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"Embrace change, seize this moment"

- By Wits University

At the graduation ceremony of the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management on 2 April 2014, David Lewis, Executive Director of Corruption Watch, advised graduands to embrace change, not least of all because the labour market of today is very different.

"Large traditional employers in manufacturing and the extractive sectors are shedding jobs. New jobs are being created in the services sector and while there are many exciting opportunities there, increasingly university graduates who want stimulating work, work that draws on their skills and learning, will have to accept work in edgy, risky start-ups or will have to dig into their own inner resources to create the start-ups themselves. Be confident that it is, by and large, you and you alone who have the energy, the learning and the relative freedom from debt and other obligations that permit the necessary risk-taking," he said.

Additionally, said Lewis, graduates are increasingly unlikely to find jobs for life. "You will likely change employment several time in your working lives and often times that change will not simply be a change in employer but will vary in the substantive nature of the work that you do. It’s stressful and challenging to be sure, but it also gives you the unique perspective of other worlds, other disciplines, other questions, other answers and other people. It better equips you to work in the multi-disciplinary environment increasingly characteristic of large private and public sector employers, as well as in small start-ups."

He advised those present to be prepared to engage in work that would sometimes seem distant from the professional skills that they acquired at university. "Lawyers will find themselves having to think about complex problems in health care policy; economists and natural scientists will find complementary work; architects and planners will find themselves working alongside political scientists, anthropologists and sociologists; engineers will work with environmental activists," said Lewis.

"This flexibility requires a significant mental shift both in your own views on your place in the world, and in those institutions, not least universities, which are charged with preparing you for that world. Indeed it requires a shift in the way in which society values work. For example, in order to attract the right caliber of person to universities or the public sector or to NGOs, a world which, in the recent past, has tended to celebrate those, and only those, who have acquired huge wealth, we will all have to rethink the often disparaging attitudes that have developed towards teachers, public servants and social activists. This sounds like a tall order, but it was not so long ago that great teachers were at least as revered as great entrepreneurs."

Finally, Lewis encouraged the graduands not to buy patronising assurances that they are the "leaders of tomorrow", saying that this was an assurance intended to keep them deferential to the leaders of today. "The next time that someone tells you that you are a leader of tomorrow, tell him who today, right now, leads taste in fashion and in music; tell him who shapes the very language that we speak; tell him which  generation is inventing and commercialising the new communications technologies that are irrevocably changing our boundaries and possibilities. Remind him which generation it is that is most comfortable mastering these technologies and integrating them into their everyday lives. And stake your claim for leadership today, not tomorrow."

Read the full address.

About David Lewis

David Lewis received his training in economics from Wits University and the University of Cape Town.

Between 1975 and 1990 he worked in the trade union movement, serving as General Secretary of the General Workers Union. 

From 1990, Lewis directed the Development Policy Research Unit, a UCT based research group specialising in trade and industrial policy. Between 1994 and 1996 he served as Special Advisor to the Minister of Labour and co-chaired the Presidential Commission on Labour Market Policy.

Lewis was a member of the ministerial team tasked with the development of competition policy and with drafting the Competition Act. Between 1999 and 2009 he served for two terms as Chairperson of the Competition Tribunal. He served on the Steering Group of the International Competition Network from 2001 until 2009 and as Chairman of the Steering Group from 2008 to 2009.

Lewis has served on the boards of the National Research Foundation, the International Marketing Council of South Africa, the Johannesburg Development Agency, South African Airways and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). He was Deputy Chairman of the Board of the IDC from 2002-2008.

He has lectured and undertaken research at several higher education institutions in the country but is probably best known for establishing Corruption Watch, a non-governmental organisation in 2011, of which he is the Executive Director.