Graduating with an undergraduate degree is undeniably one of the most rewarding accomplishments considering the sacrifices made by both students and their families to achieve it.

But due to the growing competitive nature of the job market, undergraduate degrees are gradually losing their status as the gold standard qualification for job applicants today.

The COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and global recession of 2020 have caused an uncertain outlook for the labour market and accelerated the onset of the future of work.

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“With fewer employment opportunities in South Africa and employers demanding a strong set of skills, graduates have a slim chance of landing a job fresh out of varsity,” said Dr Priscilla Mensah, Director for Research Development at the Nelson Mandela University.

On top of a diminishing job market, the hiring landscape is also changing.

Roles that, in the past, only required primarily undergraduate degrees, are advancing and requiring a postgraduate qualification as a minimum.

“More employers are realising that the enhanced capabilities of candidates with postgraduate degrees are translating into positive impacts across the board, which is why they are raising the bar in terms of requirements,” added Mensah.

Most graduates are realising the advantage that lifelong learning offers in shaping a successful career in an ever-changing world, and are considering pursuing a postgraduate qualification rather than entering the working world right after graduating.

“With so many qualified graduates jostling for a limited number of positions, having a postgraduate degree under one’s belt can hold the key to securing full-time employment and a better chance of being promoted in the future,” explained Mensah.

Specialist skills and knowledge

New careers are emerging quicker than ever as a result of rapidly advancing innovation and technology. Future businesses will require super-skilled, next-generation candidates to fulfil these roles.

In a World Economic Forum report, The Future of Jobs, the top skills employers see as rising in prominence by 2025, include critical thinking and analysis, as well as problem-solving and skills in self-management such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility.

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“Pursuing a postgraduate degree increases a graduate’s level of specialist knowledge and equips them to become a true expert in their field. Not only does a postgraduate qualification offer a deeper understanding in an area of specialisation, but it also nurtures natural intellectual curiosity and equips graduates with an array of vital sought-after skills that are valued in the workplace,” said Mensah.

Lifelong learning experiences

Continuing to learn throughout one’s life to foster continuous development and skills needed for employment and personal fulfilment, is perhaps the approach graduates need to take to be able to excel in an automated world.

“The majority of students study towards an undergraduate degree primarily to fulfil a minimum requirement for their career field. Choosing to study further on a lifelong learning journey presents an opportunity for graduates to enhance their personal and professional development, empowering them to change the world for the better,” she said.

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For more information on the postgraduate programmes at the Nelson Mandela University email at or visit the website.