Majadibodu reveals that the NSA and its stakeholders are hard at work upgrading the skills of current lecturers in Further Education and Training (FET) colleges. He observes that a majority of the FET colleges are served by ‘ageing’ people who, while having the expertise and knowledge, may not be there for long enough.
“Upgrading of these institutions also means improving their infrastructure and resources. One of the key resources in the training space is human resources. This means that we have to produce and equip lecturers with the appropriate skills and knowledge to transfer to learners,” notes Majadibodu. The NSA hosted the biannual National Skills Conference in October 2013. Held under the theme ‘Turning Every Workplace into a Training Space’ the conference also saw the first ever Skills Development Recognition Awards ceremony being held. The awards are aimed at recognising the efforts made by implementing partners in the creation of placement opportunities during the 2011 to 2013 period. These partners were acting in response to the clarion call of ‘Turning Every Workplace into a Training Space’.
Says Majadibodu of his expectation for the future impact of the conference: “We would like to see more collaboration within the industry among the role-players.” According to him, innovation is vital for the future of the South African skills landscape. As a result, he says, partnerships are important in fostering this innovation. Currently, there is a disconnect among Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs), Further Education and Training (FET) colleges and universities, with “universities seeming to think that skills development issues are more for people who use their hands than their brains”.
An Enhanced Skills Development Space
Majadibodu reveals that, in striving for this collaboration, the Honourable Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, has introduced occupational teams. “Occupational teams will bring all role-players to the table. Those who are responsible for training, and other stakeholders such as the ECSA [Engineering Council of South Africa] as well as those who deal with the theoretical aspects, should all be involved in forming these partnerships,” stresses Majadibodu. A clear report on the programme will, Majadibodu hopes, be one of the key outcomes of the 2013 National Skills Conference. “This report will be developed in such a manner that it assists the NSA in advising the minister on the way forward.” He adds that the programme has to be one that talks to the ambitions of the minister “in terms of what the White Paper envisages in the South African skills development space”. With such lofty goals, the NSA and the DHET are well on the way to truly turning every workplace into a training space.
Making Full Use of Pivotal Grants
Another way in which every workplace can be turned into a training space is for companies to make use of the pivotal grants as outlined in the National Skills Development Strategy (NSDSIII), the third phase of which began in January 2011. “Pivotal grants allow for the promotion of vocational technical skills training in the workplace,” reveals Majadibodu. He encourages organisations to make full use of these pivotal grants, as these will enable them to move away from skills programmes alone and shift the focus more to the “really scarce professional, technical skills and areas of workplace learning”. The NSA urges companies to access these grants so that they can further focus on issues of placing learners in the workplace in order to acquire the necessary experience. In this way, says Majadibodu, theory and practice will quickly bind together, as “there will be easy absorption of well-equipped learners in the workplace”. He acknowledges that this will not be a ‘quick-fix’ solution for the department, the NSA, the industry and South Africa as a whole. However, he strongly believes that, by making full use of the pivotal grants, the nation will turn every workplace into a training space sooner rather than later.
Dr Nzimande, the Honourable Minister of Higher Education and Training expounds further on the matter, noting that, because the government has made education and training a top priority, it has made major strides in this sphere. “To achieve all that the stakeholders intend to, we have paid a lot of attention to, and have invested in, vocational training institutions.” He further points out that the post-democracy government has made education available to all those students from poor households. In 2009, explains Dr Nzimande, only R318-million in bursaries was disbursed. Fast-forward to 2013 and the amount will reach R2-billion. This, he says, means that education spend has experienced one of the biggest increases of any item in government expenditure across the board. By default, this has resulted in the number of students enrolled at FET colleges almost doubling within a short period. “This is critical for the absorption of young people,” the minister observes.
In the light of increased intakes at educational institutions, is the Department equipped to handle the surge in student numbers? Indeed it is, says Dr Nzimande, but this is a work in progress. “We are building three new universities: in the Northern Cape, in Mpumalanga, as well as a stand-alone health sciences institution just outside Pretoria,” he reveals. These are advances which show that the South African government is sending a clear message that there should be no citizen who can claim to be without skills or further training. As with the issue of pivotal grants touched on by Majadibodu, this will not be a ‘quick-fix’ solution, the minister stresses. “However, we firmly believe that we have laid a very strong foundation and that, in 15 to 20 years, the skills landscape in this country will be a vastly changed one,” he confidently states.
Dispelling Myths about Higher Education
Dr Nzimande says that, behind the scenes, the department and the government have been working together with all stakeholders to bring FET colleges closer to employers through, in the main, the use of SETAs. “SETA offices are being opened at FET colleges. This is but one way to increase the student intake in respect of learnerships,” he explains. He is quick to add that the department is not yet at the point where it would like to be, but that significant progress has nonetheless been made. Up to now, the South African norm has been one where people see a university education as the only way to a better life. Dr Nzimande and the department aim to dispel this myth through the diversification and expansion of post-school and tertiary education. “This message is slowly starting to filter through in an environment where South Africa is faced with a huge shortage of skills, which one can never acquire at a university,” he stresses. At the same time, there are large numbers of young people who sit at home while the motor industry is short of at least 10 000 motor mechanics. That is not all, as the country also needs qualified welders, electricians and toolmakers.
Expanding on the issue of youth unemployment, the minister observes that the industry’s absorption of students is dependent on the opportunities that exist. If the economy performs badly, then opportunities will shrink. But, even when the economy does well, there is still the same challenge of absorption, as “there is a disjuncture between what some of the universities and the colleges offer in relation to what is required in the workplace”. Dr Nzimande emphasises that this is one area that requires all stakeholders’ urgent attention. One way in which this is being done is by inviting business and industry role-players to participate actively in the formulation of course curricula so that “there is no one second-guessing the other”. “For example, those employers interested in producing motor mechanics should collaborate with colleges and assist in designing the curriculum that’s needed,” says Dr Nzimande. In addition to this, they can go a step further and donate new engines so that students can work on vehicles that are on the roads today, and not 20 years ago. “This will do wonders for students’ chances of employability,” Dr Nzimande points out.
In the department’s view, the occupational teams may just be the silver bullet needed for South Africa’s skills landscape. “In bringing together all the partners, we are seeking to come up with a nationwide occupational team that will identify the blockages in, say, producing more electricians, electrical engineers, and so on. When these have been identified, we can then determine how to eliminate these blockages,” explains Dr Nzimande. It is envisaged that, by means of this process, shortcomings will be dealt with so as to enable colleges and universities to offer relevant and quality programmes. “This will put a stop to the phenomenon of second-guessing one another and will allow for an open environment in which information and ideas can be shared, and relevant curricula can be developed,” contends the minister.
Thus, major strides have been made with regard to creating a level skills landscape in South Africa, and, says Dr Nzimande, they will therefore not ‘drop the ball’. Instead, the focus will be on continuing to improve on the quality and offerings in South Africa’s FET colleges. He drives home the fact that this will mean providing South Africa with properly trained lecturers who have the right kind of equipment and the proper infrastructure. The years ahead will therefore be fruitful times for the department and the NSA. Over the next three years, R5-billion will be injected into FET colleges, Dr Nzimande reveals. This will cover the upgrading and improvement of infrastructure and equipment. Upgrading of lecturer skills will be taken up a notch, just in time to cater for the 12 new college campuses that will be opened nationwide. “The focus here is on making these colleges campuses of choice,” expounds the minister. This and other measures will go a long way to addressing the anomaly of high youth unemployment and the lack of skills. Further emphasis should, however, be placed on bringing employers closer to the FET colleges, stresses Dr Nzimande. In this regard, he says, partnerships are all-important. “These are partnerships between the public and private sector that will expose students to learnerships and internships, which are important for the first 12 months of experience in a young person’s life.”
The interventions outlined by Dr Nzimande and Majadibodu are by no means an exhaustive list in the quest to change the skills landscape and the post school sphere in South Africa. It is a tough challenge for which both the department and the NSA will require ‘all hands on deck’. In this way, South Africa will see a dramatic evolution in the skills development landscape and a realisation of the vision of turning every workplace into a training space.
Skills Development Strategy
In January 2011, the Department of Higher Education and Training launched the third phase of the National Skills Development Strategy (NSDSIII), working in partnership with the Human Sciences Research Council and the Wits Policy Planning Unit to bring about integrated skills planning for the whole country.
The Labour Market Intelligence Partnership aims to generate evidence to support the government in skills planning.
The objectives are to identify and generate new data sets needed for a credible Labour Management Information System which will be used to develop models and approaches for analysing skills demand.
The NSDSIII will also analyse institutional conditions and capabilities, curricula, and occupational structures in order to inform processes that improve the quantity and quality of graduates from post school institutions.
Towards a Better Skills Landscape
The South African skills landscape is a complex one that is beset by many challenges. The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and the National Skills Authority (NSA) are tackling these challenges head-on with the aim of creating an environment in which all South Africans have access to post-school education and training and are able to contribute in a meaningful manner to the country’s economy.
It is crucial for a growing economy such as that of South Africa to have the engineering skills that will best cater for the multitrillion-rand investments that will be channelled into infrastructure, says Edward Majadibodu, Chairperson of the National Skills Authority (NSA). “The focus of our skills training should be on the engineering side,” notes Majadibodu. “This is not to say that we are undermining professional skills, because, to acquire practical skills, there is a need to be tutored in the theory first.” In this respect,
by Andrew Ngozo