A critical element of the finding centred on irregular and illegal severance packages paid out to senior managers. This matter is now in the hands of the National Prosecuting Authority, which is working hard to bring all perpetrators of wrongdoing to book. “I hold very strong views on the fight against graft and corruption, for I, too, believe that this scourge is very rapidly eroding the confidence of South Africans in the new democratic order. So, wherever it rears its head, it must be smashed without fear or favour,” he elaborates.
The second major preoccupation was to completely overhaul what was a badly flawed service-delivery model. The model was predicated on the participation of a chosen few companies – mainly providers. The majority of employers were completely side-lined from active participation in the skills development process for the sector. This marginalisation persisted for so long that many of the SSETA’s employers essentially wrote off the skills levy. However, through extensive, countrywide road shows and one-on-one meetings with top levy payers, the SSETA began the process of encouraging employer participation – for, without a solid relationship between SETAs and employers, it is not possible to understand and accurately respond to the skills needs of the various industries and subsectors. “So,” says Moon, “I’m pleased with the response of the SSETA employers. And crucially, for me, there is growing understanding that employers cannot cede their responsibilities to private providers and other ‘intermediaries’ – nothing short of active business participation is called for.”
Moon is pleased that the SSETA is now gradually moving away from the dreaded tender system where learning interventions are concerned. This shift is in recognition of the reality that, 12 years down the line and billions of rand later, South Africa is still not denting the skills problem – funds are misdeployed and are simply not hitting the spot. So, the new Expressions of Interest approach is directed specifically to employers – it asks them to identify current and future skills needs in their industries so that the SETA concerned can fund these. “The novelty here is that, for the first time, we are talking to employers directly; secondly, their applications are driven by their real skills needs and those of their industries. And, most importantly, through this process we can conduct an analysis of supply and demand throughout our sector,” he says. In other words, the SSETA is able to determine which industries and subsectors are oversubscribed and where expression of interest has been poor. This allows it to shine the spotlight on the neglected industries. As always, eliminating the ‘middlemen’ has made a number of people extremely unhappy, but the vast majority of employers are beginning to take a keen interest in the changes.
Skills Development Needs
“I reorganised the SSETA into six chambers, which cater for the needs of 16 very diverse subsectors, ranging from large corporates in the business services, employment services and estate agency subsectors, to small and microenterprises in personal services such as hairdressing, beauty and funeral services,” explains Moon. “Thanks to the significance we now attach to the role and place of employers, we are confident that, in future, the agenda of these chambers will be driven principally by employer interests and only secondarily by provider interests.”
Moon is gratified by the response to the National Skills Development Strategy III (NSDS III) mandate that allows SETAs to play a role in rural development. “Essentially, we have introduced what I call an ‘Ecosystem Approach’ to local economic development in the rural space. This approach brings together all key players in the rural areas: the SSETA, other SETAs, local authorities, provincial government, small business, cooperatives, business chambers, further education and training (FET) colleges and universities,” he says. These constitute ‘growth coalitions’ that define the growth path by defining the various growth areas in each rural district. The Ecosystem Approach endeavours to attract investment and to build, and keep, wealth internally – by encouraging people to ‘buy local’. Schools and hospitals are encouraged to buy all their uniforms and bedding from the local women’s sewing cooperative, and so forth. Essentially the idea of the eco-system approach is to activate the entire economic growth value chain in the district in order to achieve the required local economic growth and development.
All the skills needs of the rural district are delegated to the local FET college, whose own curriculum is transformed and made more responsive and relevant to local economic needs. In this way, vocational education and practical skills are profiled, as the FET colleges are increasingly seen as postschooling institutions of choice; hence their profile and attractiveness increase.
For purposes of impact and measurability, it has been decided to focus attention on five districts, namely:
the Thabo Mafutshanyane district in the Free State, which includes Arlington, Bethlehem, Clarens, Clocolan, Excelsior, Ficksburg, Fouriesburg and Golden Gate among others,
OR Tambo and Alfred Nzo in the Eastern Cape which boast of such places as Umtata, Port St Johns and Matatiele and Mount Frere respectively,
Umkhanyakude in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) which extends from Hlabisa and Hluhluwe through to Ingwavuma, Jozini, Mkuze, Mtubatuba and St Lucia,
Vhembe, the Limpopo district well known for Makhado, Musina and Thohoyandou.Over and above this, the universities of the Free State, Venda and Zululand, as well as Walter Sisulu University, are all key partners in the rural project for purposes of research and documenting the pilot project.
Vocational Training versus Academia
In many villages of Mkhanyakude in northern KZN, families have to find their own transport to drive their deceased friends and relatives up to 200km away because there are no funeral service facilities in the area. What is more, there were no funeral service skills and there was no relevant expertise among the people in the villages. To address this shortcoming, a funeral services qualification is being introduced in rural FET colleges, and, at the same time, entrepreneurship, economic productivity and self-reliance are being encouraged.
Another focus area is lecturer development in FET colleges. The SSETA readily accepts that there are tremendous capacity problems afflicting the FET sector. For this reason, it is doing something about the inadequate quality of skills among lecturers. Two categories of lecturers will be receiving the necessary attention:
Lecturers with an artisanal/practical background in the vocations, but with little or no pedagogical expertise.
Lecturers with pedagogical expertise, but with little or no required vocational expertise.
“Our collaboration with Blackburn College in the United Kingdom and the Hämeen Ammattikorkeakoulu HAMK University of Applied Sciences in Finland is an exercise in lesson-drawing and skills transfer,” Moon says. The SSETA has learnt that, in order for it to really make FET colleges viable institutions, business needs to play a role in defining curricula and helping with placements and experiential learning – for both learners and lecturers. “Our collaboration involves exposing South African FET lecturers to the experiences of countries that have successfully negotiated the negativity associated with vocational education and practical skills,” emphasises Moon. He further added that the collaboration will introduce to the FET Colleges new models of identifying and defining programme delivery that is relevant to local demands.
Through close partnerships with the local business community, the FET colleges will be supported to ensure that they are responsive and relevant in their offering, with qualifications that lead to the immediate employment of their graduates. In order for us to arrive at this point, business must be actively involved in shaping curricula. This approach will also break the chain of growing numbers of young people who graduate from FET Colleges year after year, and yet fail to secure employment due to the lack of alignment between their qualifications and the needs of the business sector.
The Man behind the SSETA
The change process within the SSETA has not been plain sailing. Indeed, there is much to be done in order to nurture a very delicate process of change. A related problem in the SETA system is that there is much ‘old’ knowledge, which does not always fit comfortably with the new vision defined by Minister Nzimande and the development strategy. “We often slip into the old habits of chasing numerical targets at the expense of impact; of focusing too much attention on private providers at the expense of public institutions and employers; and of favouring urban at the expense of rural or township; et cetera. So, as we approach the midpoint of NSDS III, there is a lot of reflection and critical analysis to be done in order to sharpen our tools of transformation and make them more sophisticated,” explains Moon.
Two-and-half years into the development strategy, Minister Nzimande is recognising the need to deliberately and consciously build a SETA cadre that will drive the change process so desperately needed by South Africa’s labour market. “The SSETA, as the body responsible for leadership and management qualifications, is taking this concern to heart and we shall be interacting with key universities to explore the possibility of crafting qualifications designed to produce a SETA cadre,” concludes Moon. The leadership of SSETA by Dr Moon came to an end on 30 June 2013. The Minister of Higher Education and Training has since appointed appointed Dr Moon as the Chairperson of the Construction SETA.
Difficulties Present Opportunities
The administration period was meant to be very brief – no more than six months. However, this had to be extended several times due to deep-seated systemic problems being uncovered. This Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA), which was lauded as the best SETA in the country, lacked basic systems, processes and procedures, both with regard to human resources and finance. Supply-chain processes were virtually non-existent, which posed a huge risk for this R1-billion entity.
“One of the first things I did was to appoint an audit firm to conduct a dipstick assessment of our finances, and, as expected, all sorts of gremlins came out of this audit,” explains Dr Sihle Moon, the Services Sector Education and Training Authority (SSETA) Administrator. Instead of signing the Annual Financial Statements, Moon asked the Auditor-General to expand the scope of their audit in order to factor in the areas of concern identified by the audit firm. It is now common knowledge that the SSETA received an adverse finding from the Auditor-General.