Digital skills preparedness of higher education students for the “Real Estate, Finance and Business” sector in South Africa.
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The 21st century is experiencing rapid technological advancements. Industry need to keep abreast of these advancements, in order to remain competitive. These rapid technological advancements create added pressure for higher education institutions to equip their graduates to meet industry demands. This means that graduates must possess the digital intelligence necessary for the workplace, in order to ensure a thriving economy. Research further suggests that society has high expectations of universities to provide employable graduates. However, with the job market changing so rapidly, universities are finding it difficult to deliver digitally prepared graduates to industry. Furthermore, while researchers view digital skills with the same importance as reading or arithmetic, the South African Qualifications Authority have not yet established and implemented a digital skills framework in their South African National Qualifications Framework with the aim of reducing the digital skills gap. It is therefore important to understand the digital skills that are required of graduates by industry, the digital skills gap between graduates’ digital abilities and the expectations of industry. Further to this, it is also essential to identify the incessant challenges that create the lag in the delivery of adequately equipping graduates with the necessary digital skills, as well as the challenges that impedes the alignment between industry requirements and higher education offerings. In order to achieve these aims, the study adopted a multiphase mixed methods approach, constituting three phases: (1) quantitative, (2) quantitative, and (3) qualitative. In phase one, professionals from the Real-Estate, Finance and Business Services sector in South Africa were surveyed by means of convenience sampling. In phase two, final year commerce students from the top four universities in South Africa that typically feed into the said industry sector, were surveyed by way of proportionate cluster sampling. In phase three, the academic leader of teaching and learning, or the equivalent, from each of the top four universities were purposively selected for structured interviews. Phase one of the study has identified and outlined the digital skills that are required by the Real Estate, Finance and Business Services sector in South Africa, in addition to the level of importance of each digital skill from three individual constructs, namely use of software applications and Web tools, use of information systems, and security measures in digital environments. The results from phase one similarly prompted the development of the proposed digital skills framework, which was designed to be versatile and may be used as a ‘blueprint’ for other industry sectors in South Africa, as well as by other countries to determine the digital skills needed for their industry sectors(s). Phase two results indicated that South African higher education institutions are not adequately preparing their students to meet the requirements of the said industry sector, and this is attributable to a number of challenges. The results from phase three presents ten challenges that hinders the alignment of academic curricula to industry’s digital skills requirements. It further presents the mechanisms used to address the digital skills expected of graduates by industry, in addition to higher education’s envisaged transformation needed to ensure that their digital skills offerings are aligned to industry requirements. These findings will help higher education institutions to systematically align their curricula to meet this sector’s digital skills need. Additionally, the proposed framework may be used to periodically determine the changing needs of the said sector, and may be applied by researchers to determine the digital skills requirements of other industry sectors within South Africa, as well as globally. Furthermore, scholars may use this framework to underpin their study by building additional constructs/items onto it that was not considered in this study. It can be further used as a benchmark by tertiary institutions to determine probable curriculum inadequacies. These findings will also help government in understanding the type of support required by higher education institutions to ensure that graduates are adequately equipped with the necessary digital skills for the said industry sector, which will ultimately sustain the economy and reduce the unemployment rate of graduates that ought to feed into Real-Estate, Finance and Business Services sector of South Africa.