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Fellowships are key to closing the gap on SA skills shortages

The latest unemployment figures in South Africa are cause for concern. Among those, the growing number of graduates who are unable to find jobs in their chosen fields or, in many cases, are employed but not in the field they studied, is telling of an even greater challenge South Africa faces.

The 2019 Post-School Education and Training Monitoring sheds some light on this issue, reporting that, between 2010 and 2016, the highest rate of graduations hailed from humanities fields. The number of graduates in science, engineering and technology, and business management – some of the main fields suffering from a scarcity of skills in South Africa – trailed behind.

“Many students continue to pursue qualifications that don’t offer great employment prospects, and that has a lot to do with a lack of access to information and opportunity, as well as the need to encourage interest in other fields,” says Janavi Da Silva, Director of Programmes at GreenMatter.

“South Africa’s biodiversity is one of the main sectors suffering from a severe skills shortage, yet there is a huge need to protect our country’s natural heritage. Nurturing the best minds to safeguard the future of the green economy is an important investment, which is why fellowships are so vital in our field.”

Academic fellowships incentivise graduates to pursue further study and contribute value to a particular field. This is often achieved through funding for post-graduate studies, offering mentorship from experienced professionals and access to training and development programmes designed to help students build sustainable careers.

“For me, being part of a fellowship programme really changed my life, both on a personal and professional level,” says Jade Moody, who completed the GreenMatter Fellowship programme earlier this year.

“I started out studying hydrology but now, as a result of the support and guidance I received through the Fellowship, I’m interning at an environmental company and taking a broader environmental approach to my masters. In fact, it was actually through GreenMatter that I got this internship opportunity in the first place.”

Moody’s Fellowship is unique, as participants are supported by dedicated co-ordinators and mentors long after the programme comes to an end. Moody was not only able to choose the mentor she was comfortable with and who best aligned with her developmental needs but was also given the opportunity to take part in a range of mandatory skills development programmes.

These programmes are intended to equip Fellows with important soft skills to help them understand and succeed in the workplace in the biodiversity, environmental and water sectors, while building sustainable careers for themselves. These included project management, emotional intelligence business etiquette and even lessons on how to manage personal finances.

Fellowships like these upskill and empower the individual, in addition to offering academic guidance and funding, which is not only seen as an investment in South African youth, but in the green economy too. In this way, South African sectors that are suffering from critical skills shortages gain talented, well-equipped, passionate professionals who are properly prepared to become leaders in their respective fields – and in time, fill a growing skills gap in the green economy.