Closing the gap

    Universities should be equipping students with the skills and abilities they need to thrive in the modern workplace, argues Cymbeline Harilal, Instructional Designer at The Independent Institute of Education.

    The Independent Institute of Education

    Most parents wish to provide their children with the skills, competencies and education to become successful and accomplished in their careers. In pursuit of this objective, they place their trust in universities and other higher-education institutions to properly prepare their children for the ever-changing job landscape.

    However, given how dramatically the world of work has changed and continues to change, all higher-education institutions must consider and in many cases review their offering, to ensure they deliver relevant and integrated curricula that adequately meet employer demands and enable students to excel in their chosen fields, an education expert says.

    “Higher-education institutions must therefore now, more than ever before, include and be intentional in integrating 21st-century and industry-aligned graduate attributes into all curricula,”

    -says Cymbeline Harilal, Instructional Designer at The Independent Institute of Education (The IIE), a leading private higher education provider.

    Harilal notes that between the corporate and educational sectors, there is a concerning mismatch between industry demands and graduate attributes developed in universities.

    “It is necessary for universities to bridge the gap through the delivery of dynamic curricula that address the disparity between skills supply and industry demand. The relevant skills outlined in the World Economic Forum’s report on 21st-century requirements highlight the significance of an adaptable curriculum in response to changing job demands. These 21st-century skills comprise foundational, competencies, character qualities and technical skills.”

    The broad skills categories can be described as:


    Students must be able to apply the core skills of literacy, numeracy, scientific, IT and financial literacy. These are predominantly developed in school but some students who matriculated from schools in disadvantaged communities may need additional support.


    Critical thinking, creativity, clear communication skills (both written and spoken), problem-solving abilities and collaboration are critical for interacting in a corporate environment where these skills are required to drive the business to be effective, efficient and competitive. An additional competency that has recently become important is the ability to apply oneself independently in a remote-work environment.

    Character qualities

    These are more difficult to integrate into a curriculum as they ultimately boil down to personality traits but it is important to note that they can be introduced and developed. Curiosity, confidence, initiative, persistence (grit), emotional intelligence, adaptability, leadership, resilience and social/cultural awareness are among the traits that are valued in the workplace.

    Technical skills

    Proficiency in complex technologies, data manipulation and strategic utilisation of technology has become essential for gaining a competitive edge geared towards bridging the gap between the skills demanded by industries and those provided by higher-education institutions.

    Evolving expectations

    Harilal further explains how, as expectations evolve and the future job market remains uncertain, many graduates express apprehension about their employment prospects. The role of higher education institutions in bridging this gap through a dynamic curriculum is pivotal in aligning employer demands with 21st-century skills. This requires continuous research into industry needs and the integration of essential skills within their curricula. “Universities are duty-bound through their curriculum and learning design to develop and shape critical and independent thinkers, equipping students with the necessary attributes to thrive in the ever-evolving world of work. Recognising the scarcity of employment opportunities, curricula must go beyond compliance with policies and regulations, to continuously evolve and remain flexible, ensuring that students’ education aligns with employers’ expectations,” says Harilal. She says students should be provided with opportunities to evaluate conceptual knowledge, analyse complex ideas and generate innovative solutions, enabling the development of numeracy, writing, communication and technological skills to meet industry demands. Harilal concludes, “By bridging the gap between employer expectations and the skills possessed by graduates, a seamless transition into the professional world of work becomes more likely, to benefit both the graduates and industry in South Africa.” 

    About the IIE
    The Independent Institute of Education (The IIE) is a division of the JSE-listed ADvTECH Group, Africa’s largest private education provider. The IIE is the largest, most accredited registered private higher education institute in South Africa and is accredited by the British Accreditation Council (BAC), the independent quality assurance authority that accredits private institutions in the UK.
    Cymbeline Harilal, Instructional Designer at The IEE
    Cymbeline Harilal, Instructional Designer at The IEE or