being taught is applicable in industry. In the case of the Commercial Photography programme, people representing different disciplines are co-opted because, contrary to popular belief, many arts graduates do not necessarily end up working in typical arts industries.

“You can’t use an old map to explore a new world,” Du Plessis added.

She suggested several tools that academics can use to equip their students with AI and technology skills. These include Microsoft Learn for Educators, Microsoft Copilot and LinkedIn.

On the latter point, she said it was important for students to have LinkedIn profiles while they are still at university, as this allows them to build a profile of work that shows they are future-ready graduates.

Du Plessis also cited an interesting LinkedIn analysis of more than 4.5 million members who have graduated in the past five years, which identified the factors most correlated with their employability within 12 months. These factors include work experience (62%), employer connection (64%), skills assessment (39%) and digital skills (38%).

To add to the conversation, other staff who attended the summit shared their ideas on how to prepare students for the world of work, based on what they learned at the summit.

Tumisho Mahlase (Visual Communication) said it was important to prepare students for the needs of the industry and to be on par with what is happening in the industry.

Entrepreneurship and preparing students to become business owners was emphasised by Rose-Mary Naidoo (Design Studies).

Tumelo Rasedile (Visual Communication) said a model should be developed to support students who want to start their own businesses.

Clifford Moleko (Interior Design) said WIL should also be considered for postgraduate students.

Monique du Plessis, lecturer and WIL coordinator at the Department of Visual Communication (Commercial Photography), speaking about Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) at the Faculty of Arts and Design's A Re Bueng Seminar Series.

Staff members who also attended the WIL & Graduate Employability Summit (from left) Tumisho Mahlase (Visual Communication), Rose-Mary Naidoo (Design Studies), Tumelo Rasedile (Visual Communication) and Clifford Moleko (Interior Design).

PHOTOS: Tebatso Thamaga


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