Bridging the Gap between Academia and Industry, the Role of HR (pt.1)

That a gap exists between industry and academia in sub-Saharan Africa is not in doubt. Studies conducted in Ghana and Nigeria confirm the existence of such a gap. There have been a lot of discussions among policy makers, industry players, employers and academia about this gap, but very little effort has been made towards bridging this gap.

In Ghana for instance, in May 2014, about 300 participants and resource persons drawn from education and training institutions, industry, policy makers, youth and students, met to discuss this same issue under the theme “Achieving a Strong Partnership between Education/Training and Industry: The Way Forward”. A communiqué was issued after this meeting outlining ways by which this long existing gap can be bridged. But evidence on the ground does not suggest that anything has been done to substantially bridge the gap yet. What gap exists between industry and academia? What brought about this gap? What does industry expect from academia? What can both industry and academia do to bridge this gap? What is the role of HR in ensuring that this gap is bridged? These are questions we must all seek to answer.

In my view, there is a huge gap between what is being taught in our universities and training institutions, and what industry actually needs in terms of the attitude, skills and knowledge of graduates. Truly, most graduates face challenges at the workplace due to poor work attitude. Some of the poor work attitudes exhibited by graduates at the workplace include indiscipline, tardiness, absenteeism, presenteeism, procrastination, passivity, poor time management, poor work ethic, and poor human relations. These poor work attitudes are partly due to the theoretical way; and the lack of rigour in the training of students from our universities and training institutions.

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According to the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) (2012), despite a large pool of unemployed workers, employers continue to struggle to find skilled talent to fill the growing number of job openings in the USA. ASTD defines a skills gap as a significant gap between an organization’s current capabilities and the skills it needs to achieve its goals. It is the point at which an organization can no longer grow or remain competitive because it cannot fill critical jobs with employees who have the right knowledge, skills, and abilities. The skills gap is because the demands of the job market often do not match with the curricula of academia. Indeed, industry players such as the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI) have bemoaned the growing mismatch between what industry expects from job seekers, and what they could actually deliver on the job. According to the AGI, industry expects job seekers to have multiple skills, both hard and soft skills, be professionally functional and results-oriented but they often fall short of these expectations.

The reasons for this huge gap are not far-fetched. Most countries in sub-Saharan Africa inherited an educational system that sought to provide manpower for the civil and public services bequeathed to us by our colonial masters. And for centuries, we have done very little to change that in spite of the fact that the old system of training has lost its relevance in this modern world where private sector and industry dominate; requiring new skills that the old structure of training cannot meet. Some of these new skills which some authors refer to as the 21st Century skills are creativity, critical thinking, initiative, innovativeness, proactiveness, emotional intelligence, open mindedness, language and communication skills, assertiveness, sense of humour, resourcefulness and adaptability, among other things.

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Another reason for the gap that exists between industry and academia is the difference in goals and expectations. Whilst academia is striving for recognition among their peers, industry is striving for survival. Again, the relatively static nature of the educational curriculum and the dynamic nature of the business world or the world of work also accounts for the gap that exists between industry and academia. Further, this gap is created by the theoretical nature of academia contrasted with the practical nature of industry. It is not surprising that the theoretical nature of academia does not help produce the kind of graduates industry expects. This is because studies show that there is a clear difference between theory and practice. Therefore, students being taught theory alone is not enough. Indeed, students can be taught a lot of theory but if they cannot put this theory into practice, they have not learnt much and are therefore not prepared for the world of work. Until students are taught how to put into practice, the knowledge and facts they acquire in school they should not be assumed necessarily to be able to do so.

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Further, rote learning in the context of Higher Education (HE)–leading to lack of critical thinking, in-depth and meaningful learning by students has also contributed to the gap between industry and academia. In this regard, there are instances where students are made to reproduce lecture notes given to them by lecturers; without the students being given the opportunity to express in their own words their understanding of what they are taught. This situation makes it difficult for students to meaningfully engage with what is learnt and see the relevance and usefulness of what they are taught for work and practice.

Again, the current situation in academia by which the process of evaluation is examination-based instead of being project-based is a contributory factor in the creation of this gap. Because our system of education is predominantly examination-based, students often prepare only for examination and not for the world of work. There is also the lack of industry experience of most lecturers. Most lecturers in academia do not have any practical industry experience thereby making it difficult for them to adequately prepare students to meet the expectations of industry.

Continue in pt. 2


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