Why is collaboration so important between the academia and industry?
Collaboration is a very important component to ensure that we have a secure future for our labour force in Africa. Currently, there is a significant disconnect between the academic and the industry. The academia is in the business of producing graduates who should be employable in the labour market, while the industry is in the business of making use of the products from this system in order to aid the production processes. So, if the quality of the university graduates is not up to the standard required for the industry, then, there will be a gap –which is what we are experiencing right now. How would you assess the situation right now generally in Africa?
The situation is dire. Most of our graduates are unable to cope in the world of work because they don’t have the skills required to be productive –such as the problem- solving skills, risk-taking skills, coding skills, technological skills, people skills and so forth. We are not expecting graduates to be professionals necessarily, but we expect them to be equipped with these basic skills that we will require of any graduate. For instance, with the problem-solving skills, we expect that even if you don’t have the solution, go and find the solution; take the initiative and ask the right questions and get the right answer, rather than waiting for instructions.
It is high time African universities made it a duty to ensure that their graduates are actually all set to be employable. The situation right now is that every year, thousands of graduates are turned out from our universities; but in the real scheme of employment, most of the people employed are from abroad. I own a technology company and I hire people from India to work for me because they are cheaper and more efficient and they also deliver. I am a nationalist, don’t get me wrong, and I would want to support my country, but we have to realise that in business there are things you have to watch out for, such as the cost of production, efficiency and that you are taking the best business options. So, CEOs are confronted with these daily decisions. A graduate is supposed to be ready; to be a problem solver; so, if I know you have a capacity to be retrained on the job, then it is easier for me to employ you. Of course it is not everybody that is unemployable. You will naturally find at least a 10 per cent of the graduates that are very resourceful. However, I’m talking about a majority situation. We now have an association of unemployed graduates. That is unacceptable! You cannot finish from the university and join the association of unemployed graduates. If the quality and standard are that good, the graduate should have the necessary skills needed to be able to begin something for him/herself and not necessarily wait for an employment.But don’t you think the idea of employing expatriates to do the job will spell doom for the African nations in the long run?
The truth is that most of the guys I hire in India or wherever to work for me don’t have to come down here, because they are working online. I tell them about the problem I want to solve, and the problem statement. They figure it out and they get back to me the next day. Then, they tell me how much the job will cost and then we agree on the terms, you sign online, they deliver the result to you. You really don’t have to meet. To me, this is very efficient because I get the result on time, which is also cheaper compared to what I would have hired people to sit in my office to do.What is your take on the idea of students taking up a vocation alongside their academic work in school?
Well, that is a very good concept. There is really no law that a graduate must look for a while collar job after school or get employed to work under a company. Some people may not even have gone to school but they just learn a skill that allows them to earn money. One of my best engineers in my company today is not a graduate. After his basic school, he went to learn computer programming and coding on his own and eventually he is now one of the best programmers and software engineers that I have ever encountered. He is far ahead of all these guys who are with MSc in Computer Science and so forth. In the real world of work, I am interested in results not credentials. It is not your certificate that will bring money or put food on your table; it is your result. We have to strike the balance. If you come to my office for an interview, it will not be about your PhD or Master’s degree; rather, it is about what you are able to do within the time that is allotted to you. If you are able to deliver results, you are fine.
Therefore, vocational skills are very important because that will allow you annex what your potentials are. We need our students to get interested in those extra skills because when things get tough you can always set out for a small business that allows you to make money.
What do you have to say to students in African countries who are the key actors in these things?
I will like to tell them to be entrepreneurial-oriented and to take initiatives. Think out of the box. They should always ensure that they acquire the skills. Even while you are in the university, go and sign up for coding school, computer programming school, even if it is for two or three weeks, so that when you finish from higher institution and you have to apply for jobs, you can easily demonstrate other soft skills you have acquired outside your degree. I can assure you that you will be hired ahead of everybody.In what specific ways can the academia impact the industry?
The academia has a very huge responsibility because they are the content providers. These are the people who control whatever happens in the classroom. For example they need to know what a professor in Harvard University is doing to make his students become more of problem solvers. It is important that our professors understand that inasmuch as they are doing their best to get these students to learn, they need to also consider helping them to develop more of problem solving skills than content memorizing skills. I’m not saying they are doing badly. In fact, professors from Africa are among the best in the world, but a lot has changed, especially for us in the industry. We want the problem-solvers. So, I want a professor who trains young undergraduates to be problem-solving oriented than content-memorizing oriented. How do we begin to achieve this?
Number one, we need to have a programme in our universities that allows industry participants, where top CEOs or top leaders would have direct contact with the university students periodically. I have seen some universities do that in the world. So, it is okay to include this as part of their programmes; where captains of industries tell them what they need to know to be ready to enter the industrial world. Number two, the style of teaching should be more of case study, problem-solving, group discussions than just grooming them to pass examinations. Life is beyond just passing examinations. I am not going to hire you because you have a First Class degree, but I’m going to hire you because you have demonstrated to me that you have the capacity to solve problems. You can be a third class graduate, once you have the qualities I want to see, I will hire you. I want less and less focus to be on the class and grades and more focus to be on the quality of people we are turning out. Now and then, the university should have a formal relation with the industry to have a mentorship programme for students, where members/leaders of industry could come and mentor these young students and so on. I think if we do all these, it will go a long way in allowing these students to be exposed to the rigours of the industry.