“any student extracurricular activity has the potential of equipping young people with a set of skills that can complement the skills they are learning in lecture theatres.”
By Blessing Nemadziva
I remember growing up, a photo shoot would be a special and diarized event. The whole family will dress up for it. When everyone is ready, we will wait for the freelance photographer to come around (riding on his bicycle, with his camera slung across his chest). He will capture our smiles using his sophisticated equipment. As soon as he finishes, he rides on, making rounds among his customers. To some he is delivering the ready photos, to some he is taking photos. It would roughly take about a week for us to get our ready photos (depending on the photographer’s access to photo printing labs). But what happened to the freelance photographer?
It is just amazing how things change. Freelance photography was a trade that could sustain a decent living, even to the sending of kids to school. But it appears like it has been wiped off the face of the earth. Newer technologies have come and now the services of a freelance photographer have, somewhat been made of little relevance. What he used to do, I can now do. Many a times, when new products and services are being discussed, the term ‘disruptive innovation’ somehow pops up. It appears trending and fashionable, but one has to stop and maybe ask, ‘what is this innovation disrupting?’ It used to take roughly about a week for the freelance photographer to take our photos and then come around with the final ones. Nowadays it’s a matter of minutes. The camera has now been incorporated to one of the closest human companions of this age-the mobile phone. There are now online services to help photo lovers look exactly like they would want to look. So what used to be a paid service has now been reduced to a free self-service. What used to take a week can now be efficiently executed in 10 minutes. This is indeed disruptive innovation. But again, what is it disrupting?
The freelance photographer used to enjoy a stable flow of revenue until the emergence of ‘disruptive innovations.’ If taking photos was all he could do, chances are he suffered a rough patch financially because of the new innovations that moved in to replace him. Now with the rate in which technologies are evolving, it is always important that individuals are constantly upgrading and developing themselves to keep abreast with the evolving world. It is very easy for what a person is trained for to lose relevance in this age. Many industries are implementing automated systems to what used to be done by human beings.
Universities are quite conscious of these changes and are responding by establishing structures that promote entrepreneurship among their students. Many universities are working to build a culture of industriousness within the university community. By this, they are creating a learning environment both within and outside lecture theatres. How does this help? Well, let’s talk figures. The SA statistics estimates youth unemployment to be sitting at a staggering 51.14% (2013 – 2016 average). Retrenchment rate in South Africa has been on the rise with 15 000 people losing their jobs in the first 3 months of 2016. From these statistics, it is quite evident that the job market has become more competitive, much for the university graduates who usually come in with only a year of industrial experience. But the universities still recruit more students every year, their business is to sell skills. It is also worth mentioning that the rate of changes in curriculums and skills training at universities is much slower than the changes in technology in industry. There is not much change in, say the skills taught to a civil engineer five years ago, to the skills that a presently enrolled student is being taught. Yet in industries, because of the demands in production and the drastic changes in technology, things are changing fast. We thus have a situation where the universities are mass producing graduates who are likely to join the 51.14% unemployed youths because there are not so many jobs, and also with a set of skills that may no longer be required in industry.
In such situations, it is vital that young people shift their feet. The qualification that the university offers may not be enough to survive in the modern world. One Jack Ma, the kingpin of e-commerce, once said he told his son not to be top in class, he advised him to be average. The reason was that by being average, he will have time to learn other skills that will improve him. This is quite a profound counsel for every modern-day student. The qualification will not be enough. It must be complemented by other skills. That’s why universities are supporting student activism. The Durban University of Technology is promoting the building of ‘sustainable student communities for living and learning.’ The idea is to have activity in and out of lecture theatres, with such activity comes ideas and dreams being expressed. The funny thing about the digital age is that hobbies are being converted into money making businesses, much to the bewilderment of the old generations. Therefore, any student extracurricular activity has the potential of equipping young people with a set of skills that can complement the skills they are learning in lecture theatres. Extracurricular activities can even help students realize their dreams and passions. In the end it’s an all-round preparation of young people for the modern-day industry. If it happens that the skill the university equipped them with has become obsolete because of some new ‘disruptive innovation,’ very well, they can draw from the other set of skills they learnt out of class and remain relevant. Extracurricular activities ought to be taken much more seriously now. Next time one hears the term ‘disruptive innovation,’ the question must be, “what is it disrupting?” It may be disrupting your trade.