So, what does industry expect from academia?
As industry players, we look for competencies and skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, initiative, innovativeness, proactiveness, adaptability, decision making, multi-tasking, language and communication skills, presentation skills, negotiation skills, resourcefulness, open mindedness, emotional intelligence, team building among others. We therefore expect academia to find ways of helping students to develop these skills. In this age and time, it is not enough for graduates to have technical skills; they need the above soft skills to be successful at the workplace.
Again, as industry players, “we hire for the attitude and train for the skills”. An excellent work attitude is thus required for success in the world of work. Students must therefore be trained in the context of HE to acquire excellent work attitudes such as commitment, dedication, self-discipline, self-motivation, respect for team members, ability and willingness to learn and unlearn, demanded by industry. Industry also expects academia to equip students with the basic knowledge and processes within organisations.
A lot of suggestions have been proffered towards the bridging of this long existing gap between industry and academia. In my opinion, bridging this gap is a collaborative effort among academia, policy makers and industry. On the part of academia and policy makers, the following are some of the ways by which they can help in bridging this gap.
First, the educational system and curricula we inherited from our colonial masters should be revised to meet today’s demand and industry expectations. This should be done in consultation with industry experts; and be made to suit industry demands and ensure that they remain relevant. Again, the curricula should include the use of case studies, role plays, presentations, in-trays, etc to teach students how to transfer theory into practice. This will also help students to develop key skills such as communication, presentation, public speaking, team building, critical thinking, creativity, etc that industry expects from graduates.
Secondly, lecturers should be assigned to intern with industry or businesses during long vacations or sabbatical holidays and have hands-on experience in board room discussions and politics, innovation, product research, industry practice, etc. This will help them to gain an understanding of the workings of industry and be able to prepare students adequately for industry. Again, industry experts could be invited on regular basis to share their experiences with students. This will inspire students to have a “can-do” spirit and give them the opportunity to gain insights into what pertains in industry, and how they can prepare themselves adequately for the job market. Some of these industry experts could also be employed as visiting lecturers so they can share their practical experiences with students; and help them to relate the theory they learn to industry practice.
Again, there should also be the establishment of a fully-running research and consultancy outfit within our universities and training institutions with the main purpose to help bridge the gap between academia and industry through consultancy and applied research. This outfit could be operated by one or two employees for a start; and also have a business advisory committee comprising key leaders from academia and industry to advise the unit to stay relevant in helping produce industry-ready graduates.
Further, the current way internship is conducted within our universities and training institutions where students have to move from one company to the other looking for internship opportunities should be improved. Academia should take the burden of looking for places for internship for students by collaborating with industry players and businesses for this purpose. This would help reduce the frustrations students go through to get attachment places for themselves. Again, students can be posted directly to these businesses based on their areas of specialisation and interests. Also, academia should institutionalise internship and make it part of the curriculum through the assessment of students on internships. The duration should be at least one year to give students sufficient time to link the classroom work with what occurs in the world of work.
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