South Africa produces agricultural graduates in great quantities every year but graduates with “empty CVs” are struggling to find jobs.
According to Agrijob managing director Marianne van der Laarse, this is one of several challenges that need to be addressed before prospects will improve for qualified agri professionals in the country.
Graduates finding it tough to lock down jobs in an otherwise vibrant sector is largely due to employers wanting applicants with at least one or two years’ experience. This is problematic, says Van der Laarse. As freshly graduated students struggle to find entry-level or even internship positions, the number of graduates with “empty CVs” also grows.
Applicants with relevant short-term experience such as internships or job shadowing simply get easier access to jobs, she adds.
No stats on job placements
According to Elfrieda van der Berg, marketing manager for the faculty of natural and agricultural studies at the University of the Free State, the university produced 469 degrees across all streams up to masters’ level in the last academic year.
The University of Stellenbosch saw 329 undergraduate and 206 postgraduate students obtaining their qualifications in agriculture-related studies.
While these numbers might be worth celebrating, there exists no concrete statistics on how many agricultural graduates are actually absorbed by the farming sector, Van der Laarse points out.
A need for tech-savvy graduates
More companies are also launching internal graduate development programmes.
“This trend is driven by companies’ concerns on an existing vacuum within their ranks,” Van der Laarse says. “Insufficient numbers of qualified and experienced young people, aged between 28 and 40 and with appropriate technical, commercial and leadership skills, are deployed.”
Happy Letsitsa, a grain farmer in the Free State who opens up his farm to students for practical work every year, agrees that there is a great need for tech-savvy students.
“We are in the era of the fourth industrial revolution where we need students who will lead in identifying the best route to take in terms of technology.
“One thing we don’t want is to shed jobs. That is why we want students to understand technology and to tap [into using] gadgets on our farms to make money.”
Also for the sake of facing climate change, he says, the sector needs young graduates who could offer farmers solutions in navigating the challenges.
Advice to students
According to Van der Laarse, students can start by delving deeper into available opportunities across the industry. This is one of the reasons why Agrijob and Agriconnect, with seven participating universities, have started hosting AgriCAREERConnect events. The annual online event aims to expose students to job opportunities in the entire agricultural value chain.
“Students in their final year often believe that their prospects for finding first jobs are low, and then opt to do postgraduate studies.” Her advice to students is to rather conduct research on job opportunities early on in their academic careers.
“Our advice is for students to proceed with postgraduate studies only if they are sure they want to specialise in a specific field and if they are convinced that these qualifications will improve their marketability in the job market.”
Meanwhile, principal Moshebeimang Serei of the PH Moeketsi Agricultural High School in North West, underscores Van der Laarse’s advice that students need to take it upon themselves to attend career exhibitions and find job gaps in the agricultural market early on.
Students are exposed to career exhibitions from as early as high school, Serei says.
At that point already, he believes, students must take stock of what they want to become and aim towards it from the very beginning, as the market is becoming tighter every year.
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