“I hustled for 4 years after graduating from university. It was a stroke of luck landing my first job at 26.” This scenario is commonplace in Africa. We are living in an age where unemployment and underemployment are normal. African millennials are coming to the realization that it’s becoming harder and harder to find meaningful work after formal education.
Higher institutions of learning are not preparing young people for the real life by conferring the much needed practical skills. As a result, the skills gap has widened. What young people learn in school is rarely what they do in the real world. As a young person, how do you bridge this gap? How do you transfer the skills you learnt in college to the real world?
This is not the part where I talk about venturing into entrepreneurship. Instead, create. This is not the same as starting a business. Build that app, write that program, work on that blog, write that article, and work on that side project. Build something. I have learnt that the easiest way to learn something is by creating. For example, if you want to become a better writer, simply write. If you want to be a better speaker, practice speaking. That’s how you learn. Do not let a formal education stop you from getting the relevant skills you need. School prepares us to do “stuff” by consuming knowledge. No matter how many books you read about marketing, the best way to get better at it is by going out there and trying to sell.
The beauty about creating is that you will be building your track record on top of the learning. For example, if you are interested in video and game production, creating small productions will set you above and beyond your competition. You will be showing a potential employer or business partner that you can actually do the work.
The future belongs to young people who can take charge of their own learning. African millennials should consider learning opportunities online. Resources such as coursera, Code academy, Udemy, etc all offer amazing courses for anyone with drive to improve their skill. Check them out and expand your knowledge on a topic you are keen on.
There is lots of amazing information available today-books, blogs, articles, movies, lectures, workshops, interviews… for you to take advantage of. Get the best of what you are interested in on the internet and start learning. If you are interested in marketing, find the top thought leaders in that industry and follow them on social media. The onus is on you to educate yourself about the industry you want to work in.
Going to graduate school is a great idea but it should not be something you go for when you just don’t know what’s next. It shouldn’t never be a fall back plan. Most masters programs are impractical and are not directly connected to your work. You are better off investing in self education and learning by doing.
Translate your education into employer value
How do the things you learn in school translate into the real world? Translate your school experiences into employer speak. Think about how a potential employer is going to perceive you. Put yourself in their shoes. If you can’t find experiences that speak into how you can create value for an employer, look for them. Create learning opportunities for yourself.
Find more sophisticated ways to showcase the things you learned in school. Being part of the debate club or a leader on your student council is not enough. Build real credibility so that it will be a no-brainer for an employer to hire you. For example, if you are an artist, have an amazing portfolio to showcase your talent. Young Africans need to think about what makes them worth hiring by proving that they can offer real value even before they graduate.
Invest in a trade where you can use your hands
Unfortunately, we have a tendency to look down on people who use their hands. We shun vocational schools while rushing to get into universities. Think about it this way… A plumber can work practically anywhere so long as they can prove that they can do the work. On the other hand, a professional accountant needs fresh certifications in order to practice their craft in a different jurisdiction from the one in which they got their qualifications. Investing in a trade where you can use your hands helps you ensure that you always have what it takes to find meaningful work. The people who will win are those who can work with their hands.