Graduate unemployment research

Graduate unemployment in South Africa:

Prevalence, characteristics and perceived causes.

By Kim Baldry

kimbbaldry@gmail.com

March 2013

Abstract

The prevalence, characteristics and causes of unemployment in the general population have been well researched in South Africa, however, the sub-population of unemployed graduates has been studied to a far lesser extent.  In this mixed methods research, 2029 participants from the 23 public higher education institutions in South Africa were surveyed.  The online survey was sent to approximately 20 000 participants via email, with an invitation to participate in the study and information on the study.  The dependent variable was employment status; three categories described the employed and two categories described the unemployed.  Survey results were analysed using frequency distributions, chi-squared analysis and binary logistic regression.  Thereafter, ten Black, low socio-economic status, unemployed graduates were interviewed telephonically.  The interview transcripts were analysed thematically looking for both variation and consistency. The results showed that unemployment in the sample was 5.1%. Black graduates, graduates of low socio-economic status and graduates with difficulty accessing resources showed the highest prevalence of unemployment.  Having received career guidance did not significantly affect employment status.  The perceived causes of unemployment were lack of resources available to look for a job, the lack of connections to the labour market and discriminatory recruitment practices.

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.1 Introduction

Unemployment is probably the single most pressing challenge facing South Africa today (Levinsohn, 2007, p2) and given the considerable resources invested in education by both public and private individuals, the focus on graduate unemployment is essential (Moleke, 2003).  Education has always been evaluated in terms of its practical value (Gbadamosi & de Jager, 2009, p891) and has long been recognised as the means to achieve change, create new ideas, and initiate new practices that move a country towards increasing prosperity (Wheatley, 2001).  Lam, Leibbrand, and Mlatsheni (2008) indicated that tertiary education is increasingly important in facilitating a move into employment, resulting in increasing prosperity.

According to government national statistics provided by Statistics South Africa (StatsSA), the unemployment of those with a tertiary education has increased from 4.4% in 2008 to 6.3% in 2011, an increase of 1.9%.  During the same period the unemployment rate of those with Matric increased by 1.2% and decreased by 3.3% among those with education lower than Matric (StatsSA, 2012), therefore unemployment among those with a tertiary education grew quicker than those with Matric, or lower than Matric education.  These statistics must be seen in context of their narrow and therefore limiting definition of unemployment that may result in an underestimation of unemployment figures (discussed in the literature review).  While graduate unemployment is relatively small when compared to unemployment in the general population, which was 23.9% at the end of 2011 (StatsSA, 2012), it appears that unemployment amongst those with tertiary education is growing faster than among those with less education.

The perceived causes of graduate unemployment is worth studying as in addition to the high unemployment rate, South Africa’s spending on education is one of the highest in the world and in direct contrast, its university graduation rate of 15% is one of the lowest in the world (Cosser & Letseka, 2010).  While this must be viewed in light of the impact of apartheid and the increasing number of university enrollments, it nonetheless raises serious questions about the role of skills and education in the economy (e.g. Altman, 2003; Kingdom & Knight, 2005; Letseka & Maile, 2008; Pauw, Oosthuizen & van der Westhuizen, 2008).

Against this backdrop, the aim of this research was to expand our understanding of graduate unemployment in South Africa.  The specific objectives were to;

-       Measure the prevalence of graduate unemployment using a database of students who graduated from all 23 public higher education institutions.

-       Identify demographic and educational factors that may be associated with graduate unemployment.

-       Qualitatively explore unemployed graduates’ perceived reasons for their unemployment, and

-       Qualitatively explore the role of higher education institutions in providing career services, from the unemployed graduates’ perspective.

1.2 Chapter outline

Following from here, Chapter 2 reviews literature relevant to the study of graduate unemployment.  Chapter 3 summarises the gaps in the current literature and revisits the research aims and objectives in light of these.  Chapter 4 describes the methods employed in this research and includes the sub-headings design, sample and sampling, the instruments, variables, and procedure and analysis.  Chapter 5 outlines the ethical considerations relevant to the study. Thereafter the results are reported in Chapter 6, with the survey results presented first followed by the interview results.  Lastly, Chapters 7 and 8 comprise the discussion and conclusion respectively.  Herein key results are discussed, the conceptual framework presented in Chapter 2 is revisited and implications for theory, methods and policy are presented.

 

Chapter 2: Literature Review

2.1 Defining unemployment and education level

The first step in conducting a study on graduate unemployment should begin with a definition of these terms.  Graduate, in other literature, has been used to describe people with college education (Cosser, 2003), people who are targeted by companies in their graduate recruitment programmes (Pauw, Bhorat, Goga, Ncube & van der Westhuizen, 2006), people with higher education (Moleke, 2003) and broadly students who have graduated (Letseka, Cosser, Breier & Visser, 2010).  Most times the authors do not explicitly define the term ‘graduate’ or where the student has graduated from and the reader is left to interpret this by the sample used in the study.

In addition to the inconsistent use of this term, education level of graduates or those with higher education is reported by varying and sometimes overlapping categories.  StatsSA has reported education level using the categories ‘diploma/certificate with grade 12’, ‘degree/higher’ and ‘other’ (e.g. StatsSA, 2008c) and ‘matric’ and ‘tertiary’ (e.g. StatsSA, 2012).  Researchers use their own terms to describe education level for example, Moleke (2010) refers to education using the terms ‘graduates’, Levinsohn (2007) refers to education using the terms ‘some post matric’ and ‘degree’, and Pauw, Oosthuizen and van der Westhuize (2008), use the terms ‘grade12/matric’, ‘tertiary diploma/certificate’ and’ tertiary degree’.  These education levels are fairly broad and while they are helpful in understanding broad trends in graduate unemployment and allowing comparisons for graduates with other education levels such as Matric/Grade 12 and less than Matric/Grade12, they provide little opportunity to compare specific groups of graduates with each other.  For example, they do not facilitate the comparison of specific levels of study with each other such as diploma graduates with degree graduates, they do not facilitate the comparison of fields of study with each other such as humanities graduates with engineering graduates, and they do not facilitate the comparison of higher education institution types with each other such as public and private higher education institutions.

To my knowledge, the Human Sciences Research Council report graduate employment and unemployment in the most detail.  Offset against this strength are other limitations in using their research to build a picture of graduate unemployment in South Africa.  For example, their study on graduate destinations, (Moeketsi, Breier and Visser, 2010), sampled seven public higher education institutions whereas there are 23 public higher education institutions in South Africa.  Additionally, in this study as well as their previous study reported by Moleke (2005), they do not explicitly define graduate and it is unknown whether they are referring to a person’s highest qualification (as graduates may have more than one qualification either of different levels and/or different fields of study) or to what level of education they are referring (for example there is no distinction between a humanities certificate graduate and a humanities degree graduate).

I have addressed the lack of definitions of a graduate and the inconsistent reporting of their education level.  Now I look at issues with regards to defining employment or unemployment.  Defining and categorising employment status is quite difficult mainly due to the large range of employment possibilities that exist.  For example, how would one categorise a person who works only 4 hours per month – are they unemployed or part-time employed? Or how would one define a person who works for themselves but their income is inconsistent and sometime equal to zero? Or how would someone categorise a waitress who is also a student?

The most widely used definition of employment status in South Africa is that reported by StatsSA.  A brief description of how they define employment is required as numerous articles referred to in this study have utilised their definitions.  StatsSA defines working age as persons aged 15-64 years old.  Employed are those persons of working age who, during the reference week of the survey a) did any work for at least one hour, or b) had a job or business but were not at work.  Unemployed according to the official definition are people of working age who a) were not employed in the reference week of the survey, and b) actively looked for work or tried to start a business in the four weeks preceding the survey interview, and c) were available to work, or d) had not actively looked for work in the past four weeks but had a job or business to start a definite date in the future and were available.  According to the expanded definition, unemployed are those of working age who a) were not employed in the reference week, and b) were available to work.  The second criterion of having actively looked for work is dropped in the expanded definition.  Those who are not employed or unemployed are classified as not economically active.  Those who are not economically active are further categorised as either not available to work or available to work but have not taken active steps to look for work and are termed discouraged work-seekers.  The labour force comprises of those who are employed and unemployed.  Figure 1 below shows how StatsSA categorises the working population.

Figure 1: StatsSA categories by which the working population is divided

Working age population 15-64 years

Employed Unemployed

- Official definition

- Expanded definition

Not economically active

- Not available to work

- Discouraged work-seekers

Labour force

Source: StatsSA Labour Force Survey March 2007

However, researchers have raised problems with the StatsSA definitions.  Firstly, that the expanded measure of unemployment is a more accurate picture of the unemployed population than the official measure (e.g. Kingdom & Knight, 2000a).  Secondly, although not directly relating to the StatsSA definition, Cosser & Sehlola (2009) note that these categories are not mutually exclusive.  For example, a person could be studying and looking for work, and by the above definition thereby both not economically active (not available to work as they are studying) as well as unemployed (as they are actively looking for work).  An additional problem with the definition of employed is that it fails to capture underemployment.  Any person who has worked for only one hour in the reference week is categorised as employed, regardless of whether they were available, willing and able to work additional hours.  This raises the question of whether the definition of employment – a minimum of one hour’s work in the reference week – does not included many people who are grossly underemployed (Bernstein, 2010).

Moleke noted that “the search for better jobs by people with higher education usually involves spells of unemployment for only relatively short periods, however, it is associated with periods of underemployment for most” (2003, p.17), highlighting underemployment as an area for further study.  Kingdon and Knight (2005) reported that “labour market data in South Africa are not without problems” (p.2) and they identify underemployment and informal employment as disguises of unemployment.

In summary, defining employment is very difficult and most studies utilise StatsSA statistics as these are “currently by far the reliable source of information” (Altman, 2003, p.159).  A review of graduate employment research in South Africa noted that a key shortcoming in graduate research is the absence of clear definitions of what an unemployed graduate is and that no standard definition is available, only the narrow or expanded definition used in surveys (Koen, 2006).

This study attempted to address some difficulties in defining unemployment in two of ways.  Firstly this study categorised unemployment by two groups, namely those who are unemployed by their choice and those who are unemployed not by their choice.  Therefore ‘discouraged work seekers’ are included in the unemployed sample regardless of whether they are actively looking for work or not but rather based on whether they have chosen to be unemployed or not.  Secondly, employment is extended to include underemployment, as all employed participants are asked whether they consider themselves to be underemployed.

Regardless of which definition of unemployment is utilised, unemployment in South Africa is extremely high by international standards (Bernstein, 2010).  The following sections look at the prevalence, characteristics and perceived causes of graduate unemployment.  The data presented should be understood bearing in mind the difficulty in defining the terms, discussed above.

2.2 Prevalence, characteristics and perceived causes of graduate unemployment

2.2.1 Prevalence and characteristics of graduate unemployment

The unemployment rate, calculated as the proportion of the labour force that is unemployed, is currently 25.5% (StatsSA, 2013), among the highest in the world (Bernstein, 2010).  A longitudinal perspective on the prevalence and growth rate of graduate unemployment in South Africa is hard to establish given that StatsSA reports education level by differing categories and that their year on year reporting is inconsistent, however there is evidence to suggest that the graduate unemployment rate is increasing.

In a review on graduate employment research Koen (2006, p.20) reports that “using data from the StatsSA October Household Survey series, the thesis outlined by Bhorat and Lundall (2002) and McCord and Bhorat (2003) is that tertiary education unemployment rose from 6 to 12% nationally from 1995 to 1999.  Looking at Stats SA data, the percentage of the unemployed population with a diploma/certificate/degree/higher grew from a 3.5% market share of national unemployment in 2005 to 3.8% in 2007 (StatsSA, 2008b; StatsSA, 2008c).  From October-December 2008 to the same period in 2009, unemployment of those with tertiary education grew from 4.4% to 5.4% (or by 31%). During this same period, the economically not active population with a tertiary education grew from 2.2% to 2.6% (or by 24.7%) (StatsSA, 2010).  Based on a labour market experiences between 1990 and 1998, Moleke (2005) reported that 6% of graduates were unemployed one year after obtaining their qualification.  In 2010, using a similar methodology, she reported that among those who graduated in 2002, 7.4% of graduates were unemployed.  Taken together these statistics provide evidence that unemployment among those with a tertiary education is growing, but there is little information regarding which graduates this growth can be attributed to and why this growth is occurring.

In addition to the high unemployment rate, unemployment in South Africa is disproportionately distributed in the population, most noticeably by age, race and historically by gender.  Approximately a third of the population aged 15-24 years are not employed and not in education or training (StatsSA, 2013).  The youth, namely people aged 15-34 years make up 74% of the total unemployed population (StatsSA, 2008a) and the number of unemployed youth is growing much faster than any other group (Altman, 2003, p.162).

Unemployment by the official definition is 29.1% for the Black/African population, 24.5% for the Coloured population, 11.7% for the Indian/Asian population and lowest for the White population at 5.9% (StatsSA, 2013).  Therefore the youth and the Black/African population shoulder the majority of the unemployment in South Africa.

Looking at education level, those with tertiary education currently make up 5.9% of the unemployed population, up from 4.9% in 2008 (StatsSA, 2013).  In a study reporting findings of a postal survey of 2672 university graduates and their employment experiences in the labour market from 1990 – 1998, Moleke (2005) found that 6% of graduates are unemployed a year after obtaining their qualifications and that race, gender and institution attended have a significant impact on graduates’ employment prospects with African and Coloured graduates, females and graduates from historically Black universities (discussed in more detail later on) at a disadvantage.  Unfortunately, this study does not provide a definition of a graduate and it was conducted on people who graduated prior to the restructuring of the South African Higher Education system (discussed in more detail later on).  It therefore does not represent the current unemployed graduate population in South Africa.  A later study on a sample of 101 Durban University of Technology students who graduated in 2006 found that 36.2% of their graduates were unemployed close to a year after graduation (van der Merwe, 2009).  As the study was only conducted at one institution and on a relatively small sample, it does not allow for in-depth analysis of the results.  Furthermore there is no suggestion as to why the prevalence of unemployment found was so high.  Based on other literature it is likely to relate to the reputation of the higher education institution among graduate employers, the demographic profile of their graduates and/or the type and quality of their courses on offer.

According to Kingdon and Knight (2005), the unemployment rate of those with a higher education was 13% in 2003, up 7% from 6% in 1995.  These authors also reported that in 1995, 25.6% of people with a higher education had been unemployed for longer than three years and this increased to 36.1% in 2003.  This percentage increase of people who have been unemployed for longer than three years was the highest of all education levels, identifying graduate unemployment as a growing concern.  Their study utilised StatsSA data collected in 1995 and 2003, and as they were primarily interested in guises of unemployment they included discouraged job seekers in their analysis of unemployment.  They report that in South Africa the non-searching unemployed are on average significantly poorer than the searching unemployed and therefore suggest that job search is hampered by poverty and the cost of job-search particularly from remote rural areas.   In this regard they conclude that the lack of a job search is due to discouragement and constraints such as poverty rather than weaker attachments to the labour market as is proposed by other researchers (e.g. Schoer, Rankin & Roberts, 2012).  Although this data was collected on graduates prior to the restructuring of higher education in South Africa, which took place between 2003 and 2005, and is therefore not reflective of the current higher education environment, it highlights poverty as influential factor associated with unemployment.

Continuing with reports of the prevalence of graduate unemployment, Bhorat (2004) and Pauw et al. (2006) state that the growing joblessness among people with a university degree has become a disturbing trend in the post-apartheid South African labour market, whilst Levinsohn (2007) reports that unemployment is close to zero for those who have completed a university degree, implying that it is not a concern.  Levinsohn reported unemployment among those with a degree as 4.46% among men and 5.27% among women.  Together with previous research mentioned and with the University of Johannesburg’s findings that 14% of their graduates sampled were not going to work or study in the year following their graduation in 2010 (Adams, 2011), we see that the prevalence of graduate unemployment is contested.  Additionally, given general changes in South Africa after the end of the apartheid government in 1994, and specifically due to the restructuring of the South African higher education system around 2005 (both discussed shortly in more detail), it is difficult to compare results from studies conducted over the last 20 years due to the changes in South Africa and in higher education specifically.

However, despite studies’ discrepancies in defining both graduate and unemployment and in light of the changing political and educational context, it is largely accepted that unemployment amongst those with tertiary education is low compared with unemployment of the general population, however that it may be on the rise.

This concludes the literature on the prevalence of graduate unemployment, and the unequal distribution of unemployment, most noticeably by age and race.  I now look at contextual issues relating to the study of graduate unemployment, namely apartheid and the restructuring of the South African higher education system that followed the end of apartheid.

During apartheid, South Africa’s higher education system, its nature and function were prescribed by law and the Extension of University Education Act (Act 45 of 1595) provided for the establishment of separate universities for the various population groups (Behr, 1984 cited in Raju, 2006).  During this time, South Africa had a total of 36 higher education institutions of which 17 served the White population, 13 served the African/Black population and two each served the Coloured and India populations (Bunting, 2004 cited in van Zyl, 2010).  Whites were by far the most advantaged, followed by Indians, then Coloureds and Blacks.  The policies and philosophies of apartheid education existed essentially to keep the non-White population in low paid, low skill level positions and “render them economically non-competitive” (Moeketsi, Breie & Visser, 2010, p.32).  White and Black schools and universities had the largest disparities in resources, funding, student-teacher ratios which all adversely affected the quality of education for Blacks.

Since 1994, when the first democratic elections were held in South Africa, a new de-racialised, higher education system has emerged.  The number of public higher education institutions was reduced from 36 to 23, mainly through mergers between the formerly Black and White institutions (Pretorius et al., 2006).  Following this restructuring South Africa has one public higher education system consisting of three kinds of institutions namely; universities, comprehensive universities and universities of technology.  The 11 universities offer degree type programmes only, six universities of technology offer diploma type qualifications only and the six comprehensive universities offer degree and diploma type programmes (Bunting, 2007 cited in van Zyl, 2010).

In the new system, all institutions are open to all race groups, however, Moeketsi, Breier and Visser (2010) note that most historically Black institutions have remained largely Black while the racial profiles of most historically White institutions has changed considerably.  In addition to the public higher education institutions approximately 100 private higher education institutions exist and unlike their public counterparts, they get no funding from the government (Pretorius et al., 2006). Table 1 in the appendices shows a list of the current public higher education institutions with their type, the merged institutions from which they were formed and these institutions historically Black or White status.

In 2011, three public universities were placed under administration by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), all necessitated by mismanagement.  These were the Walter Sisulu University, the University of Zululand and Tswane University of Technology.  Furthermore the merger between the University of the North and the Medical University of South Africa that created the University of Limpopo was undone (Snyman, 2011).  These changes allude to differing quality of services among South Africa’s higher education institutions, which is likely to affect graduates ability to secure employment, both in terms of the quality of their education and the perception of the institution among graduate recruiters.

This concludes my review of the context of graduate unemployment and some important characteristics of the unemployed.  The following section looks at factors associated with the perceived causes of graduate unemployment, which you will see often relates to characteristics of the unemployed.

2.2.2 Perceived causes of graduate unemployment

In general, causes of unemployment relate to attributes of the graduates themselves, those that can be attributed to the employers and to the overall growing labour force.  Proposed causes of youth unemployment in general include a lack of skills among the youth, lack of capital constraining entrepreneurship, the growing size of the youth labour force and high youth wages.  In addition to these, causes of graduate unemployment have included a skills mismatch between labour demand and tertiary education institutions’ supply, the quality of education particularly at historically Black institutions, and discrimination in hiring practices.

As mentioned previously, in South Africa, the unemployed are unequally distributed among segments of the population with most authors commenting on differences in age, gender and race distributions.  Using data from the 2005 Labour Force Survey, Levinsohn (2007) reported that unemployment amongst those with a degree is higher for women than for men.  Similarly in his Graduate Tracer Study Cosser (2003), found a bias towards employment of males over females with 30% of males survey employed and only 21% of females.  Mlatsheni and Rospabe (2002) found that Black and female youths have less access to the labour market than White and male youths and that the major factors explaining this were the employment enhancing features of Whites such as higher levels of education, their better family background and the location in areas of low unemployment.  They also reported that youths in rural areas not only compete against increasing number of youths for jobs but also against the increasing number of older age cohorts.

In these reports of their findings we begin to see how characteristics of the unemployed, such as race and gender, are perceived as causes of unemployment when followed by findings such as such the one just reported by Mlatsheni and Rospabe, that is “Black and female youths have less access to the labour market than White and male youths and the major factors explaining this were the employment enhancing features of Whites such as higher levels of education, their better family background and the location in areas of low unemployment”.  In a similar light, Moleke (2010) found that those who graduated from historically Black institutions were absorbed into the labour market more slowly after they obtained their degree than those from historically White institutions and African and Coloured graduates had lower prospects for employment than their White and Indian counterparts.

My critique of such reports is that while they have attempted to elaborate on why gender and race discrepancies exist in the unemployed graduate population, often their analysis is quantitative and univariate, thereby limiting growth of understanding on the topic through pre-established categories and failing to report the interactive effects of these variables.  Additionally, the lack of multivariate analysis may inflate the importance of these findings on the overall effect, or variance explained, by these variables in relation to graduate unemployment (the unstated dependent variable).

Moving away from demographic characteristics and looking at educational factors, Moleke (2010) reported that the most objective determinant of finding employment amongst graduates is field of study with social science and applied humanities graduates having the highest proportions of unemployment and business/commerce graduates second highest.  Pauw, Oosthuizen and van der Westhuizen (2008) found that in terms of qualification type, the rapid increase in unemployment of those with diplomas or certificates rose from 7.9% to 13.2% between 1995 and 2005 and much of the growth in graduate unemployment can be attributed to the sharp rise in unemployment among people with a diploma.  Moleke (2010) further reported that graduates who hold qualifications with a professional focus tend to have more positive labour market prospects than those who hold qualifications of a general nature.  She does not however list which courses she classifies as having a general or professional focus.  Nevertheless, these studies indicate that in addition to race and gender, field of study and level of study contribute to our understanding of graduate unemployment.

Regarding these educational variables, field of study is further associated with parents’ education as parents serve as both a guide and a role model to their children. For example, it is not uncommon for a lawyer’s child to also study law.  Families may exert a strong influence on individual students’ career choices, most obviously because the family, especially poorer families, are directly affected by the results of these choices.  For example, Watts and Fretwell (2004) report that in developing countries like South Africa, when older children leave higher education they are expected to contribute to the costs of sending younger siblings to school.

As apartheid prevented many-Blacks from studying courses with a professional focus, it is not surprising that Moleke (2010) found that most Black students graduate in fields of study without a professional focus and that these fields yield the highest prevalence of graduate unemployment.  Because of the links between level of education and field of study, many graduate studies include questions of socio-economic status such as education level of the parents, parents’ job type and geographic location (Koen, 2006).  In a study on national unemployment, Mlatsheni and Rospabe (2002) found that having an employed family member increased the likelihood of young household member employment and conversely having unemployed family members decreased the probability of young household member employment.  In relating the role of education to their results they reported that their findings indicate a “vicious circle where income disparities lead to educational attainment disparities, which in turn perpetuate existing income inequality” (p.19).

Continuing with perceived causes of unemployment, I now look at factors relating to graduate employers rather than factors associated with the graduates themselves.  After surveying 20 of South Africa’s largest firms across a range of sectors, Pauw et al. (2006) reported that employers considered graduates to lack the required soft skills (e.g. communication), work experience and workplace readiness required for the workplace.  This is disputed by another study on graduate attributes from the employers’ perspective (Griesel & Parker, 2009) which reported that the degree to which the knowledge, skills, competencies and values that higher education sets out to develop is less out of sync with the needs of the employer than is commonly believed.  Interestingly, Pauw et al. (2006) reported that graduate employers’ concerns relate particularly to graduates from historically Black institutions.  Unfortunately this distinction was not addressed in Griesel and Parker’s study and therefore the finding has, to my knowledge, not been supported by other research.

Relating to graduate recruiter’s concerns with historically Black institutions, three possible reasons have been raised. Firstly, that the quality of education at these institutions is inferior, secondly that employers discriminate against these institutions based on their history (e.g. Pauw et al., 2006; Pauw, Oosthuizen and van der Westhuizen, 2008) and thirdly, as mentioned previously, that these institutions provide an oversupply of Black graduates in fields with lower employment prospects (Moleke, 2010).  Elaborating on this third point, Moleke reported that most unemployed graduates were African and had qualifications in the Social Sciences and Applied Humanities – fields in which the growth in labour force entrants outstripped growth in employment created, resulting in low absorption rates of these graduates.

Relating to the first point, as mentioned previously, historically Black institutions received less funding and resources than their White counterparts, and although this has been systematically addressed in the past five years, discrepancies between institutions still exist.  For example, the University of Johannesburg, formed by the merger between two historically White institutions consisting of one campus each and one historically Black institution consisting of two campuses has included in one of their eight strategic thrusts “the attainment of equivalence of all campuses, with dedicated initial focus on the two formerly Black campuses” (University of Johannesburg Strategic Thrusts 2011-2020, 2011).  This, together with the fact that in 2011 three public universities were placed under administration due to mismanagement and that a merger was undone, shows the differing quality of management, of resources, and most likely differing quality of education at higher education institutions.  However, the quality of education at higher education institutions is not under investigation in this study, rather why possible discrimination in recruitment of graduates from different higher education institutions exists.

Evidence for discrimination in recruitment of graduates was reported by Pauw et al. (2006).  These authors conducted a study on graduate recruiters and found that employers who conduct recruitment drives onsite at higher education institutions’ campuses, prefer to visit only specific higher education institutions, and that these employers were fairly explicit about the fact that they do not approach historically Black institutions.  The employers cited concerns about students’ inability to deal with the interview process in a mature way and poor infrastructure in terms of facilitating recruitment drives as reasons for not visiting historically Black institutions.  While, poor infrastructure at these institutions is expected given the previous apartheid higher education system, these graduates inability to deal with interviews in a mature way raises questions.  For example, is career guidance and interview training provided at historically Black institutions? If so, is the quality of this training inferior? And do students from historically Black institutions actually perform poorer in interviews than those from historically White institutions or is this just a perception among some employers?

As interview skills have been raised as an important area for further study, and are part of an individual’s job search process, I now refer to other research that has noted how poverty influences individual’s job search.  In reviewing seven developing countries career development policies and practice, Watts and Fretwell (2004) report that poor people may be drawn to accept any job in order to provide a source of income.  In such instatnces poverty suppresses the concept of choice and leads career guidance (offered by higher education institutions) relevant only for those who are perceived to have choices.  Kingdon and Knight (2005) found that, in South Africa, the unemployed who are not looking for work are significantly more deprived than those who are actively looking.  They suggest that people’s job search is hampered by poverty, by the cost of a job search specifically for people from remote rural areas, and by high local unemployment.  Lack of capital also appears to be the primary constraint to entrepreneurship among the youth (Mlatsheni & Rospabe, 2002).  These findings relate socio-economic status to one’s ability to look for work, ability to apply for jobs and relative choice concerning employment options.

As the findings above relate to unemployment in the general population, I looked for research relating to socio-economic status and job search among the graduate population specifically.  Two things became clear; firstly, little research exploring poverty amongst South African students has been done (Firfirey and Carolissen, 2010 and, secondly, that there is a paucity of research conducted on graduates as most research on higher education utilises student and staff samples, probably because these are more convenient.  Even graduate studies typically survey graduates at their higher education institution when they collect their gown for graduation (Koen, 2006), and the extent to which they are still students or graduates at this point could probably be debated.

Relating to general literature on poverty amongst students, Dominguez-Whitehead (in press) reported that poverty results in food insecurity among students and that student loans often do not cover the cost of basic needs such as food, clothes and shelter.  Morrison, Brand and Cilliers (2006) found that, in South Africa Black, students face high stress levels in adapting to tertiary education and that they report financial difficulties as a prominent source of distress.

As poverty has been related to the experiences of students at university, I infer that poverty will continue to affect their experiences as they graduate from university and enter into the labour market.  Compounded with this we know that poorer graduates have lower levels of education, which are more likely in general fields such as social sciences and humanities – fields with the highest prevalence of graduate unemployment.  Taken together, poverty is an important area for further study.  Relating to graduate unemployment, how poor graduates experience the job search process, the cost of looking for a job, and the role of other household members warrants further study.  This will lead to a more holistic understanding of the influence of poverty on graduates’ job search and resulting employment choices and prospects.

Schoer, Rankin and Roberts (2012) point out that, in South Africa, gaining employment is a function not only of ones skills and personal characteristics but also the process through which employers and job seekers are matched.  They investigated which company, household and individual characteristics are associated with the channels through which young South Africans find their first job.  They identify three types of recruitment channels; direct channels which involves the job seeker going form door to door of potential employers, through social networks, namely family and friends, and through formal channels, namely adverts.  They found that the majority of employees had been recruited through social networks and those who were recruited through social networks reported higher number of employed household members, illustrating the importance of household attachment to the labor market.  They note that employers hire people through networks for a number of reasons.  According to Rankin, (personal communication, 25 January 2013), three of the most important reasons are firstly, it improves information that the employer has about the people – if you hire someone’s brother it is likely that they will have a similar productivity level, temperament etc. compared to some other person.  Secondly, it cuts down on the costs in the screening of applicants.  Thirdly, employers may recruit through networks for the monitoring function; if an employee brought someone to work at a company then they might make sure that the new recruit works hard in order to avoid a bad reflection on themselves.  Schoer, Rankin and Roberts (2012) found that those employed through direct channels did not differ by education level compared with those who have never been employed.  These studies raise household variables and job search resources and strategies as important in the study of graduate unemployment.

Picking up again on the role of poverty, and relating to higher education access, the South African government imitated the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) in order to provide aid to financially needy students.  This is required as access to education is at the core of South Africa’s strategy to address inequality enforced during apartheid and as way out of deprivation and poverty for previously disadvantaged groups.  In 2009, 93% of NSFAS loans were given to Blacks, 5% to Coloureds, 2% to Whites and 1% to Indians (National Student Financial Aid Scheme, 2013, January 7).

In addition to inhibiting access to higher education, financial constraints also play a significant role in the high drop-out rate of South Africa students (MacGregor, 2007).  A study on the expectations and subsequent experiences of students found that the largest gaps between the perceived importance and the perceived experience of a university service related to the scholarships available and fees (Gbadamosi & de Jager, 2009).  The results revealed that the students’ perceived experience is significantly lower than their considered importance of these services indicating that finances are a concern for some students.  These studies provide evidence of the pervasive nature of lack of finances on students’ experiences across a range of activities.

In concluding this part of the literature review, I concur with Koen (2006) in that researchers have not yet sufficiently explored links between higher education and the world of work.  We know that the prevalence, characteristics and perceived causes of graduate unemployment relate to a plethora of interrelated demographic and educational variables of the individual, as well as to factors relating to higher education institutions and to those relating to graduate employers.  However, we know relatively little about the relationship between these variables and the actual experiences of graduates when looking for work and negotiating employment.

In reviewing the graduate unemployment literature I identified these key areas for further study; the prevalence and characteristics of graduate unemployment following the end of apartheid and the restructuring of the higher education system, the role of poverty on graduates job search process and employability; and the role of the higher education institutions in providing graduates with career services and the effectiveness of these services.

I now look at literature specifically relating to the role of higher education institutions in providing career services to their students and graduates.

2.3 Role of the university in graduate employment

Unemployed graduates are a unique subsection of the unemployed youth population because they have studied at a higher education institution and graduated therefrom.  Therefore, when studying graduate unemployment it is important to do so in the context of higher education institutions’ role in providing career services to both their students and graduates alike.

Cliff (2003) states that although many students arrive at higher education institutions underprepared for the challenges they will face, institutions have a moral responsibility to assist students they accept towards ultimate academic success.  Here academic success refers to graduating but I pose the question, should ultimate success not refer to the employment of the graduate in a position and area that he/she can contribute to the overall prosperity and success of the country’s economy?

As a result of only few studies being conducted on graduate samples, relatively little is known about higher education institutions’ role is assisting graduates secure employment.  Kay and Fretwell (2003) noted that the then 31 registered tertiary institutions in South Africa all had student counseling units in place and that these units typically offered career information, guidance and counseling services.  In 2010, Cilliers, Pretorius and van der Westhuizen conducted a national benchmarking survey of student counseling centres in South Africa and of the 11 centres surveyed they found career development issues to be the second most frequent problem students faced.  They further reported that the main foci of these centres were counseling and skills development related.

When compared to a similar study conducted in America, (Gallagher, 2006) we see that in South Africa student counseling and student career services are usually grouped together in a single unit (with the exception of University of Cape Town and Rhodes University).  In America, however, counseling centres are separate to career centres as their scope of practice is seen as fundamentally different.

South African counselling and career development centres typically hire psychologists and counsellors and they provide services based on the assumptions of therapy, most obviously that the psychologist is an agent of change in the students’ development.  Therefore, there is an assumption that career services can be delivered by counselors and psychologists.  In reviewing career development services in seven developing countries including South Africa, Watts and Fretwell (2004) report that in delivery of career guidance there is an over emphasis on labour intensive one-to-one services delivered by psychologists and an excessive emphasis on psychometric testing.  Their limitation for improving career guidance states that “the field has tended hitherto to be dominated by psychologists and generic guidance counselors trained within a psychological tradition.  The emphasis has accordingly tended to be on psychometric testing and assessment and on a one-to-one relationship between expert and client” (Watts & Fretwell, 2004. P29).

Based on a review of all of the South African public higher education institutions’ websites and that reported by Cilliers, Pretorius and van der Westhuizen (2010), the current career services that higher education institutions offer are; 1) CV writing workshops, 2) mock interviews, and 3) job finding skills.  In addition to this, some institutions also offer 4) career resource centres and 5) graduate recruitment fairs.  The first three services mentioned, namely CV writing workshops, mock interviews and job finding skills are based on the premise that given the required skills and training, graduates can effectively manage their careers.  The skills they make reference to are ability to write a CV, the ability to perform in an interview and the ability to look for work.

Interestingly, these first three services mentioned all relate to resources of the individual and fail to acknowledge structural factors within the environment that may affect employment prospects.  In fact, one of the major limitations of mainstream approaches to psychology is the explicit and implicit assumption that the individual should be the focal point of change (Ahmed & Pretorius-Herbert, 2001).  Community psychology attempts to address this limitation by shifting focus from the individual to social structures and may therefore provide a framework for addressing graduate unemployment in terms factors relating to higher education institutions and to graduate employers, shifting focus form the graduate themselves.

Community psychology models challenge the mainstream psychological view that the individual is entirely responsible for their own fate, and therefore may provide a framework for understanding graduate unemployment with the appreciation of individual variables (such as educational level), family variables (such as socio-economic status), in the context of higher education (their services and reputations) and in the context of graduate employment practices (such as only visiting historically White institutions for graduate employment fairs).  A shift to a community psychology perspective could be a significant development in the study of graduate unemployment.

To date, the most comprehensive review of career guidance policies and provision, across seven developing countries including South Africa, was conducted by Watts and Fretwell (2004).  In their report they state that career guidance can perform a valuable role in raising the aspirations of individuals in poverty by making them aware of opportunities and supporting them in securing such opportunities.  They go on the say that career guidance emphasises the ‘active individual’ and their ability to make decisions about their own lives.  Furthermore they define career guidance services as services intended to assist individuals make occupational and educational choices and manage their career.  It is clear from their review that to date, at least in developing countries, career development is approached from an individual perspective and I question the extent to which this approach is applicable given the role household variables, higher education institutions role and graduate recruiters role discussed in the graduate unemployment literature.

Going back to the career services offered by higher education institutions, I notice an assumption that graduates will have all these resources available to them when they graduate to actually look for work, besides a CV and interview skills.  These resources includes access to job adverts usually via the internet or newspaper, resources required to apply namely internet access, money for printing and posting application documents, and transport to visit companies either to apply or to attend an interview.  It is likely that these resources will be more limited for poorer graduates.

The fourth common career service offered by higher education institutions is career resource centers, which usually consists of a library of information on the world of work, industry and employer information and computers that students can use for career related activities.  These services provide access to information, computers and access to the internet required to conduct a job search.  The do not address resources relating to mobility, in other words transport to and from job interviews.

Issues of mobility are addressed by the fifth common service offered, namely graduate recruitment fairs.  This entails graduate employers making onsite visits to higher education institution’s campuses to advertise their company, their graduate vacancies and to conduct graduate recruitment activities.  However, as Pauw et al. (2006) reported graduate recruitment fairs are only held at some higher education institutions as they require specific infrastructure and employers often only visit these fairs at historically White institutions due to the high cost involved. Through these fairs students gain access to employers, and employers are able to recruit students and graduates.  They provide a networking and advertising opportunity at a low cost to the student but a high cost to the employer.

Together, the five career services commonly offered by higher education institutions appear to provide all the resources required for a student to become employed.  These are a CV, interview skills, access to information and access to employers.  However, because of the assumption that the individual is responsible for their fate, there is excessive emphasis on the individual and a failure to address structural inequality so prevalent in South Africa.  These services do not appraise social reality as a dynamic and context specific.  By viewing the individual as responsible for their own employment prospects there is oversight of factors and interventions at the community level that could explain why certain groups of graduates have higher prevalence of unemployment compared to others.

Lastly, and of equal importance, all career services offered by higher education institutions are only available to registered students and not to graduates.  Therefore, there is either an assumption that graduates will have access to the required resources needed to look for work, namely newspapers, a computer, the internet, a printer and transport mobility, when they leave the higher education.  Alternatively higher education institutions may not view themselves as responsible for providing career services to graduates or for assisting them gain employment.

Key questions following from the review of career services higher institutions offer are; where do graduates access all of the resources required to find employment once they have left the university? Do higher education institutions view their career services role as extending to graduates? How do higher education institutions career services measure their effectiveness of their service if not ultimately by the employment of their graduates? And lastly, what is missed in our picture of graduate unemployment by the excessive focus on the individual and failure to address broader issues in the environment?  This research attempts to address these questions.

Chapter 3: Research aims and objectives

3.1 Summary of the research gaps

In light of the literature and the conceptual framework, a number of gaps in the current understanding of graduate unemployment in South Africa become evident;

1)    Several studies define ‘high’ or ‘growing’ graduate unemployment as the main concern, however, only two were published in the previous seven years (Koen, 2006).  Similarly since 2006, few studies have been published on the prevalence of graduate unemployment.  In addition to this paucity of research on graduate unemployment, published studies most often lack of a definition of what an unemployed graduate is.

2)    The characteristics of graduates in South Africa have changed dramatically since the end of apartheid in 1994 and since the restructuring of the higher education system from 2003-2005.  With this the characteristics’ of unemployed graduates has also changed following this period.  Ongoing research, such as the current study, is required to both track and explain these changes.

3)    The characteristics of unemployed graduates are predominantly studied and explained using surveys and univariate analysis.  Therefore, the interaction between characteristics and the overall variance in unemployment explained by these characteristics has, to my knowledge, not yet been reported.  Furthermore, little attempt has been made to understand the relationship between these characteristics and unemployment.

4)    Our understanding of the perceived causes of graduate unemployment in South Africa has been studied from the graduate employers’ perspective but not yet from the graduates’ point of view.  Listening to the graduates’ themselves could both deepen our understanding of graduate unemployment and allow new perceived causes to emerge.

5)    A lack of evidence exists regarding the long-term effects of career guidance provided by higher education institutions.  Furthermore, due to the assumptions of career guidance, and the focus on the individual student, structural factors in the environment affecting graduates employability have not been sufficiently studied.

3.2 Aims and objectives

Against the backdrop of these research gaps, the aim of this research was to expand our understanding of graduate unemployment in South Africa. The specific objectives were to;

-       Measure the prevalence of graduate unemployment using a database of students who graduated from all 23 public higher education institutions.

-       Identify demographic and educational factors that may be associated with graduate unemployment.

-       Qualitatively explore unemployed graduates’ perceived reasons for their unemployment, and to

-       Qualitatively explore the role of higher education institutions in providing career services, from the unemployed graduates’ perspective.

Chapter 6: Results

This section reports all of the survey results followed by selected interview results. Thereafter, important findings from both are integrated in and discussed in Chapter 7.

6.1 Survey results

6.1.1 Prevalence

As seen in Figure 6, the prevalence of graduate unemployment of those who are looking for work in this sample is 5.1%.  This is slightly less than the StatsSA 2011 and 2012 figure of 6.3% and 5.9% respectively and Moleke’s 6% reported in 2005.  It is well below van der Merwe’s (2009) estimate of 36.2%.   As mentioned previously, my sample over-represented males, Whites, and post-graduates.  In previous research these groups have generally had lower prevalence of unemployment.  Therefore my results are likely to indicate a conservative prevalence of unemployment.

As I am primarily interested in graduate unemployment among those who are currently looking for work, and not those who have chosen to be unemployed, throughout the quantitative findings I have compared the group who are unemployed and looking for work (103, 5.1%) to the other four employment statuses.  This group is sometimes referred to simply as ‘unemployed’ rather than the full description of ‘unemployed and looking for work’.  No-where in the results does unemployment also refer to the group who are unemployed but not looking for work.  Table 6 shows the full sample broken down by the independent demographic variables and Table 7 the full sample by the independent educational variables.  These frequency tables are provided to portray an overview of the full sample and their employment status.  Significant analysis results follow.

Table 6: The sample by independent demographic variables

Full Sample

N=2029 (percentage)

Unemployed and looking for work sample

N=103 (percentage)

Gender
Female

913 (45%)

58 (6.4%)

Male

1116 (55%)

45 (4%)

Race
Black

589 (29.5%)

70 (11.9%)

Coloured

122 (6.1%)

3 (2.5%)

Indian

190 (9.5%)

6 (3.2%)

White

1098 (54.9%)

24 (2.2%)

Socio-economic status
Not enough money for basic things like food and clothes

71 (3.6%)

13 (18.3%)

Have money for food and clothes but short on many other things

315 (15.8%)

24 (7.6%)

Have money for most important things but few luxury goods

579 (29%)

38 (6.6%)

Some money for extra things such as going away on holiday

1035 (51.8%)

26 (2.5%)

Area
Urban

1723 (86.2%)

75 (43.5%)

Rural

277 (13.9%)

26 (9.4%)

English is your…
1st language

772 (38.1%)

22 (2.8%)

Not your first language

1252 (61.9%)

81 (6.5%)

Age
20-24years

333 (21.6%)

37 (11.1%)

26-30

743 (54.2%)

53 (6.7%)

31-35

331 (24.2%)

12 (3.5%)

Newspaper access
Yes

1947 (98.6%)

90 (4.6%)

Yes with difficulty and no

28 (1.4%)

9 (32.1%)

Cell phone access
Yes

1962 (99.3%)

97 (4.9%)

No

13 (0.7%)

2 (15.4%)

Computer access
Yes

1958 (99.3%)

92 (4.7%)

Yes with difficulty and no

13 (0.7%)

5 (38.5%)

Internet access
Yes

1924 (97.7%)

87 (4.5%)

Yes with difficulty and no

45 (2.3%)

10 (22.2%)

Percentages in column three are relative to the specific variable level.  Therefore percentages below 5.1% indicate less prevalence of unemployment than in the overall population. Conversely percentages over 5.1% indicate above average prevalence of unemployment.

Educational variables’ frequencies

Table 7: The sample by independent educational variables

 

 

Highest qualification

Full Sample

N=2029 (percentage)

Unemployed and looking for work sample

N=103

(percentage)

Certificate

8 (0.3%)

1 (12.5%)

Diploma

193 (8.3%)

14 (7.3%)

Degree

681 (29.3%)

39 (5.7%)

Honors degree

812 (35%)

33 (4.1%)

Masters degree

500 (21.5%)

15 (3%)

Doctorate degree

106 (4.6%)

1 (0.9%)

Post-graduate diploma

22 (0.9%)

0 (0%)

Field of study of highest qualification
Arts

83 (4.1%)

2 (2.4%)

Bus/com/man

684 (33.9%)

41 (6%)

Education

36 (1.8%)

1 (2.8%)

Engineering/technology

584 (29%)

18 (3.1%)

Health sciences

92 (4.6%)

3 (3.3%)

Humanities

248 (12.3%)

22 (8.9%)

Law

64 (3.2%)

3 (4.7%)

Sciences

226 (11.2%)

11 (4.9%)

Other

12 (0.6%)

2 (16.7%)

University Type
University

1273 (62.7%)

57 (4.5%)

Comprehensive University

520 (25.6%)

23 (4.4%)

University of Technology

236 (11.6%)

23 (9.7%)

Graduation year of highest qualification
Before 1990

47 (2.4%)

0 (0%)

1991-1995

70 (3.6%)

0 (0%)

1996-2000

103 (5.3%)

0 (0%)

2001-2005

311 (16.1%)

3 (1%)

2006-2011

1398 (72.5%)

87 (6.2%)

Final year average marks
50s

283 (14.5%)

21 (7.4%)

60s

951 (48.6%)

50 (5.3%)

70s

594 (30.4%)

27 (4.5%)

80s and 90s

129 (6.6%)

4 (3.1%)

Funding (could select more than 1)

Self-funded

552 (21%)

19 (3.4%)

Family-funded

810 (30.8%)

42 (5.1%)

Bursary

768 (29.2%)

27 (3.5%)

Loan

504 (19.1%)

36 (7.1%)

Received career guidance

Yes

1272 (62.7%)

64 (5%)

No

757 (37.3%)

39 (5.2%)

How would you rate the usefulness of your qualification relative to other qualifications?
Less useful

200 (9%)

27 (13.5%)

Equally useful

823 (42.7%)

38 (4.6%)

More useful

968 (50.3%)

38 (3.9%)

How would you rate the skills you obtained from your university?
Poor and below average

21 (1.1%)

3 (14.3%)

Average

396 (20.6%)

24 (6.1%)

Above average and excellent

1612 (83.7%)

76 (4.7%)

Percentages in column three are relative to the specific variable level.  Therefore percentages below 5.1% indicate less prevalence of unemployment than in the overall population. Conversely percentages over 5.1% indicate above average prevalence of unemployment.

6.1.2. Underemployment

The above tables give insight into the participants who are unemployed and looking for work compared with the other four employment statuses namely; self-employed, employed full-time, employed part-time and unemployed and not currently looking for work.  As underemployment has been raised as a possible guise of unemployment, respondents also reported their perceived underemployment status as seen in Table 8.

Table 8: The employed sample by underemployment prevalence and type

Total (valid) Answered yes to “Do you consider yourself underemployed?” Response to “How would you describe your underemployment?”
Skill Time Both
Self Employed 115 (113) 28 (24.8%) 14 (38.9%) 7 (19.4%) 15 (41.6%)
Employed FT 1668 (1660) 354 (21.2%) 337 (78.6%) 19 (4.4%) 73 (17%)
Employed PT 101 (99) 46 (45.5%) 21 (38.2%) 15 (27.3%) 19 (34.5%)

On average of all the people who are employed, 30.5% reported being underemployed.  Of the underemployed, the average underemployment by skill reported was 51.9%, by time was 17% and by both was 31%.  Therefore, underemployment could to some extent camouflage the unemployment faced by graduates as if included, those who consider themselves underemployed in the unemployed sample, the prevalence of graduate unemployment shoots up to 26.2%. This analysis is however crude but it does raise underemployment as an area for more in depth study.

6.1.3 Chi squared and un-adjusted odds ratios for significant results

The following three tables report the significant results of chi-squared analysis when comparing the ‘unemployed and looking for work’ sample with the other four employment statuses by one other variable.  The results are presented in descending order of the odds ratio value, with the Table 9 showing odds ratios beginning with 9.774 and going down to 4.014, Table 10 showing odds ratios from 2.685 down to 2.156 and Table 11, with the lowest odds ratios ranging from 1.975 down to 1.575.

Table 9: Significant results from chi-squared analysis with descending unadjusted odds ratios from 9.774 to 4.401

Other 4 employment statuses*

Unemployed and looking for work

Un-adjusted Odds Ratio

95% C.I

P Value

Newspaper access

No/with difficulty

19 (67.9%)

9 (32.1%)

9.774

4.301; 22.210

0.000

Yes

1857 (95.4%)

90 (4.6%)

Computer access

No/with difficulty

10 (58.5%)

7 (41.2%)

8.763

4.799; 16.003

0.000

Yes

1866 (95.3%)

92 (4.7%)

Race

Black

519 (88.1%)

70 (11.9%)

5.078

3.395; 7.595

0.000

Coloured, Indian or White

1377 (97.7%)

33 (2.3%)

Internet access

No/with difficulty

39 (76.5%)

12 (23.5%)

5.204

3.045; 8.891

0.000

Yes

1837 (95.5%)

87 (4.5%)

Socio-economic status**

Lowest

58 (81.7%)

13 (18.3%)

4.014

2.358; 6.833

0.000

Other three

1841 (95.4%)

88 (4.6%)

* The comparison group consists of the other four employment statuses measured in the study. These are ‘self-employed’, ‘employed full-time’, ‘employed part-time’ and ‘unemployed and not looking for work’.

** Socio-economic status was measured by four categories namely ‘Not enough money for basic things like food and clothes’, ‘Have money for food and clothes but short on many other things’, ‘Have money for most important things but few luxury goods’ and ‘Some money for extra things such as going away for holidays’

a=0.01 for all results

Newspaper, computer and internet access

Newspaper access was the most important indicator of graduate unemployment, followed by computer access, and internet access fourth.  We see that graduates who can easily access a newspaper, computer and the internet are far more likely to be employed than those who can access these with difficulty or not at all.  Given that the survey was conducted online, those who said that they can never access the internet may have made a special effort to say so, possibly to show that they do not consider their access sufficient.  Graduates who have difficulty accessing a newspaper are nine times more likely to be unemployed, those with difficulty accessing a computer are eight times more likely to be unemployed and those who have difficulty accessing the internet are five times more likely to be unemployed compared to graduates who reported being able to access these facilities.  All of these effect sizes are largely unspecified and therefore further quantitative research would be beneficial.  Schoer, Rankin and Roberts (2012) report that formal channels of recruitment, in other words responding to job adverts, are available to job seekers with completed high school education or further qualifications and that further degrees and diplomas are associated with significantly higher likelihood of being employed through formal channels compared to social networks, underscoring the importance of these resources.  More will be reported on this in the qualitative and integrated findings.

Race

Race was the third most important indicator of unemployment status.  The unemployment rate was 11.9% for Black graduates and 2.3% for Coloured, Indian and White graduates combined.  Therefore Black graduates are five times more likely than the other races to be unemployed and looking for work.  This result should be viewed with caution due to the unspecified effect size that is likely caused by unbalanced observations among the four race groups.  Further research should aim to get a more representative sample.

Socio-economic status

Socio-economic status was the fourth largest distinguishing factor associated with graduate unemployment.  Graduates in the lowest socio-economic status group who reported having ‘not enough money for basic things like food and clothes’ are four times more likely to be unemployed and looking for work than are graduates in the higher three socio-economic groups.  If we look at the bottom two socio-economic groups we see that these graduates are approximately two and a half time more likely to be unemployed and looking for work than are the upper two socio-economic status groups.  As with race, the effect size is unspecified and further research should aim for more participants in the lowest socio-economic status group.

Looking at these five variables; newspaper, computer and internet access, race, and socio-economic status, we can see that they are related.  Those with limited financial resources would spend money on food and clothes before newspapers, computer and internet access given that they are a necessity to survival.  Looking at StatsSA results for 2011 we see “the significant differences in average annual household income across the different population groups. Black African-headed households were found to have an average annual income of R60 613 in 2011. Coloured-headed households had an average of R112 172 in 2011, while the figure for Indian/Asian-headed households stood at R251 541. White-headed households had the highest average household income at R365 134 per annum” (p.37), therefore Black graduates on average are expected to have a lower socio-economic status.

Reading the multivariate level Nagelkerke pseudo R2, the binary logistic regression results show that being Black accounts for the most variance in employment status at 10.2%.  This is followed by either having difficulty accessing the internet or a newspaper or no internet access each accounting for 3.3% variance, difficulty accessing a computer or no computer access explaining 3.1% variance and lastly being in the lowest socio-economic status group accounts for 2.6% variance in employment status.  Taken together these variables account for 12.8%.  In other words, 87.2% of the difference between the graduates who are unemployed and looking for work compared to the other four employment statuses is not explained by these five findings.  This signifies the importance of further explorative and qualitative research.

Table 10: Significant results from chi-squared analysis with descending unadjusted odds ratios from 2.685 to 2.156

Other 4 employment statuses*

Unemployed and looking for work

Un-adjusted Odds Ratio

95% C.I

P Value

Father’s education

I don’t know

83(87.4%)

12 (12.6%)

2.685

1.521; 4.739

0.001

Primary, high or tertiary

1722 (95.3%)

85 (4.7%)

Dependents

No

1137 (93.5%)

79 (6.5%)

2.315

1.456; 3.682

0.000

Yes

762 (97.2%)

22 (2.8%)

First language

Not English

1171 (93.5%)

81 (6.5%)

2.27

1.429; 3.606

0.000

English

750 (97.2%)

22 (2,8%)

Higher education institution

University of technology

213 (90.3%)

23 (9.7%)

2.184

1.402; 3.403

0.001

University or comprehensive university

1713 (95.5%)

80 (4.5%)

Area where spent majority of life

Rural

251 (90.6%)

26 (9.4%)

2.156

1.406; 3.307

0.000

Urban

1648 (95.6%)

75 (4.4%)

* The comparison group consists of the other four employment statuses measured in the study. These are ‘self-employed’, ‘employed full-time’, ‘employed part-time’ and ‘unemployed and not looking for work’.

a=0.01 for all results

Parent’s education and dependents

Graduates’ mothers’ education does not differ significantly among the unemployed graduates and the other four employment categories, however, graduates who don’t know what their father’s highest level of education is are two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than graduates who do know what their father education is.  The effect size is fairly unspecified and these graduates may only be 52.1% more likely to be unemployed but could be as much as 4.73 times more likely to be unemployed.  Further research into the implications on employment among male and female headed households would be valuable.  Altman (2003) reported concern around persistent cycles of poverty for female headed households as she found the return on education for African women to be much lower than that for African men.  Interestingly having dependents decreases the likelihood that a graduate will be unemployed by more than two fold.

First language

In South Africa the majority of the Black population, including the university population, do not speak English as their first language therefore English as a first language, mirrors the race findings but to a slightly lesser extent.  A study looking at graduate employment from a graduate recruiter’s perspective raised English ability and functional literacy as key determinants in their selection of students (Pauw et al.,2006).  In this research those graduates who do not speak English as their first language are more than two times likely to be unemployed and looking for work than first language English speakers. Interestingly self-reported ability to read and speak English was found to be significant, with increased ability being associated with increased employment, whereas ability to write in English was not significantly related to employment status.

Higher Education Institution, course and field of study

Graduates from a university of technology are more than twice more likely than are graduates from a comprehensive university or a university to be unemployed and looking for work.  This is difficult to relate to other findings that report historically Black and historically White status as most universities of technology are a result of a merger between a historically Black and a historically White institution (see Table 1 in appendices).  Looking at the difference in unemployment by the highest qualification we see that the there is a steady increase in employment with increased education.  Interestingly, there is not a statistically significant different between the groups with the exception of a split between degree and an honors degree.  Therefore people in this sample who have a certificate, a diploma or a degree are 67.9% more likely to be unemployed and looking for work than graduates with an honors degree, masters degree, doctorate degree or post-graduate diploma.

The only time there is a significant difference in employment status between the different fields of study is when humanities is compared with all other fields of study combined.  This mirrors Moleke’s (2005, 2010) findings. Looking at the highest and lowest prevalence of unemployment by field of study we can guess that some humanities courses have the lowest degree of professional focus (e.g. Communications) whereas some art course have high degrees of professional focus (e.g. Jewelry design).

Area

9.4% of graduates who have spent the majority of their lives in a rural area reported being unemployed and looking for work compared to only 4.4% of graduates who have spent the majority of their lives in an urban area.  Therefore those graduates who are predominantly from a rural area are more than twice as likely as their urban counterparts to be unemployed.  According to a Rural Education Access Plan (REAP), defining ‘rural’ is difficult as there are different gradations of rural (Lewis, 2011).  REAP relies on students’ proximity to the nearest town, library and internet café and the kind of structure one lives in as measures of ‘ruralness’ with the understanding that those furthest from these resources and in poor quality housing are considered rural.  Therefore, those far from an internet café and with low-socio-economic status are likely to make up some of the rural population, and as we found that people who have difficulty accessing these resources are more likely to be unemployed, all the factors relate to the same underlying construct namely being Black.

Table 11: Significant results from chi-squared analysis with descending unadjusted odds ratios from 1.975 to 1.575

Other 4 employment statuses*

Unemployed and looking for work

Un-adjusted Odds Ratio

95% C.I

P Value

Family member unemployed and looking for work

Yes

598 (92.4%)

49 (7.6%)

1.975

1.347; 2.896

0.000

No

1254 (96.2%)

50 (3.8%)

Field of study

Humanities

226 (91.1%)

22 (8.9%)

1.951

1.241; 3.065

0.004

Other, not humanities

1700 (95.5%)

81 (4.5%)

Funding

Loan

468 (92.9%)

36 (7.1%)

1.785

0.004

Self, family, bursary

2042 (95.9%)

88 (4.1%)

Course

Certificate, diploma, degree

750 (93.3%)

54 (6.7%)

1.679

1.153; 2.446

0.006

Honors, masters, doctorate, post-graduate diploma

1176 (96%)

49 (4%)

Gender

Female

1071 (96%)

45 (4%)

1.575

1.078; 2.302

0.018

Male

855 (93.6%)

58 (6.4%)

* The comparison group consists of the other four employment statuses measured in the study. These are ‘self-employed’, ‘employed full-time’, ‘employed part-time’ and ‘unemployed and not looking for work’.

a=0.01 for all results

Unemployed family member

Having an unemployed family member almost doubles the likelihood that the graduate themselves will be unemployed compared to the other four employment statuses.  In order to gain more insight into this finding it would be valuable to know, in addition to having an unemployed family member, the ratio of employed to unemployed members in the household as this will relate to the households socio-economic status and attachment to the labour force.  This is important because possibly the fewer unemployed family members a household has, the more likely they are to have resources that are required to look for a job such money, transport and computer and the internet.  It is likely that having unemployed family members is both a cause and a result of low socio-economic status and this alludes to the structural and self-perpetuating cycle of poverty.

Funding

Graduates whose studies were funding by a loan were 78.5% more likely to be unemployed when compared to graduates who studies were funded either by themselves, by a family member or through a bursary they obtained.  However, numerous graduates reported having multiple types of funding which commonly differed from one year to the next, and therefore often students who received a loan also used another type of funding too.  As mentioned in the literature review, in 2009 the National Student Financial Aid Scheme allocated 93% of their loans were to Blacks, 5% to Coloureds, 2% to Whites and 1% to Indians (National Student Financial Aid Scheme, 7 January 2013 ), indicating that funding is closely related to race.

Gender

The last significant findings reported relates to gender.  In this sample females are 57.5% more likely to be unemployed and looking for work than are male graduates.  The effect size is well specified and therefore the finding can be regarded as a fairly accurate reflection of the larger graduate population.  More females graduate annually than males but this does not explain why their proportion of unemployment is higher than for males.  However, previous unemployment literature found a far greater difference in the unemployment of females over males (e.g. Altman, 2003) and this research indicates that in line with national unemployment statistics, discrepancy in unemployment by gender is narrowing.

6.1.2 Non-significant results

The following section reports descriptive and non-significant findings

Job applications

Interestingly, the majority of unemployed graduates only apply for 1-5 jobs per week.  Assuming that graduates have CV writing, interviewing and job searching skills acquired through their higher education institutions career services, there are most likely other reasons preventing them from applying for jobs more often.  Possible explanations are the lack of resources required to look for work that were provided by the higher education institution to students but are not available to graduates.  This could relate to a number of factors, among them the expense of conducting a job search and emotional consequences of unemployment (for example demotivation and feelings of hopelessness).

Work experience

93.2% of the graduates who are unemployed and looking for work reported that they have work experience.  Of these 50% said that their work experience is related to their qualification, 19.8% said that it is somewhat related to their highest qualification and 30.2% said that their work experience is not related to their highest qualification.  The majority of unemployed graduates reported having more than two years work experience as indicated in the following graph.  Work experience as a cause of graduate unemployment was therefore not supported in the quantitative findings, however, it was raised as a perceived cause of graduate unemployment in the interviews.  Therefore a more nuanced understanding of work experience is required but is not addressed in this research.

Length of unemployment

Length of unemployment is 0 to 9 months for the majority of unemployed graduates with the rate dropping between 9 and 18 months.  Unfortunately these results are not elaborated upon further, however, they give insight into when graduates are most vulnerable to unemployment and can be used to inform higher education institutions services provided to their graduates.

Career guidance and marks

Surprisingly, whether the graduate had received any form of formal or informal career guidance or not was not significantly related to their employment status.  Career guidance was not defined in the survey, as is unknown what types of career services graduates would consider to be career guidance. This could possibly be both a strength and limitation of the question.

Average final year marks obtained was also not significantly related to employment status.  Therefore, those with low marks and who have not received any kind of career guidance are no less likely to be unemployed than high academic achievers or graduates who have received career guidance. This raises questions about the importance of career guidance in securing employment and the importance graduate recruiters place on graduates marks in their selection process.  Given that career services focus on the provision of career counseling and assessment, it is interesting that the measure of the effectiveness of these services does not appear to relate to the employment of graduates.

To conclude the quantitative finding, in my opinion these were the key questions raised; a) how and why do access to resources, race and socio-economic status account for 12.8% of the variance in graduate unemployment, b) what accounts for the remaining 87.2% of variance not measured in this survey? And relating to the role of higher education institutions c) why is the presence of career guidance unrelated to graduate unemployment?

6.2 Interview results

Given the findings above, transcripts were selected to address these key questions.  Participants mostly raised socio-economic status and networking as obstacles to gaining employment, without being specific asked.  I explicitly asked about the role of their university and in their responses this showed to be linked to socio-economic status, therefore the three themes covered in the transcripts are the role of socio-economic status, networking and the role of higher education institutions’ career services with regards to interviewee’s job search.

The extracts were transcribed using symbols developed by Jefferson (2004) in order to display the spoken interview more accurately in written from.  The symbols used and their meaning are presented in Figure 14.  In the extracts each line is numbered to allow reference to parts of the conversation.  The line number is followed by the first three letters of the interviewer or participant’s name.  The interviewer is always myself, namely Kim.

Figure 14: Jefferson symbols used in the presented extracts

Symbol Meaning Example
-   :hyphen Halting, abrupt cut off of sound or word. Whe- it happened afterwards
((  ))   :double parenthesis Non-verbal details ((laughs))
(  )   :single parenthesis Transcription doubt (not sure what was said)
=   :equal sign Latching of contiguous utterances, with

no interval or overlap.

Kim: Im just=

Par: Ok

Kim: =saying that

                      :underline Vocalic emphasis. No they didn’t
!   : exclamation mark Animated speech tone Wow!

The first five extracts provide evidence that finance is an important issue for poor students.  Extract 1 indicates how funding can dictate what course a prospective student is eligible to apply for, Extracts 2 and 3 indicate issues for current students relating to finances, Extract 4 raises problems regarding graduating for poor students and Extract 5 raises studying further as an option in order to escape unemployment.  Taken together they provide evidence that finances can be an issue entering, during and exiting higher education.

The following group of extracts, namely Extracts 6 to 9, highlights the cost of looking for a job and its debilitating effects on poor graduates. Extract 10 stands alone and relates to the potential ineffectiveness of graduate recruitment fairs.  Extracts 6 to 10 together highlight possible shortcomings of higher education institutions’ career services.

Extract 11 raises the presence and pervasive nature of networking and bribery in recruitment.  Extracts 12 through to 15 give examples of bribes and finally Extract 16 gives an example of how networking has occurred and resulted in positive outcomes for some, whilst negative for others.  All the interview respondents reported being unemployed and looking for work, Black, and in the lowest socio-economic status group in the survey.

The first extract occurs at the beginning of the interview.  Line one starts with the first question of the interview after the purpose of the study and confidentiality have been explained.  Sizwe, the respondent, reported in the survey that he is 23 years old and graduated in January 2012 with a national diploma (referred to in the interview as a BTech) in financial information systems from the Central University of Technology in the Free State.

Extract 1: Influence of finance when entering university

1   Kim: Um so the first thing that I want to ask you is can you just

2        tell me since you finished high school wha- what have you

3        done?

4   Siz: Ah I’m just studying, furthering my studies up until now

5   Kim: Ok so what year did you finish matric?

6   Siz: Eh two thousand and seven

7   Kim: And then how did you choose where you were going to study

8        and what you were going to study?

9   Siz: ((deep breath)) Ok ah how did I choose- ok eh I think, I

10       was, I was thinking of doing BCom Accounting in the

11       University of the Free State but eh because of my ah points,

12       ye entry points, to be admitted to the varsity eh to get a

13       loan cos I was admitted to the University of the Free State

14       but my points were so low that I can’t get financial

15       assistance so I choose to come to University of the Free

16       State or Central University of Technology=

17  Kim: Ok

18  Siz: =so that I completed my ap- qualification there

19  Kim: Ok so did you have enough points for a BCom but the loan

20       wouldn’t cover you?

21  Siz: Ja ja the loan wouldn’t cover me cos they wanted thirty two

22       points for loan so I had thirty points so I couldn’t

23       ((laughs)) ja

24  Kim: Ok and then, so what did you study instead of a BCom?

25  Siz: I I studied financial information systems which is more

26       related to a BCom so

27  Kim: Ok and is that a diploma or is it a BA?

28  Siz: Ja its BTech

29  Kim: BTech?

30  Siz: Ja

31  Kim: Did you get funding for it?

32  Siz: Ja I did get funding for it

33  Kim: Ah who from?

34  Siz: Ah from NSFAS  ((National Student Financial Aid Scheme))

35  Kim: Oh so NSFAS would let you study the BTech but they would let

36       you study the BCom?

37  Siz: Ja

38  Kim: Ok so you would have liked to have done the BCom but because

39       they couldn’t fund you for that you chose a BTech instead?

40  Siz: Ja I chose BTech instead because they need to fund me for

41       BTech

In this extract we see that a student’s university choice and their course choice is influenced by their funding requirements, in this case the lack of funding.  Siwze indicates that he needed a loan when he says “Ja I chose BTech instead because they need to fund me for BTech” (line 40-41).  His example is important because he wanted to study at a university but was forced to study at a university of technology and the survey results showed that graduates from a university of technology are more than twice as likely as graduates from a comprehensive university or a university to be unemployed and looking for work.

When Sizwe talks about his ‘points’ he is referring to his Application Point Score (APS) which is derived by assigning each subject that he completed in Grade12 a certain allocation of points. Learners get more points the higher their high school marks are and also for subjects passed on higher grade rather than on standard grade.  In other words, his performance in high school, particularly Grade12, has dictated the loan amount that he can receive from NSFAS, which in turn has dictated the types of courses and universities to which he can apply.  Van der Berg (2008) showed that socio-economic status plays a major role in educational outcomes of primary and high school achievement and that historically White and Indian schools still far out perform Black and Coloured schools in Grade 12 exams and performance tests at various levels. Therefore students from low socio-economic status households and historically Black or Coloured schools are disadvantaged before they even enter into the higher education environment not only because of their inferior education but also by their limiting access to loans.  It also shows that policies that govern the allocation of loans could play an important role in perpetuating inequalities between various groups by restricting loan amounts based on application point scores.

Peter, the respondent in the following excerpt, reported in the survey that he is 23 years old and graduated from the Durban University of Technology with a National Diploma in Information Technology in December 2010. His family funded his studies and he has other unemployed people in his family.  He reported being unemployed for more than two years at the time of the survey.

Extract 2: Finances at university

1   Kim: Is there is there anything you think your university would

2        be able to do to help you find a job? I know you’ve got work

3        now but if you think for that whole period when you weren’t

4        employed=

5   Pet: Ehe

6   Kim: =is there anything that they would have been able to do to

7        help you?

8   Pet: Eh one thing that I’ve realised about our university=

9   Kim: Mhm

10  Pet: =it is mostly business minded, the manager they are are very

11       business minded to the extent that eh there are, if you you

12       can pass a date or the due date of the payment they will

13       definitely call you and tell you that “No you have made the

14       deadline you have to pay” and they put the increase and

15       stuff like that but eh eh after I I graduated they didn’t

16       give me a letter

17  Kim: Mm

58  Pet: A reference telling that “No this particular student eh he

59       he he can be now in a state of being employed”

60  Kim: Ja

61  Pet:So may you please grant him that opportunity”

62  Kim: Ja

63  Pet: Yes “I am the lecturer or his professor”

64  Kim: Ja.

65  Pet: Yes

The previous extract showed how finances were restricting to the learner when applying for higher education.  This example shows that while at university, as an enrolled student, finances can continue to be an issue.  Peter tells us that if a payment is missed, then the university will call you and tell you “you have to pay” (line 14).  He also notes that they “put the increase” (line 14).  Most noteworthy is that when asked if there is anything that his university can do to help him find a job, the first issue he raises is one relating to finances and the implications for not making the university payments. His response does not particularly relate to finding a job, as was asked in the question, but rather to perceived unfair treatment wherein the university puts pressure on the student to pay their finances, as well as the increase, and in return the student does not receive a reference letter to assist him in finding employment.  Interestingly Peter is making the connection between paying fees while at university and being unemployed after graduation.  He said in the survey that his family has paid for his studies and as his concern with being unemployed relates to income and not to other aspects of the job for example meaningful activity it is possible to infer that he feels a financial burden as a result of his university fees.  Therefore we see that money can be an issue for poor students while at university and that this burden continues after graduation and into unemployment.

The following extract is also taken from Peter’s interview and it shows a different way that finances are an issue while at university.  This extract occurs later in the interview to the previous one.

Extract 3: Strikes relating to finances

1   Kim: What do you think makes it more difficult for graduates to

2        find jobs? Are there other things that you haven’t already

3        said?

4   Pet: Eh I think I think eish because I don’t- or maybe it is

5        because of ah ah lack of job creation

6   Kim: Ok

7   Pet: Of job creation and also ah I’m not quite sure about this

8        one but it’s just an assumption

9   Kim: Ja?

10  Pet: That maybe ah ah the the the- it also depends on the

11       university or the college that you come from maybe eh some

12       other companies they do a selection according to where the

13       person has been studying

14  Kim: Ok why do you think this might be stopping you from getting

15       a job?

16  Pet: Eh first thing first in a our our university, the university

17       that I’m from=

18  Kim: Ja?

19  Pet: =every eh eh year maybe in two time a year or a three times

20       a year there was a strike

21  Kim: Ja

22  Pet: At the beginning of the year and also eh eh around June

23       there was a strike and then that strike it always appears on

24       the news it always appears on the newspapers and other media

25       eh to show that- and I think when when when the employer’s

26       looking at the news and they see this ah school they like

27       strikes and so so forth and then I finish=

28  Kim: Ja

29  Pet: =at the end I I I finish my studies=

30  Kim: Mhm

31  Pet: =and I want to I want to get a job by applying, first thing

32       first they will see this person comes from Durban University

33       of Technology. Durban University of Technology it is well

34       known by the strikes

35  Kim: Ja

36  Pet: They like to strike and the strikes they become so heavy

37       that eh eh students they are getting shot at and

38       ((inaudible)) sorry to say so

39  Kim: Ja

40  Pet: So the employer won’t like that type of a employee to come

41       and work for him or for her

42  Kim: Ja

43  Pet: Eh I think that plays a role. Eh Wits University it is not

44       known for the strikes

45  Kim: Ja

46  Pet: Eh TUT they like to strike but not that much. Eh

47       Stellenbosch I’ve never heard that Stellenbosch University

48       they are striking or maybe they are striking but eh the

49       strike is very normal or it is very low

50  Kim: Ja. Ok.

60  Pet: Yes ma’am.

In this extract Peter refers to the prevalence of strikes at his university, the role of the media in exposing these strikes and the magnitude of the strikes as factors which influence his university’s reputation.  In his opinion, the first thing an employer will see in his job application is that he comes from Durban University of Technology and “Durban University of Technology it is well known by the strikes“ (lines 33-34) and “So the employer won’t like that type of a employee to come and work for him or for her” (lines 40-41).  In other words he is saying that employers make recruitment decisions based on factors relating to the higher education institution’s reputation rather than on individual characteristics of the graduate and that employers have preconceived ideas about graduates based on the higher education institution that they attended. This extends the importance of finances past the students’ difficulties in entering the university, paying for their fees and possibly repaying family loans, to a disadvantage in the workforce.  This appears to be a well-considered answer as Peter can comment on the presence of strikes at three other universities namely Wits (line 43), TUT (line 46) and Stellenbosch University (line 47).

If I look at the news headlines from 2009 to 2012, I see that during these strikes the students demanded, amongst other things, better financial assistance for first year and fourth year students and for their book allowance to be increased.  This provides further evidence that poor students are faced with financial problems whilst at university and may result in either poor academic performance or even dropout.

As a result of poor students communicating their poverty related issues to the university and public through strikes, they become at greater risk of poverty (through unemployment) because of the negative perception employers have of their university.  Furthermore, whether Peter himself has participated in these strikes or not is inconsequential as the reputation resulting from these strikes relates to the entire institution and all of its graduates and not only to the students who participate in the strikes.  Therefore the resulting disadvantage in the work place is outside of individual student’s control.  Reputation resulting from these strikes could also possibly explain why graduate employers only visit certain higher education institutions for their graduate recruitment fairs.  Therefore, in addition to the perceived poor quality of education at historically Black institution and lack of infrastructure required for graduate recruitment fairs at certain universities, factors relating to students’ poverty also negatively affect graduate recruiters’ perception of the higher education institution.

In the following extract Sizwe, from Extract 1, explains how his lack of finances delayed his graduation date, which in turn negatively influenced his employability.

Extract 4: Finances delay graduation

1   Kim: Ok um have you had any experiences when you’ve been looking

2        for a job umm that you can remember that have been good

3        experiences or bad experiences, um in looking for a job?

4   Siz: Eish ah the problem is I didn’t have my certificate up until

5        October because I was owing so they only paid my fees around

6        October and then that’s when I started to have my

7        qualification so I can apply, so since from January til now

8        ((November)) I’ve been applying with my statement of results

9        and they don’t consider me so, it was hard for me to find a

10       job during this year because of I didn’t have my

11       qualifications you see?

12  Kim: Ok

13  Siz: So since October- so I’ve started applying and at least eh

14       I’m getting ah positive responses

15  Kim: Ok

15  Siz: Ja

Sizwe received his qualification certificate a period after he had completed his qualification because his student fees were unpaid.  This is a standard practice amongst higher education institutions whereby a qualification is only granted if the student’s fees have been settled in full.  Therefore, students’ with access to money can graduate before classmates who do not have sufficient funds to settle their university account.  Siwze spent ten months applying for work using his statement of results rather than his certificate.  He believes that this is why he has not been considered for any positions to which he has applied.  Now that he has his certificate he says “at least eh I’m getting ah positive responses” (lines 13-14).  In other words, in Sizwe’s opinion the problem of not having his graduation certificate is caused by a lack of finances and results in lowered employment prospects.  Given that the growing unemployment rate in South Africa can be largely attributed to those who have never previously held a job and who enter unemployment when they enter the labour force (Kingdon & Knight, 2000a) and that graduates from historically Black institutions are more susceptible to this because they are absorbed into the labour market more slowly than those from historically White institutions (Moleke, 2003), it becomes clear that these factors can have compounding negative results for the already disadvantaged poor Black population.

The last extract on the theme of finances is from Lebo’s interview.  Lebo studied a one-year foundation programme at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and continued into an undergraduate diploma in biochemistry.  Thereafter she taught in a school for two years and then went on to study honors in microbiology from which she graduated in 2010.  On completion of her honour course she did a one-year internship and at the time of the interview she had been unemployed for 11 months.  In this extract she tells us that she is enrolling from a masters degree to escape the frustration of unemployment, and that furthering her education is secondary to the importance of the R3000 per month she will receive from her education bursary.

Extract 5: Studying further to escape unemployment

1   Leb: Honestly umm between me and you I’m just doing my masters

2        because I was getting really frustrated sitting at home and

3        not being able to do anything so at least masters they said

4        there’s a bursary and at least I can get three thousand

5        rand a month so I thought “So ok it’s fine at least I’ll be

6        getting my masters and getting that particular amount where

7        I can be able to buy myself things, underwears or food

8        whatever” so that was the main reason but I believe now

9        that maybe doing my masters is going to help me in some way

10       or get me in somewhere- as I said it’s in DUT and they’re

11       connected with companies so I believe maybe something good

12       is going to come out of this.

13  Kim: Ja

14  Leb: Ja

15  Kim: Ok so is- ja- ok- so you’re going to do the MTech hey?

16  Leb: Ja

17  Kim: Ok and is your- is your MTech paid for by DUT or is it paid

18       for by NSFAS or by someone else?

19  Leb: It’s paid by DUT.

((some conversation missing on how bursary works))

20  Kim: Ok so you’re not going to have any financial difficulties

21       while you do your masters?

22  Leb: As long as they give me the bursary so I can have money to

23       travel, you know- no. I’m still waiting for the response

24       from the bursary because it’s all about the bursary if they

25       don’t give me the bursary then I’ll have to drop out because

26       I still don’t have money to go there

27  Kim: Ja

28  Leb: Ja

In this extract Lebo explains how she is “just doing [her] my masters because [she] was getting really frustrated sitting at home and not being able to do anything” (lines 1-3).  In other words, the primary reason for her enrolling in a masters degree is not because of the career prospects it will provide her but to escape the frustration of being unemployed.  She is also not confident that her masters degree will increase her employment prospects evident when she says “maybe something good is going to come of this” (line 11-12).  Further on she tells us that she will have to drop out if she doesn’t receive the bursary iterating that having her honors degree has not resulted in any financial security or employment prospects.  She reiterates this when she says “it’s all about the bursary” (line 24).

This extract is important because it raises the persistence of poverty as a debilitating factor in poor people’s lives.  Lebo has an honors degree but is unemployed and therefore still reliant on bursaries.  Furthermore, she does not want to highlight her situation as she says “between me and you” (line 1).  Later in the interview Lebo talks about the humiliation and pressure of being the only person from her area to have an honors degree but that she is still unemployed. As a result she feels the burden of poverty as well as the humiliation of being unemployed.  This extract shows how poverty can continue to be debilitating years after graduation and not only ten months after graduation as mentioned by Sizwe and loosely mirrored in the survey findings.

Therefore, from the first five extracts we see evidence that socio-economic status a) affects entry info university, for example through the APS score achieved in grade 12 and reliance on a loan, b) affects students behavior and experiences while at university, for example the necessity to strike or delayed graduated due to unpaid fees, and c) is persistent in nature and continues to affect graduates experiences years after graduation.  Importantly, these unique obstacles that poor students and graduates face potentially lead to increased likelihood of unemployment, further perpetuating the financial difficulties they experience.

The following four extracts cover the cost of looking for a job and the lack of resources available to graduates provided by their university.   Thereafter Extract 10 looks at a particular higher education institutions’ career service and its perceived ineffectiveness by a graduate.

Lindy, in Extract 6, completed high school in 2004.  In 2005 her mother paid for her to redo grade 12 at a private institution in order to increase her marks as she wanted to study radiography but due to her grade 12 marks she did not qualify.  Unfortunately she did not improve her marks during this year and as a result registered for a diploma in translation and interpretation instead of radiography, as the entry requirements are lower.  She completed the three-year diploma in 2008 and went on to do a postgraduate diploma (namely BTech) in translation and interpretation, all at Durban University of Technology.  She completed her BTech, a two-year course, in 2010 and graduated in 2011.  Since then she has been unemployed and looking for work.

Extract 6: Cost of a job search and university resources

1   Kim: Ok. Umm that’s all of the questions I have but maybe if you

2        just take a little time to think about- is there anything

3        else that you would want to tell me, that you think would

4        help me understand umm why some graduates are unemployed?

5        Anything about your life or your experience that I might

6        have not asked you, that I might be missing- to understand

7        why some graduates are unemployed?

8   Lin: I think as for my experience as I come from a poor family

9   Kim: Ja?

10  Lin: I sometimes can not get the right resources where I see like

11       a post in the newspaper, it will take me some time to apply

12       for a job so or else email my CV so I have to go like to

13       take a taxi in order for myself to get an access to the

14       internet where I will pay like ten rand per hour to send my

15       CV

16  Kim: Ja

17  Lin: So even where- when I go to post office I have to take a

18       taxi from home to go to post office and buy envelopes and

19       all this stuff to send my CV so I think that also have a

20       huge impact

21  Kim: Ja. Do you think you would apply for more jobs if you had

22       better resources?

23  Lin: Yes I think so

24  Kim: Ok

25  Lin: Because it’s sometimes happen I see a post I don’t have

26       money to go to an internet or go to post office I end up not

27       applying for that job. Yes

28  Kim: How much do you think it costs you for one job application?

29  Lin: Ah I think forty rands

30  Kim: Ok what is that-

31  Lin: Cos I have to take a taxi from home to Durban which costs me

32       fourteen rands

33  Kim: Mhm

34  Lin: Which means the return is twenty eight rands

35  Kim: Mhm

36  Lin: So and then I have to buy envelopes I have to do copies

37       that’s that’s it

38  Kim: Ok and how much does the envelope and the copies and the

39       post normally cost?

40  Lin: Ah ok the fast mail it’s normally cost fifteen rands, the

41       ordinary mail it’s cost nine rands so its depends on the

42       closing date of the post

43  Kim: Ok and then you-

44  Lin: Cos if like today it’s Wednesday if the closing date is on

45       Friday you have to to use fast mail

46  Kim: Ja. So if you had to apply now it would be even more than

47       forty rand, it would be your transport twenty eight rand

48       then to print to use the computer and to print might be- how

49       much?

50  Lin: It will be three or five rands depends depending on which

51       internet café you use

52  Kim: Ok so then that’s say that’s five rand then you’ll also pay

53       fifteen rand for the postage

54  Lin: Yes so while- it was easy the time I was at university

55       because I was printing for free the only thing that I was

56       paying for it was envelopes

57  Kim: Ja

58  Lin: Cos copy I was doing copy for free at the library and

59       printing for free so since now since I’m not working and

60       studying I have to pay for all these things

61  Kim: Ja so do you think if your university had a service that

62       people who have graduated from there can still go and use

63       their facilities that would help you?

64  Lin: Yes yes

Lindy positions herself as someone who comes from “a poor family” (line 8) without me saying anything about money previously in the interview or in our communication prior to the interview.  She therefore sees being poor as a defining characteristic relating to her experiences of being unemployed.  She goes on to say that “I think that also have a huge impact” (line 19 and 20) indicating her perceived magnitude of the impact of money on her employment prospects.  She articulates the costs involved in applying for a job which include buying a newspaper, transport, buying envelopes, doing photocopies, mailing her application and the cost of the internet café.  In her estimation a single job application costs R40. Given that the average household income differs significantly by race, with Black households having the lowest income of R69 632 per annum or R5 802 per month (Stats SA, 2012) this is an exorbitant amount.  As she stated in the survey that she lived in a rural area most of her life and StatsSA reports the average income in rural areas to be lower, it is possible that her household income is even lower than the South African average.

Without being specifically asked about the role of her university she says “it was easy the time I was at university because I was printing for free the only thing that I was paying for it was envelopes. Cos copy I was doing copy for free at the library and printing for free so since now since I’m not working and studying I have to pay for all these things” (lines 54- 60).  This helps us to understand why graduates in the lowest socio-economic status group have a higher prevalence of unemployment compared to the other employment groups as their job search is hindered.  Furthermore, as the cost of a job application is so high Lindy says that “I sometimes cannot get the right resources” (line 10) and “Because it’s sometimes happen I see a post I don’t have money to go to an internet or go to post office I end up not applying for that job.”(lines 25-27) which is a further lost opportunity cost.  This could explain why in the quantitative findings the majority of unemployed graduates reported applying for an average of only 1-5 jobs per week. Therefore, graduates do not have access to university resources that students have access.

This raises important questions around the role of the university in supporting their graduates in finding employment, particularly poor graduates who do not have the household resources required to apply for work such as a computer, internet connection and fax machine.  Interestingly, Lindy reports using these services in the library.  This points to potential overlap in career resource centers and library services.   Possibly better articulation of career resource centers’ services is required to avoid duplication of services, or perhaps better divergence of library and career resource center services.

The following three extracts are similar to the one above.  They show that a job search requires numerous resources, most of which are not easily accessible to poor graduates.  They differ from the one above in the cost of a job search and the conditional effects that money can have on conducting a job search.

Extract 7: Cost of a job search and family support

1   Kim: Ok. Um. How many jobs do you think you applied for between-

2        after you graduated and when you got your internship?

3   Pet: Yo yo yo yo as many as I could. I was spending

4        almost every day on the internet, spending everyday looking

5        at the newspaper buying the newspaper all the ((inaudible))

6        that is advertising the post or the the internships and

7        other things I can’t- even now a person can call me for for

8        the interviews ne I wouldn’t even remember, wouldn’t really

9        remember, “did I really apply for for for this job or what?”

((Some irrelevant conversation missing))

10  Kim: Ja. Ok when you use the internet to look, where did you

11       use the internet?

12  Pet: Ah you are talking about eh venue?

13  Kim: Yes

14  Pet: Aah I started at school ja using the internet at school then

15       the time I was out there ah ah from school back at home I

16       was I was going to to town=

17  Kim: Ja

18  Pet: =to the eh internet café

19  Kim: Ja

20  Pet: And search in the internet for for for the job and stuff

21  Kim: Ok so- and how much would you pay to get to the internet

22       café and how much did you pay for the internet?

23  Pet: Eh to to get to that ah destination ma I was paying, return=

24  Kim: Ja

25  Pet: =a return would be eighty rands and then just to use that

26       internet

27  Kim: Are you saying one eight or eight zero?

28  Pet: Eight zero

29  Kim: So forty rand there=

30  Pet: Eight zero

31  Kim: =forty rand back?

32  Pet: Yes. Ja forty rands going and forty rands coming back

33  Kim: Shew

34  Pet: That’s how far it was

35  Kim: And then how much did it cost to use the internet?

36  Pet: Ah by estimation it was plus minus fifty rands

37  Kim: Ok so how many hours does that allow you?

38  Pet: Aah close to two or three ja

40  Kim: Ok ok

41  Pet: Ja

42  Kim: So I mean that’s very very expensive to get-

43  Pet: Very expensive ma’am that’s why I’m saying that that period

44       it was very very very much frustrating

45  Kim: Ja

46  Pet: I was losing money for nothing. Applying applying not

47       getting a job nothing eish eish eish

48  Kim: Who was paying for you to do this?

49  Pet: Eh I was I was having the support from my mother and also

50       from my dad

51  Kim: Ok

52  Pet: Sometimes from my brother when he has something you know

53  Kim: Ja

54  Pet: Yes

Peter says “Eh to to get to that ah destination ma I was paying, return- a return would be eighty rands and then just to use that internet” (lines 24-26), therefore, urban unemployment may be higher due to transport costs.  In addition to this he says “Ah by estimation it was plus minus fifty rands” (line 36) to use the internet.  While Lindy complained about the cost of her job search we see that it can be far more for other applicants who live further from an internet café.  Peter doesn’t seem to consider his job search effective or useful when he says he was “losing money for nothing” (line 46).  As with Lindy, Peter also used the internet at university while he was a student there, but now he has to travel to town to use the internet (lines 14-18).

Therefore the universities supply much needed resources to current students but not to their graduates, implying that their role ends once the student leaves the university.  It also suggests that higher education institutions that hold graduate fairs are assisting their students find employment by eliminating transport costs as the employers come to the university rather than the students going to the employer.  Peter says that he was “spending almost every day on the internet” (lines 3-4) and therefore over a month he would have spent a large amount of money conducting a job search.

Lastly, his family funds his job search and if we assume that his parents are employed, as is his brother, this is evidence of the supportive financial role employed family members play and “reiterates the importance of household attachment to the labour market” (Schoer, Rankin & Roberts, 2012) for graduates.  Unfortunately the role of family was not well covered in the survey and future quantitative research should ask more specific questions around the type and magnitude of support offered by family members to job seekers.

During grade 12 Nomsa, in the following extract, was given a bursary to study a three-year marketing diploma.  Since graduating she has done various contractual jobs, all unrelated to marketing, and has not held a permanent position.  She mentioned having received good marks for her diploma and being a hard worker both whilst studying and currently while looking for a job.

Extract 8: Resources dictate job search

1   Kim: Like ja think of the last year, what is your most typical

2        day?

3   Nom: With me, ok ok I I wake up every day and I’ve got a little

4        sister she’s eight years old and I accompany her to school,

5        when I was not working in this firm, and I accompany her to

6        school and then I come back when I do have the money in that

7        week I’ll buy a newspaper come back at home and clean after

8        cleaning I’ll browse through the newspaper and read it and

9        try to find a job circling everywhere. I will call maybe the

10       following day I’ll start calling those numbers and then

11       sometimes I borrow a laptop from my aunt’s daughters but

12       sometimes she doesn’t give me. When I borrow the laptop

13       then I’ll use it the whole day because it’s not mine

14       obviously and other days I’ll go to the internet café, it’s

15       costly it’s ten rand per hour so I don’t have money always

16       but when I do have a fifty rand I’ll go to the internet café

17       maybe for three hours and then the other twenty rand will be

18       for food while I’m there.  That’s a typical day for me

19  Kim: Ok

What stands out in this extract is the conditional nature of Nomsa’s job search.  She says “when I do have the money in that week I’ll buy a newspaper” (lines 6-7), “when I borrow the laptop then I’ll use it the whole day because it’s not mine” (lines 12-13) and “when I do have a fifty rand I’ll go to the internet café” (line 16).  Nomsa can only apply for jobs when she has money or when she can borrow the laptop.  Therefore, Peter’s job search is costly but not necessarily restricted because he has financial support from his family.  On the other hand, Lindy and Nomsa’s job search is expensive and in addition to this it is restricted to when they have the required resources.  This shows that financial constraints have a differing impact on low socio-economic status graduates’ job search and that its impact is more severe for some than for others.

Additionally, family resources influence family responsibility and in Nomsa’s example her responsibilities extend to helping her little sister and cleaning the house.  This provides evidence of the multifaceted nature of the relationship between family resources and job seekers ability to look for work. Therefore, any intervention aimed at assisting poor graduates in their job search should acknowledge these intricacies and differences.

The following extract is taken from Sibusiso’s interview.  He finished grade 12 in 2001 and did a certificate in business administration in 2002.  Thereafter he studied a BCom majoring in insurance and risk management and marketing at the University of the Witwatersrand.  Since graduating in 2010, he has held three part-time jobs.  Besides being unemployed in between these positions, he has been unemployed and looking for work for the past three months.  Prior to the extract he has spoken about how he normally applies for jobs, using newspapers and the internet, and that he finds the job application process very expensive.

Extract 9: The cost of faxing

1   Sib: Most companies if you send your CV they want you to fax

2        stuff and faxing is hell of expensive and you need internet

3        café, money, it’s a whole lot of factors because you don’t

4        have your own like internet at home or anything like that so

5        it becomes quite problematic when you’re not bringing in

6        anything yet you need money to you know- apply and do a

7        whole lot of things

8   Kim: Ja and so how did you get money to or ah- how did you look

9        for a job, where did you use the internet and how did you

10       get money to post your CV and things like that?

11  Sib: Ja a friend of mine borrowed me his modem and I managed to

12       scrambled ah some data money that I used to apply everyday

13       but ah any response that came back asking me to fax stuff I

14       just ignored cos ah I faxed once and it cost me like sixty

15       five rand to fax everything they wanted, and up to this day

16       they didn’t- they still haven’t responded

17  Kim: Ok so once they said in their application “Can you fax

18       something” then you just left it?

19  Sib: Ja

20  Kim: So can you say that part of the problem with looking for a

21       job is the expense and the process of applying?

22  Sib: Ja definitely. If I apply to a company via email I expect

23       them to respond via email and ask for my documents via email

24       rather than having to ask me to fax stuff

25  Kim: Ja

I have chosen this extract to highlight a particular conundrum which poor graduates face.  That is, throughout the interviews these graduates reported that they look for jobs in the newspaper because it is easy to get a newspaper and unlike the internet they don’t pay for the amount of time they have access to it.   Therefore they can read it carefully, circling the jobs to which they will apply, and tailor their application to the job advertised.  In addition to looking for jobs in the newspaper, others reported using the internet on their phone to apply as it eliminates the cost of travelling to an internet café.  In reviewing the jobs advertised in newspapers, I see that probably the majority of the positions advertised are public sector/government jobs.  Having applied for a number of government jobs myself I am aware of what the application process can be.  Commonly the application process entails printing out the forms they provide on their website, completing these forms, scanning them, and faxing them together with one’s academic record, CV and copy of your identity document.

The conundrum is that the jobs adverts which are cheap to access, namely those in the newspaper, can be the most expensive to apply for.  Unemployed graduates, who do not have access to computers and the internet, can either experience an expensive process is accessing job adverts by paying the costs associated with traveling to an internet café and paying for the internet, paying for data on their phones or traveling to companies and applying door-to-door or they can experience this expense later when they apply to jobs accessed fairly cheaply in the newspaper but that require printing, scanning and faxing of numerous forms.

This extract therefore raises unique problems poor graduates face in their job search namely the compatibility of various advertising and application options and their viability for poor graduates.  As seen with the example of strikes resulting in a bad reputation for the whole university, here we see another factor, which is outside of graduates’ control but that affects them adversely.  These point to the necessity for higher education career services to extend their scope of practice beyond counseling and guidance services to address issues outside of the student or graduates control and more within the graduate employer’s control.  Two discussed thus far are discrimination against certain higher education institutions (most commonly historically Black institutions) with regards to hosting on campus graduate recruitment fairs and the cost of the application process.

Following from this thought, the following extract shows another way that higher education career services can fall short.  It provides further evidence for rethinking the role of the university is assisting their graduates secure employment.  The excerpt is taken from earlier on in Sibusiso’s interview.

Extract 10: Graduate recruitment fairs fall short

1   Kim: Um if you think about your university, Wits University, how-

2        did they help you in any way to prepare- to look for a job?

3   Sib: Not necessarily they just brought companies over and they

4        offer grad programs and once you’re in none of those

5        programs, you’re basically on your own, they don’t prepare

6        you for that part

7   Kim: Ok so would you say that the services they offered you, that

8        graduate recruitment fair, did it- did it assist you in any

9        way?

10  Sib: No it just assisted me in getting some rejection letters and

11       ja that’s all basically and some of those programs don’t

12       actually respond

13  Kim: Ok so you found programs at the graduate recruitment fair

14       and you applied and then they never got back to you?

15  Sib: Yes

16  Kim: Ok

When asked about the assistance he received from his university in preparing for or looking for a job, Sibusiso only refers to the graduate recruitment fair.  I know that in 2010, when Sibusiso was at Wits University, that other optional career services where available and as he makes no reference to other services offered by Wits such as CV writing and interview skills training it is possible he doesn’t know of these services.  Therefore, marketing of these services may be ineffective.  This leads me to the optional nature of these services and that they are offered on students’ request by making an appointment with the career counseling and development unit, as opposed to being part of the course curriculum.  This implies that higher education institutions perceive their career services to not be required by all students but only those who seek help.

Sibusiso’s disappointment in the career services his university offered is fairly explicit here when he says “you’re basically on your own, they don’t prepare you for that part” (line 5-6) and “[they] just assisted me in getting some rejection letters” (line 10).   This points to poor integration of the services, possibly as a result of in their optional and non-structured nature. So while graduate recruitment fairs have advantages for poor graduates in that they eliminate the cost of travelling to companies and may provide opportunities for networking and establishing connections to the labour market, they do not ensure employment and they do not ensure authenticity of the positions the employers are offering.  This is evident when Sibusiso says “some of those programs don’t actually respond” (line 11-12).

The above five extracts give us insight into the high cost of a job search for those who lack the required resources, the resources provided by higher education institutions that are available to students but not to graduates, the varying resources offered (or not offered) by family members to the graduates for their job search, and two shortcoming of higher education career services namely that given their optional nature they are unknown to students and that career fairs can be ineffective.  Together they help us understand how and why money is important at various levels and times in students’ and graduates’ lives and they highlight gaps in the career services offered by higher education institutions.

In the next group of extracts the high cost of looking for work becomes very clear.  Furthermore, comments such as “I was losing money for nothing” reveal that these graduates do not receive anything in return for the money they spend on job applications.  Sibusiso explicitly said that he didn’t even get a response after spending R65 on a fax.  Therefore to conclude the second them I raise an important question; Can the application process be made cheaper to avoid this perceived wastage of money? And if, not what can these graduates get in return for the money they spend on job applications?  Answers to these questions would relate to both the role of higher education institutions and those of graduate employers with regards to graduate recruitment.

The following extract introduces a new variable to the study, namely the presence of bribery.  It also elaborates on the role of family and friends and the use of connections in recruitment.  The extract occurred within the concluding minutes of Peter’s interview. This, together with the following five extracts covers the last theme to be explored in this report, namely (mostly unfair) common recruitment practices.

Extract 11: Bribery and networking in recruitment

1   Kim: Ok. Umm I don’t have any more questions for you. Um is there

2        anything else that you could tell me that would maybe help

3        me with my study to understand why so many young people are

4        unemployed?

5   Pet: Ah ma’am we can talk the whole day ne

6   Kim: ((laughs))Ja

((Irrelevant conversation missing))

7   Pet: The municipalities are doing wrong they are not doing

8        anything for those people they- eh people in the

9        municipalities if you can count or if you can also do that

10       research about the municipalities of South Africa (I’m not

11       saying) all of it- in South Africa if you can count the

12       people that are unqualified and sitting at the offices, they

13       are more than people who are qualified.

14  Kim: Ja but how do you think they get this job if they’re

15       unqualified?

16  Pet: Hai man! ah sorry sorry ma’am. It is all about eh I think

17       the connections you- we we all know about this connections.

18       We can’t run away from it and we can’t hide it

19  Kim: What do you mean it’s about connections?

20  Pet: Eh like let’s say I know you

21  Kim: Mhm

22  Pet: You are working at the municipality, maybe you are a manager

23  Kim: Mhm

24  Pet: I I I don’t have qualification and there is a a a vacant

25       post

26  Kim: Ja

27  Pet: Ja at the municipality I’m just going to talk to you and say

28       “Ai can you eh eh make a plan that I I can be here at this

29       office and working?”

30  Kim: Ja

31  Pet: Wouldn’t even think twice just because you know me or maybe

32       even some bribes. Bribes are there. It is it is there it is

33       happening=

34  Kim: Ja

35  Pet: =in our daily lives so this is also part of the things that

36       discourages us, even there was this- there is this person

37       that I know, he is not qualified to be maybe and IT officer

38  Kim: Ja

39  Pet: Then I applied. He applied.

40  Kim: Ok

41  Pet: What did they do? They put him on that office. Nothing, they

42       just reject me, they don’t even call me or tell me that no

43       I’m unlucky I’m not selected

44  Kim: But how did he get it? What did he do?

45  Pet: Ai that’s the thing that I’m asking myself now. And I’m

46       still going to be asking myself each and every day “How

47      come? How come?” You see?

48  Kim: Ja and you think maybe he bribed someone or maybe he’s got

49       connections

50  Pet: Yes. Yes because of those connections that I was telling you

51       about. They do happen.

52  Kim: Ja

53  Pet: They are there

54  Kim: Ok

55  Pet: It it- so me, if I had a connection too by then I’d be

56       talking another story telling you “No I have a job, I have a

57       nice job” Eh eh but now I’m struggling to have a nice job

58       because I don’t have connections. It’s just me and my

59       qualifications

Peter talks about the use of connections as a widely known and used recruitment strategy.  He says “It is all about eh I think the connections you- we we all know about this connections. We can’t run away from it and we can’t hide it” (lines 16-18).  This concurs with literature that identifies networking as the most effective job searching strategy (Bernstein, 2010; Rankin et al., 2007; Schoer, Rankin & Roberts, 2012; Wittenberg, 2002).  He reiterates this when talking about bribes when he says “Bribes are there. It is it is there it is happening in our daily lives” (lines 32-35).  In addition to the pervasiveness of bribery and using connections to find a job, he also talks about the normality of these behaviors in saying “Wouldn’t even think twice” (lines 31).  In closing he says “if I had a connection too by then I’d be talking another story telling you “No I have a job, I have a nice job” Eh eh but now I’m struggling to have a nice job because I don’t have connections. It’s just me and my qualifications” (lines 55-59).  This shows that he is certain that if he had connections he would be employed, but even though he seems certain that he would have a job if he had connections; he refers to the illusive nature of how this would actually happen when he says “I’m still going to be asking myself each and every day “How come? How come?” You see?” (line 44-47).

What is interesting about his description of connections is he says “I don’t have the qualification” (line 24) indicating that he may be referring to something more ominous than using connections to secure employment as he implies that the person is not qualified for the job.  Further on he says “because you know me” (line 31) but he does not describe the nature of this relationship.  With caution I infer that Peter may be referring to nepotism and I do so without treating nepotism as being either good or bad.  While it may be worthwhile to consider moral and legal considerations regarding nepotism, “the general industrial-organisational psychologists view is that any policy relating to recruitment, hiring, or promotion of individuals should be based on the qualifications to perform the job (Gutman, 2012, p.12).

In the following extract Lindy has been saying that if she could return to university she would study radiography as intended and not interpretation and translation as she has done.  She believes that getting a job in radiography would be easier because she sees lots of adverts, particularly in the newspaper and on notice boards, from the health departments and much fewer from government departments that hire translators and interpreters.  Interestingly she does not often apply to private institutions because she seldom sees positions advertised for which she is eligible to apply.

Extract 12: Poor families can’t afford to pay bribes

1   Kim: Ok and besides the course is there anything else that you

2        think makes it more difficult for you to find a job?

3   Lin: Yes another thing is that when you like apply=

4   Kim: Mhm

5   Lin: =people tend to look at your CV and like it’s depends on who

6        you know. You have to know people to get a job in other

7        places

8   Kim: Ok

9   Lin: If you just nobody and you know nobody you can’t get a job

10  Kim: Ok

11  Lin: Some places you do have to bribe in order to get a job so

12       for us it is difficult for us who come from a poor families

13       to get that money to bribe people to get a job

14  Kim: Ja have you-

15  Lin: Government ((inaudible)) so you have to know people=

16  Kim: Ok I hear-

17  Lin: =in order to get a job

18  Kim: Can you tell me about your experiences that you’ve had with

19       umm having to know people or having to bribe people?

20  Lin: Yes since you said my my information is confidential

21  Kim: Yes

22  Lin: I will tell you. Ok I once get a call from I’m not sure

23       whether the department of- it was one of the government

24       departments

25  Kim: Ok

26  Lin: Where they do- where I got a call- a person was calling me

27       he said “If you can give me five thousand rand you can get

28       this job”

29  Kim: Yo!

30  Lin: But then I didn’t have that money since I’m not working. I

31       told him that “What if you give me a job then I work then I

32       pay you I pay you once I got paid?” he said he want the five

33       thousand now or else I’m not going to get this job then

34       that’s why- that’s how I lost my that job

35  Kim: Ja. Had you applied for that job?

36  Lin: Yes I did

((Some repetitive conversation missing))

37  Lin: So

38  Kim: Shew it’s terrible

39  Lin: I didn’t have the money that’s ho- why I lost the job. I

40       think I was qualified for the job so because I didn’t have

41       the money for bribe that’s why I didn’t get the job

In the previous extract Peter referred to the pervasiveness and normality of bribery and using connections in recruitment.  Here too as Lindy doesn’t seem to condemn the behavior to which she is referring, it is therefore possibly taken for granted as normal recruitment practice.  This is evident both when she says “Some places you do have to bribe in order to get a job” (line 11) and when she offers information around how she tried to negotiate the bribe; “I told him that ‘What if you give me a job then I work then I pay you I pay you once I got paid?” (lines 30-32).

Lindy says that another difficulty in her job search is that “it’s depends on who you know. You have to know people to get a job in other places” (lines 5-7).  As with Peters example above, it is unclear whether she is referring to ‘who you know’ as a networking strategy or possibly some form of nepotism, however, before Lindy gives details of how she was bribed she says “since you said my my information is confidential I will tell you.” (lines 20-22) implying that there is some sort of secrecy around this kind of practice but the extent to which the bribe and having connections are interrelated needs to be established.

Moleke (2003, 2005) reported that Black people are employed primarily in the public sector, whereas Whites are mostly employed in the private sector.  As Lindy explicitly says that the behaviors to which she is referring occurs in government (line 15), it suggests that further research is required to understand the connection between preferred advertising avenue (for example newspaper versus internet), the application process (for example emailing versus faxing documents) and recruitment practices (for example the importance of connections and bribery).  There may be systematic ways in which poor graduates are disadvantaged from the advertising avenue, through application and into recruitment practices.

In closing her story she says “I didn’t have the money that’s ho- why I lost the job.” (line 39) indicating that in her mind there is no doubt that she would have got the job had she been able to afford the bribe.  She shows that in her experience employment is not based on education but rather one’s ability to bribe a recruiter and based on connections (lines 5-6).  Earlier, recruitment was also described in terms of factors outside of the graduates’ control, for example discrimination of recruiters and lack of finances.  The sum of the bribe is alarming as it is almost the monthly household income of the average Black household.  Therefore this extract indicates a further way in which poor graduates are vulnerable to unemployment due to factors outside of their control, namely the inability to pay bribes.  The following extract occurs shortly after the one above in which Lindy talks about being asked for a bribe and her inability to pay the bribe because she comes from a poor family.

Extract 13: Bribe for in-service learning

1   Kim: Do you have other experiences like this or do your friends

2        have they had experiences like this?

3   Lin: Yes they did

4   Kim: And can you tell me about them?

5   Lin: Yes. One of my friends=

6   Kim: Mhm

7   Lin: =who in like two thousand and eight she was looking for an

8        in-service training, then she got to the Department of

9        Justice, she went there and the manager told her that he has

10       post who is looking for people who are qualified for

11       translation and interpretation, so he is willing to give her

12       this position but then she must bribe in order for her to

13       get the the position

14  Kim: Ja and did he say how much?

15  Lin: No she didn’t because at school we were told about

16       ((inaudible)) she was still doing an in-service training, he

17       said she is going to pay him for the position, she is no

18       longer going to do the in-service training

19  Kim: Ja

20  Lin: So the lady decide not to take it and report it at school

21  Kim: Ja. Why do you think she didn’t report this to school?

22  Lin: Ai I don’t know

23  Kim: So did she do her in-service training there al- had she

24       started her in-service training or was she still going to

25       start?

26  Lin: She was about to start and they get her another one at

27       school

28  Kim: Ok so she decided she is not going to bribe them she’ll

29       rather take the other one?

30  Lin: Yes

This extract is interesting in that, while in Extract 12 Lindy is referring to a bribe proposition that took place at a time when she had already graduated and therefore was not directly connected to the university, this extract refers to a bribe being offered to a current student of the university for her in-service learning, which is considered a subject within the diploma course.  Therefore, this raises interesting questions around the role of the university in ensuring fair recruitment of their students not only as a result of graduate recruitment fairs discussed in an earlier extract but also into in-service learning positions.  We see that in addition to ineffective marketing of career services, and the lack of resources such as printing for graduates, there may also be ineffective application of recruitment processes.  A key question following form this is; Are universities required to assist in the recruitment of students and graduates? If so, what is the nature of this assistance? And furthermore are they responsible for ensuring fair recruitment?  Answers to these questions may also provide answers to the previous question I raised; What can graduates get in return for the money spent on job applications?

Below, Nomsa talks about her experience of applying for a government nursing learnership, following conversation on bribery in recruitment.  In this interview, as well as in the previous interviews, bribery and the use of connections was brought up by the graduate being interviewed and not by me, the interviewer.

Extract 14: Bribe or application fee?

1   Nom: Also in the government department in Orlando I know that,

2        I’ve experienced it there was this learner- nursing

3        learnership that was being advertised when-

4   Kim: In the newspaper?

5   Nom: In the newspaper, it was a government learnership. I went

6        there, I went to town first I went there, tried to apply

7        there but they said “We’ve got, in Soweto we’ve got our

8        Department so you need to go back to Soweto”. I went

9        to Orlando when we got there they gave us like a small

10       ticket that has their stamp and a number and then also a

11       date when you should come because they said we we’re too

12       many. When that date came I went to Orlando again and then

13       they told us about the fifty rands that we need to pay in

14       order for us to write the test. They said “Yes you’ve got a

15       C symbol in English and it’s higher grade” and then they

16       checked my certificate and then they told me they want fifty

17       rands for us to write the test so because I didn’t have that

18       money and because I told myself that I also won’t pay for a

19       job, if it’s not meant for me it’s not meant for me but I

20       won’t give a person money just to find a job. So we went

21       home we went back because I didn’t have money

22  Kim: And would you consider reporting that or not?

23  Nom: No because if you’re going to go back with the police there

24       they’re going to ask you “Who told you that?” then they’re

25       going to make a fool of you. They going to go round and

26       round and round and round and then you won’t find any help

While in the previous extracts the bribe proposition appears to be illegal, in this extract Nomsa is being asked for money to write an application test and it is unclear whether she is in fact being bribed or not.  It is possible that some graduates are sensitive to the presence of bribery in recruitment and that anytime they are asked for money they assume it is a bribe.  Alternatively, it is possible that bribery takes on quite sophisticated guises and that they are in fact very pervasive in graduate recruitment.  Either way, this extract shows again that poor graduates are often unable to pay fees relating to recruitment and are therefore impeded in their job search.  When asked whether she would consider reporting the bribe, Nomsa says “they’re going to ask you “Who told you that?” then they’re going to make a fool of you” (lines 24-25).  This alludes to her vulnerable position in that she can easily be made a fool of.  Again, it is unclear what higher education institutions’ role in ensuring fair graduate recruitment practice is and who should be responsible for assisting graduates in difficult situation as the one described here.

The following extract, from Thembi’s interview, gives an example of a different way that bribery can occur.  Thembi graduated with a national diploma in electrical engineering in April 2012.  She was unemployed for six months and recently received a learnership position.  Since being asked about the difficulties she faces when looking for work she has hinted at the presence of bribery in recruitment but been reluctant to talk about it.  Here I ask her explicitly about bribery.

Extract 15: Negotiating the bribe

1   Kim: Can you tell me of an example, it doesn’t have to have

2        happened to you it can have happened to a friend but how it-

3        how a bribe would have worked?

4   The: Ah what I’ve heard is that ah- you come into- they usually

5        ah- you talk to someone in the company who’s in HR then they

6        shortlist you for that position, they even give you the

7        questions, and then they they give this ah- you have to pay

8        a certain installment every month once you’re in that

9        position, two thousand or five thousand depending on how

10       much you’re going to be earning, how much the HR people are

11       going to be negotiating for you in that process

12  Kim: So they give you the interview questions so that you can do

13       well in the interview?

14  The: Ja so you can do well in the interview because most

15       companies most decisions lie with the managers, and the

16       more- ah- HR- so they try to push you as their person so

17       that ah- even the manager disagrees on the- you you lack

18       something he wants in a person, maybe you lack drive ah you

19       can answer the questions but he doesn’t see potential for

20       you beyond your answers that you’ve given in the interview

21       so ah he he he’s kind of pushed you into a corner because

22       you’ve scored high on the questions that he has set up for

23       you

24  Kim: Ja

25  The: Ja

26  Kim: And the- you say- so every single month if you get the job

27       you have to pay a percentage of your salary to this person?

28  The: Ja that’s how most bribes work or some just put a lump sum

29       to ensure that you get the the- get into the interview, then

30       you pass the interview, then afterwards you pay another lump

31       sum

32  Kim: Ok. So you give them one set of money to get the interview

33       questions and then another set of money if you get the job?

34  The: Ja

35  Kim: So even if you are not successful in the interview you still

36       have paid some money?

37  The: Ja or do- you still have gone through the process of paying

38       them money

In her interview Thembi, like Lindy, appeared reluctant to share information around bribery.  However, she had fairly detailed information of how bribery can occur giving evidence that it is something she is familiar with and therefore possibly quite common, at least among the participants I interviewed.  Thembi shares an example of how bribery can occur that raises questions around who drives the bribery in the company.  She says that usually HR negotiates the bribe with the applicant although they are not the ones who make the final employment decision.  Therefore in her experience, being employed is not only a result of ability to pay a bribe as we heard previously in Lindy’s interview but a combination of ability to pay a bribe and success in the interview process and based on the job requirements.  It is remarkable that the price of the bribe in this example is given as R2000 or R5000.  This large sum required would immediately be unattainable for very poor graduates and therefore the possibility of securing the job, let alone the interview questions, would be near impossible for them.  Secondly, this example shows how even using bribery in the job application process can be unsuccessful.  This is shown when Thembi confirms that even if you don’t get the job you have “still have gone through the process of paying them money” (lines 37-38).

Lastly, I now move away from looking at bribery in recruitment to the use of connections.  These last two extracts, along with Extract 11, refer to networking or possibly nepotism.  All together, these extracts provide strong evidence for the presence of nepotism and bribery in graduate recruitment, which to my knowledge this has not been studied at all, let alone with reference to the role of higher education.

Extract 16: Securing a job through family before graduation

1   Kim: Ok. Umm you said that either you need to bribe someone to

2        get a job or you need to know someone?

3   Lin: Know somebody yes. If you don’t know anybody in government

4        sector it’s quite difficult to get a job unless there are so

5        many people who are wanted for that position that’s how you

6        gonna get a job

7   Kim: Ok

8   Lin: If there’s only one position that requires one person to

9        work, even if you are qualified for that position you won’t

10       be- you you won’t get the job because we like- I used to

11       apply for position at this government department that I’m

12       qualified for, as interpreters

13  Kim: Ok

14  Lin: So the post was saying it wanted grade twelve or diploma in

15       translation and interpretation. I’ve got a BTech but then I

16       wouldn’t even have a call from them calling me saying “I

17       should come for an interview”

18  Kim: Ok so what type of-

19  Lin: It’s like that even they didn’t get my CV when I apply so I

20       don’t know what exactly is like going on because we like

21       going to apply maybe five of us with the same qualification

22       but nobody’s gonna get a call from them, (I’ve seen) people

23       calling for an interview

24  Kim: What type of person do you think will get the job then?

25  Lin: I think the person they know, they used to take from their

26       families or their friends or so

27  Kim: Ja have you had an experience like this where somebody who’s

28       a family member or a friend has you know has got a job?

29  Lin: Yes

30  Kim: Ok tell me about it

31  Lin: There is this guy who who who we- were at the same school we

32       were also studying. He was like “I know that at the end of

33       this I’m going to get the job. I’m just doing this just to

34       get a qualification so that people won’t say that I’m not

35       qualified at the end of the day”. He knows everything

36       that’s- where he is going to work and everything then after

37       we graduated he went and started working till now he is

38       also, he is working

39  Kim: So he knew before he started studying already that someone

40       would give him a job there?

41  Lin: Yes

42  Kim: And was this a family person or was this a friend?

43  Lin: A family person

44  Kim: Ok. Shew

In Extract 11 Peter spoke about the certainty of getting a job if he had connections.  This extract builds on our understanding of connections as Lindy says “I think the person they know, they used to take from their families or their friends” (lines 25-26).  In these examples, it is very difficult to distinguish networking from nepotism but given that there is some secrecy in reporting this behavior, this implies that there may be something suspicious occurring.  Alternatively it is possible that she is describing a form of networking, commonly used in recruitment because of its cost effectiveness, and that the student referred to above had other legitimate reasons for being given a job upon graduation.  Therefore the use of networks was very beneficial for this student and had positive outcomes.

Either way, these extracts highlight the vague distinction between networking as an effective job search strategy and nepotism as an illegal activity and also highlights the importance of attachment to the labour force, whether it be though family or friends in securing a job.  This indicates the importance of first entry into the labour market as an important stepping stone as once in employment a person can begin to build a network that is attached to the labour market.  This attachment to the labour market through family and friends is another aspect of family resources spoken about in the first group of extracts.  It underscores the importance of studying family resources in a holistic and multifaceted way, beyond socio-economic status.

The last extract is from the last interview I conducted when I’d been made aware of perceived corruption.  Therefore I explicitly ask about corruption and interestingly Nonhlanhla doesn’t resist my use of the category ‘corrupt’.  Whether the behavior is corrupt or not, it is perceived by some graduates as corrupt and as having a negative effect on their employment prospects.  Prior to this extract Nonhlanhla explained that she has worked as a volunteer at the police for a year now.

Extract 16: The role of experience over-shadowed by perceived corruption

1   Kim: And do you think there’s any chance that the police will

2        hire you now that you’ve worked there for a year?

((Nonhlanhla has volunteer there for a year))

3   Non: No I don’t think so

4   Kim: You don’t think so?

5   Non: No

6   Kim: Ok. Um is there anything an type of corruption that you know

7        for- that you know of that happens in recruitment that

8        you’ve heard of or that you’ve experienced?

9   Non: I know of it but I don’t want to talk about it and it’s

10       kind of scaring me. Ja

11  Kim: Why- if you do talk about it, it is absolutely confidential

12       because that would really help me understand you know what’s

13       going on, what’s happening

14  Non: Ja eish

15  Kim: Why don’t you want to tell me?

16  Non: ((laughs)) Ai it’s hard

17  Kim: Ok. Do you think you’ll get caught or are you scared to tell

18       me or?

19  Non: No I’m scared to talk about it cos I’ve never told anyone

20       even my family

21  Kim: Ok

22  Non: So

23  Kim: Ok well I mean like I’d like for you to tell me because this

24       is exactly what my study is about and I’ve interviewed other

25       people and all of those people have said they know of

26       bribes or um they know of nepotism, you know having

27       connections

28  Non: Yes

29  Kim: So I’m I would be interested to know what what you’ve

30       experienced and anything that you tell me is- I’m not going

31       to tell anyone that you told me I’ll give you a pseudonym so

32       I’ll say “Thembi said this” or I’ll just make up another

33       name

34  Non: Ok I will tell you

35  Kim: Thank you

36  Non: ((laughs)) Ok we were promised that we were going to be paid

37       this year=

38  Kim: Ok

39  Non: =for our services

40  Kim: Ja

41  Non: But it didn’t happened after I think it’s after seven months

42       there were some other interns and that interns were paid and

43       we were not paid and it was like that when we went there and

44       asked them they just ignore you

45  Kim: And have you- would you try to report this to someone or

46       not?

47  Non: No I try to do that but it’s not easy when you work for

48       public works

49  Kim: Ja

50  Non: To report to someone you have to start somewhere you know?

51  Kim: Ja so you’ve got a problem but there’s no one to help you

52  Non: Which general or or major general and there are none, they

53       are always working outside not at their offices

54  Kim: Ja

55  Non: It’s not easy

56  Kim: So I mean what are you going to do, are you just going to

57       carry on working there or?

58  Non: No I’m just leaving like that I’m not doing anything right

59       now

60  Kim: And do you know do you know why some people get paid and

61       some people don’t?

62  Non: Ah no no.

63  Kim: Ok

64  Non: Ok at one stage I went to human resources office and they

65       told us that other interns they they are apply for that

66       position but we didn’t see any adverts or any posting

67  Kim: Ja

68  Non: They just told us that

69  Kim: So how do you think these-

70  Non: And they said that they sent those posting through emails

71       but I was always waiting in the emails and I’ve never seen

72       this advert=

73  Kim: So how-

74  Non: =of that post

75  Kim: Ja and these people that they hired are they relatives or do

76       you think they bribed them or how do you think they got this

77       job?

78  Non: Ah I think it’s through connection if you have someone

79       working there and you ((inaudible)) family member ja

80  Kim: Ok so even though you’ve- you were there for a year it

81       didn’t help you because you didn’t have other connections?

82  Non: Ja ja I didn’t have job yet

83  Kim: Ok um I don’t have any more questions for you but is there

84       anything else that you can tell me from your experiences of

85       being unemployed and your experiences of looking for a job,

86       is there anything else that you can tell me that would help

87       me understand why why so many people are unemployed?

88  Non: Ah I think it’s just nepotism nepotism

89  Kim: Ok

90  Non: Dominating our country. If you don’t have any connections

91       then you will end up unemployed

92  Kim: Ja

93  Non: Ja

94  Kim: Do you know of people who have got jobs through connections?

95  Non: Ja there are so many of them, they have connections and they

96       are working now.

97  Kim: And so do you think that if you had a connection you’d also

98       have a job now?

99  Non: Ja ((laughs)) yes

100 Kim: Ok. And have you ever- your brother works is that right?

101 Non: Yes

102 Kim: Have you ever considered asking him if he can get you a job?

103 Non: No I- ((laughs)) He will never do this

104 Kim: Ok so you know other people do illegal stuff but you’d

105      rather be unemployed than do that yourself?

106 Non: Yes my brother will never do that yes

Nonhlanhla is clearly reluctant to share her experiences when asked if she knows of any type of corruption.  After being assured that her interview is confidential and encouraged to share her experience she describes how some interns where she works were paid while others were not.  Again, while it is not clear whether the recruitment of interns was unfair or not, in Nonhlanhla’s opinion it was due to corruption.

Although I first raised, corruption, nepotism and the word illegal in this interview, Nonlhanhla never disputed my understanding of the behavior.  Additionally she implies that something is wrong about the behavior she is describing when she says “my brother will never do that” (line 105).  When Nonhlanhla says that she is scared to talk about corruption, it shows that graduates may be incapable of dealing with difficult recruitment situations.  From this I would like to raise two questions.  Firstly, in the interview training provided by higher education institutions’ career services, do they equip graduates to deal with the kind of situation described here? And secondly, given that graduates are often entering the work force for the first time after graduation does the university have a role in teaching either recruitment law or best practice relating to recruitment to their students?  These questions conclude the results section of the report.

Chapter 7: Discussion

My discussion highlights three key findings in this research, and explores these findings in terms of their implications for research methodology, theory and policy relating to graduate unemployment.  Briefly the key findings are 1) the unique vulnerabilities that poor graduates face and the recurrent nature of poverty, 2) the assumptions of higher education institutions career services, and 3) the presence of discriminatory recruitment practices and how these negatively affect poor graduates in particular.  Throughout the discussion I raise areas for further research.

As a reminder, the aim of this research was to expand our understanding of graduate unemployment in South Africa. The specific objectives were to;

-       Measure the prevalence of graduate unemployment.

-       Identify demographic and educational factors that may be associated with graduate unemployment.

-       Qualitatively explore unemployed graduates’ perceived reasons for their unemployment, and to

-       Qualitatively explore the role of higher education institutions in providing career services from the unemployed graduates’ perspective.

7.1 Implications for research methodology

I first reflect on research methodology in the field of gradate unemployment and then on this research specifically.  As reported by Koen (2006), most evident when reviewing the literature is the lack of definitions of the concepts used in the study of graduate unemployment.  As discussed in the literature review, often researchers do not define the term graduate and readers are left to interpret this through the sample used.  In my opinion, researchers’ definition of the term should at least refer to where the qualification was obtained (e.g. at a public or private higher education institution) and whether the qualification referred to is one of the person’s qualifications or the highest qualification (i.e. does humanities graduate refer to all people who have studied humanities or only those whose highest qualification is in humanities).

Regarding the understanding of and definition of employment status, currently there is insufficient depth of understanding of different unemployment types and the impact of these types on peoples livelihoods.  Problems in defining unemployment relate to previous concerns around the StatsSA’s definitions of unemployment (Kingdom & Knight, 2000a), underemployment as a guise of unemployment (Bernstein, 2010) and the problematic use of mutually exclusive categories (Cosser & Sehlola, 2009). A more nuanced definition of unemployment, which allows for multiple categories, an overlap of categories and possibly relative severity of these categories would be beneficial.

My research went a small way in addressing this by categorising the unemployed as those who are unemployed by choice and those who are not, however these are not sufficient.  Not only would a more nuanced and consistently used definition of unemployment be beneficial, but so too would a scale of the severity of unemployment.  For example, it is clear that the impact of unemployment is more severe for some graduates, and for their families, than for others.  Understanding different levels of severity would, among other things, aid higher education institutions’ career services and other services provided by other stakeholders, in prioritising assistance to groups within the unemployed population.

Beyond difficulties in defining the terms graduate and unemployment, there is a mass of other important concepts that should be explicitly defined among researchers. To note a few these include the concepts of poverty, resources, career services and nepotism.

To a large extent current graduate unemployment research replicates previous methodologies and often result in confirmation of findings with little emergence of new findings and areas for study (Koen, 2006).  I concur with Koen in his identification of the following trends in graduate unemployment studies; conceptual overlap, reliance on surveys, the study of similar variables and lack of theoretical frameworks.

Reflecting on this research, methodologically I aimed for complementarity; that is to measure overlapping but also different facets of the same phenomena (Green et al., 1989) and significant enhancement; facilitating thickness and richness of data (Collins, Onwuegbuzie & Sutton, 2006).  I believe that these research aims were both met.  Complementarity was achieved through the more elaborate and deep understanding gained specifically relating to the role of race, socio-economic status and resources in relation to graduate unemployment.  Enhancement was achieved through the discussions on the cost of looking for a job, and the role of connections and bribery in recruitment.

A critique of the method is that the quantitative findings confirmed to a large extent what other quantitative research had already found, with a few exceptions.  The most notable exception, in my opinion, is that race, socio-economic status and access to resources only explained 12.6% of the variance in employment status.  Most research in the field is largely descriptive and doesn’t report multivariate analysis, which can inflate the importance of individual demographic and educational variables.  Therefore including multivariate analysis was valuable.  Also notable, is the statistically non-significant role of career guidance in employment status.  This raised questions regarding higher education institutions’ role is increasing the employability of their graduates as their current services are based on career guidance and skills training.

My concern with the survey questionnaire was that often the questions stopped short of the valuable information, allowing for only superficial analysis and inhibiting deep understanding of the phenomena.  For example, the role of employed and unemployed family members didn’t extend to questions around networking and attachment to the labour market, making it difficult to link the survey results with the interview findings.  Similarly, in the survey the role of resources did not extend beyond the presence or absence of certain resources into, for example, the cost of resources and their importance in conducting a job search, thereby adding little to current literature.  In this sense the survey possibly covered too many variables at a superficial level and would have been better off looking at fewer variables in more depth.  With this said, it was important to confirm results found in previous literature given the recent changes in the South Africa after apartheid and specifically in the higher education landscape.

In addition to the results obtained, the survey was used as a sampling strategy for the interviews.  The interview results led to criterion sampling based on the respondents’ race and socio-economic status with Black graduates from the lowest socio-economic status group being selected.  To a small extent this was a valuable sampling strategy as the interviews revealed insight particularly pertinent to poorer graduates.  However, had I just have chosen Black graduates for the interviews, who were extensively shown in the literature to be vulnerable to unemployment, it is likely that given apartheid there would have been low socio-economic participants in the sample.  For this reason I do not think future research should utilise the combining of methods for sampling purposes in the same manner utilised in the current study.

Reaching low socio-economic status individuals through email and SMS is another critique of the method as they often do not have money to access the internet or sufficient cell phone credit to reply to SMSes.  For this reason one should take care when researching poor graduates given their more limited communication via these means.  It is possible that a number of poor graduates do not access their email accounts at all resulting in them not partaking in email based survey like this one.  Therefore other ways should be considered in order to contact poorer participants.

It is unclear whether my two categories of unemployment added meaningful value to the literature.  Possibly the prevalence found in this study was slightly lower than found in other studies because of this definition.  However, it is more likely to be due to my sample being over-representative of populations known to have better employment prospects namely Whites, males, and post-graduates.

Reflecting on the interview process, telephonic recorded interviews worked well and I would utilise this approach again.  The broad interview questions allowed for open discussion and for new insights to be revealed.

To conclude the implications for research methodology, I highlight areas requiring further study. New areas of study include; the role of poverty in relation to i) the cost of looking for work, ii) the resources required to look for work, and iii) how recruitment practices disadvantage poorer graduates; how higher education institutions’ reputations are built and maintained in the public and how this relates to the employment their graduates; and the assumptions of, provision of and effectiveness of career services.  Furthermore graduate unemployment studies should elaborate on their theoretic or conceptual framework and their design.  For example, where causality is being investigated, the necessary design criteria should be met.

7.2 Implications for theory

In line with the areas for further study outlined above, I suggest that graduate unemployment studies should shift their analysis from the individual to a larger context.  This following list of findings from previous research highlight the need for researchers to challenge the assumption of individual choice (as mentioned by Watts and Fretwell, 2004) and to look at structural factors associated with graduate unemployment.

-       Graduate recruiters are concerned with the quality of graduates from historically Black institutions and this influences their recruitment practices (Pauw et al., 2006).

-       Higher education institutions provide an oversupply of graduates in fields with lower employment prospects (Moleke, 2005, 2010).

-       Having employed family members increases the likelihood of young household member employment and conversely having unemployed family members decreases the probability of young household member employment (Mlatsheni & Rospabe, 2002).

-       The unemployed who are not looking for work are significantly more deprived than those who are actively looking and people’s job search is hampered by poverty (Kingdom & Knight, 2000b).

These four findings all relate to factors outside of the graduate’s control, namely graduate recruitment practices, higher education enrollment, family employment and poverty, and therefore provide evidence that the study of graduate unemployment should acknowledge and appreciate the broader socio-political context in which graduate unemployment exists.

In the literature review I raised community psychology as a framework to facilitate this shift and I now revisit principles of community psychology in more detail to support this suggestion.  Community psychology is concerned with transforming the way in which social problems are conceptualized and understood by taking cognizance of social issues and environmental stressors (Seedat, Duncan & Lazarus, 2001).  Relating to graduate unemployment, social issues would include such things as the presence of discriminatory recruitment practices, and of the negative reputation of certain higher education institutions.  Environmental stressors would include poverty and the resulting lack of resources, the perceived ineffectiveness of graduate recruitment fairs and the absence of networks for some graduates.  Furthermore, community psychology is aware of and appreciative of the interaction between individuals and their environments.

In terms of the causes and solutions to problems, practitioners in the community psychology attempt to develop theory and practice relevant to the majority of the South African population who were oppressed during apartheid (Pretorius-Heuchert & Ahmed, 2001).  As the recurrent cycle of poverty is evident in both the literature and this research, and given South Africa’s, I argue that community psychology principles should be applied to the study of graduate unemployment in a framework that appreciates individual demographic and educational factors in context of both higher education and graduate employment factors.

As I have proposed that graduate unemployment literature take a community psychology approach it is necessary to review the critiques of this approach.  Prilleltensky and Nelson (1997, cited in Viljoen & Eskell-Blokland, 2007) identify five values that should guide the implementation of interventions in communities.  These are; health; caring and compassion; self-determination and participation; human diversity; social justice; and holism.  These authors argue that the values that support change within existing systems are often foregrounded, while the values that support transformation of existing systems and especially power relationships do often not receive enough attention.  An example applied to the study of graduate unemployment is that graduate recruitment practices possess significant power and therefore research and intervention would be required if change is to be achieved and maintained.  Related systems include; how perceptions of higher education institutions are built and maintained through channels such as the media and graduate recruitment fairs and, how these related to subsequent graduate recruitment practices.

A second critique of mainstream community psychology is that the emphasis on social aspects of psychological functioning lead to the neglect of emotional aspects of human psychology (Gibson & Swartz, 2004 cited in Viljoen & Eskell-Blokland, 2007).  In other words, the underlying emotion of individuals and groups are not addressed in the process of change.  This reiterates the importance of studying the psychological resources, psychological stressor and psychological effects of unemployment on individual and groups of graduates.  It is also necessary to understand career service practitioners and graduate recruiters as individuals, as well as communities, in order to understand what informs and sustains their behavior.  Without attention to all levels of analysis, sustained change is unlikely to occur.

In addition to a theoretical shift from the individual to studying the larger socio-political context, I also propose a through exploration of the assumptions of current career services.  As mentioned in the literature review, career guidance is defined as the services intended to assist individuals make occupational and educational choices and manage their careers (Watts & Fretwell, 2004).  Following from the definition the authors claim that “career guidance can promote social equality and inclusion, and access to educational and labour market opportunities”.

However, in my research, career guidance was not significantly related to employment status and furthermore the interview participants explicitly state how socio-economic factors exclude them from opportunities and prevent them from gaining employment. For example Sizwe’s higher education institution choice and course choice were inhibited by his reliance on a loan (Extract 1); Nomsa can only apply for work when she has money or when she can borrow a laptop (Extract 8), and Lindy lost a job because she couldn’t afford the bribe (Extract 12).  From these examples it is clear that their choices are inhibited by financial constraints and therefore no current form of career service could assist with the difficulties identified in the examples.

Current career services are based on the assumption of choice and fail to address issues outside of the graduates control, for example the reputation of the higher education institution, discrimination in recruitment practices such as employers only visiting historically White institutions for graduate recruitment fairs and lack of resources required to look for work.  I have not studied the training they provide to students but Pauw et al. (2006) reported that graduates are unable to deal with interviews in a mature manner and I found that they seem unable to deal with difficult recruitment situation.  This is shown, for example, in Extract 14 when Nomsa shows her vulnerability to being made a fool of if she tries to report the perceived bribe.

Beyond their assumption of individual choice, other potential problems with higher education institutions career services became evident.  Most importantly, the services do not extend to graduates and therefore I infer that higher education institutions do not perceive themselves to be responsible for their graduates once they have left the institution.  In clarifying who is responsible for unemployed graduates, the South African Qualifications Authority report that “the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET)  via Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs), together with business and employers are responsible for career development services to youth not in education, training or employment” (SAQA, 2013, p.12).  The numerous stakeholders responsible for graduate unemployment may create a situation where responsibility is diluted among role-players.  Nevertheless, resources which students have access to through their university such as computers, the internet, employer information and contact with employers are not available to them once they graduate.  The subsequent expense of these resources significantly inhibits their ability to look for work.

Beyond access to resources (or the lack thereof), this study found evidence of discrimination in recruitment practices that adversely affect poor graduates.  Existence of these practices was established but unanswered questions include; How is nepotism defined? How are illegal recruitment agreements negotiated? And who are the drivers of these illegal practices?

To conclude this section, my two suggestions for graduate unemployment research going forward is to 1) consider principles of community psychology in order to develop framework for understanding graduate unemployment, and 2) to question the assumptions of current career services particular with relation to the assumption of choice and secondly relating to the assumptions that all graduates have the resources required to look for work once they leave the higher education institution.  In light of these two suggestions, I present a revised conceptual framework that includes new variables relating to the role of higher education and to structures in the environment that influence the relationship between factors of the individual and factors relating to graduate employers.

7.3 Implications for policy

Policies associated with graduate unemployment should appreciate and address both individual and structural aspects of graduate unemployment.  Similarly interventions to alleviate unemployment should be implemented and effective at these different levels.  In my opinion, policies should specifically address challenges that low socio-economic status groups face when entering into, during and graduating from higher education as well as when seeking employment.  Lack of attention given to this group may result in the inequalities of the past being perpetuated.

This research has looked at the role of higher education institutions in providing career services and the role of graduate recruiters with regards to graduate unemployment.  Therefore policy recommendations are made to these two role players.

7.3.1 Recommendations to higher education institutions

Higher education institutions should consider their role when accepting students in fields of study shown by Moleke (2005, 2010) to have lower employment prospects and so should their admissions policy.  As Cliff (2003) reports – higher education institutions have a moral responsibility to assist the students they accept to succeed in higher education, and possibly this moral responsibility should in some way extend to ensuring graduates enter the work place.

The career services they offer should take into account factors outside of the students’ control that influence their employability.  Specifically historically Black institutions could be mandated to run graduate employment fairs.  Additionally resources required to look for a job such as computer and internet access could be extended to graduates who do not have access to these services when they leave the higher education institution.  As most jobs are secured through networks higher education institutions could look at alternative ways of connecting employers and graduates beyond the current graduate recruitment fairs.

There is a lack of research on the long term effects of career services (SAQA, 2013) and therefore career services should ensure research in done with the aim of informing and improving the services they offer. Without this evaluation of their services, their ability to serve the needs of changing student populations is questionable and the current emphasis on one-to-one counseling and assessment is likely to be perpetuated.

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme aims to provide poor learners with the financial means to study at tertiary education.  However, their rules around the allocation of loans may serve to perpetuate the cycle of poverty some extent.  Therefore, higher education institutions should acknowledge and address the extent to which financial difficulties restrict learners from studying at their higher education institution of choice and in a qualification of their choice.

Lastly, higher education institutions should acknowledge and address the presence of illegal recruitment practices which affects their students and graduates.  They could articulate their role in overseeing or monitoring recruitment as well as play a significant role in ensuring recruitment law is followed.  I suggest that in order both measure and reduce illegal recruitment practices that this be addressed at institutional policy level.

7.3.2 Recommendations to graduate employers

Graduate employers, too, should acknowledge both individual and structural factors effecting graduate employment and unemployment.  In addition to this they must acknowledge that all graduates do not have equal opportunities in the labour market due to structural factors and pre-existing inequalities.

This research has shown how the process and cost of a job application can prevent low-socio economic status individuals from accessing adverts and applying for work.  Therefore, recruitment polices should ensure that recruitment practices do not systematically disadvantage the poor.  How this can be done is unknown, but at the very least employers should acknowledge how their advertising and application process assumes that all potential employees have the resources required to access their adverts and apply for positions.  There appears to be a current conundrum whereby job adverts that are fairly easily and cheaply obtained and therefore an attractive approach to poorer job seekers (that is newspapers), often entail expensive recruitment processes that are then unattractive to poorer job seekers (that is scanning and faxing documents).  This example provides evidence that employers could consider the processes and effects of their recruitment practices more critically.

Employers should also acknowledge that individuals spend large sums of money in applying for work, and for some people this cost affects their entire household adversely.  In acknowledging this, I believe recruiters have a moral responsibility to   give honest and timeous feedback to applicants through a means that is accessible to them.  Employers should be aware that both lack of feedback, as well as dishonest feedback, plays an important role in the overall understanding of graduate employment in general but also at considerable cost to the individual applicants.

Recruitment research (e.g. Schoer, Ranking and Roberts, 2012) has confirmed that most jobs are secured through networks.  However, unfortunately the findings give very little insight as to how these networks operate.  For example, more research is needed regarding the practice of networking, the effects of networking on those already removed from the labour market, and on the distinction between networking and nepotism.  While it is understandable why employers recruit through personal networks, recruitment policy should acknowledge and address 1) how these networking practices advantage individuals with links to the labour market through employed family member and friends and systematically disadvantages people with fewer employed family and friends, and 2) there likelihood that nepotism will occur.

Chapter 8: Conclusion

Enabling access to higher education to previously disadvantaged groups is one of South Africa’s ways of attempting to address inequalities of the past and lead the country towards increased prosperity.  However, some current higher education systems and services work against this strategy and unintentionally disadvantage poor students by for example, limiting learners’ higher education choices due to their reliance on loans, delaying graduation, and providing career services that are possibly ineffective and concurrently not available to graduates.  In addition to this graduate employment practices can also disadvantage poor graduates through discriminatory recruitment and the presence of nepotism and bribery.

Taken together there are numerous risks and vulnerabilities that poor graduates face that will likely result in their higher chances of unemployment.   In turn, this unemployment perpetuates their low socio economic status.  In studying both individual and structural factors that relate to graduate unemployment, researchers can better understand how poor students and graduates are systematically disadvantaged from entry into higher education, through their studies, and into employment (or unemployment).  If South Africa is going to succeed in fighting poverty through provision of higher education, then a critical analysis of graduate unemployment is needed to inform both higher education institutions and labour market practices. 

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Appendices

Table 1: Current higher education institutions, the merged institutions from which they were formed and these institutions historical status respectively

Universities

University of Cape Town University of Cape Town HWI*
University of Fort Hare University of Fort Hare and Rhodes University (East London Campus) HBI and HWI
University of the Free State University of the Free State, Vista University (Bloemfontein) and University of the North (Qwaqwa) HWI, HBI and HBI
University of KwaZulu-Natal University of Durban-Westville and University of Natal HBI and HWI
University of Limpopo University of the North and Medical University of Southern Africa HBI and HBI
North-West University Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education, University of North-West and Vista University (Sebokeng campus) HWI, HBI and HBI
University of Pretoria University of Pretoria and Vista University (Mamelodi) HWI and HBI
Rhodes university Rhodes University HWI
Stellenbosch University Stellenbosch University HWI
University of the Western Cape University of the Western Cape and Stellenbosch University Dental School HBI and HWI
University of the Witwatersrand University of the Witwatersrand HWI

Comprehensive Universities

University of Johannesburg Rand Afrikaans University, Technikon Witwatersrand and Vista University (East Rand and Soweto) HWI, HWI and HBI
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University University of Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth Technikon and Vista University (Port Elizabeth) HWI, HWI & HBI
University of South Africa University of South Africa, Technikon SA and Vista University Distance Education Centre HWI, HBI and HBI
University of Venda University of Venda HBI
Walter Sisulu University University of Transkei, Border Technikon and Eastern Cape Technikon HBI, HWI & HBI
University of Zululand University of Zululand HBI

Universities of Technology

Cape Peninsula University of Technology Cape Technikon and Peninsula Technikon HWI & HBI
Central University of Technology, Free State Technikon Free State and Vista University (Welkom) HWI & HBI
Durban University of Technology ML Sultan Technikon and Technikon Natal
Tswane University of Technology Vaal Triangle Technikon , Technikon Northern Gauteng and Technikon North-West HWI, HBI & HWI
Vaal University of Technology Vaal Triangle Technikon and Vista University (Sebokeng) HWI & HBI
Mangosuthu Technikon Mangosuthu Technikon HBI

*Historically White Institution (HWI); Historically Black Institution (HBI)

 

5 Responses “Graduate unemployment research” →

  1. Humphrey

    March 29, 2013

    Thanks for the feedback. It shows hard work to compile such a comprehensive information. Good luck for the future.

    Reply
  2. Thanks for the feedback really enjoyed reading it..cheers.

    Reply

  3. Robert Ntozini

    April 2, 2013

    Very interesting finding but not surprising as we see similar trends in my home country Zim especially the carrier path dependent on funding access. Thanks Kim for sharing a well researched document.

    Reply

  4. ilze smit

    May 30, 2013

    I have read your abstract and eventually ended by reading all of your research! This is a very interesting and capturing research. I’m sure the SA government will use the information and results gathered via this combination research approach. The results is also of importance for higher education institutions as well as the global work force community. Are you going to publish an article? You have to. Regards Ilze Smit (PhD)

    Reply

    • imgoingforaninterview

      May 30, 2013

      Thanks for reading my research and for your comments. I am currently trying to publish a paper but with some difficulty. Two actually, one on the role of higher education and another on the role of poverty in graduate unemployment.
      I’m hoping to do a PhD incoporating this research. I will let you know if I publish.
      Thanks again. Kim

      Reply

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