Education and continuous skills development are the means for increasing productivity, social participation and thus inclusive growth for any society. This is particularly true for countries with deeply entrenched inequality and poverty, such as South Africa. Public policy recognises education as a priority, as shown by high government expenditure and the emphasis on education in the National Development Plan.
Improving the quality of basic education is crucial. However, BUSA’s focus is on the post-school education and training (PSET) system, which includes higher education institutions, technical and vocational education and training colleges (TVETs), community education and training colleges, sector education and training authorities, and the South African qualifications authority. International research emphasises the importance of employer participation in post-school skills development, which usually includes practical components.
BUSA is committed to a PSET system that is financially sustainable and aligned with business needs. Integrating the system – as envisaged at the creation of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) – would improve its efficiency and effectiveness. Furthermore, PSET must be inclusive, ensuring that individuals have equal opportunities for future success regardless of their financial circumstances and racial or other characteristics. The future of work is changing and job insecurity is increasing. There is a growing need for flexibility, critical thinking and life-long learning. A sustainable PSET system will have to grapple with these needs. The current one seems ill suited to respond to changes in the world of work.
Many of South Africa’s challenges in education and skills development stem from the legacy of apartheid, which entrenched deep racialised inequalities in the provision and quality of education and training across the country. Despite acknowledging many of the problems and creating the DHET, the current system remains deeply flawed. It is fragmented, financially and socially wasteful, and poorly planned and implemented. Although the DHET is currently reviewing the proposed National Skills Development Plan, many of the goals outlined above are neglected in the draft document.
- There is common ground between government, business, labour and the community on which to establish a mutually satisfactory PSET system.
- All publicly funded policies, systems, structures and programmes should be fit for purpose and cost effective. They should clearly serve their stated objectives and be reviewed from time to time to ensure that they stay abreast of changes in the economy and use resources optimally.
- Business is indispensable to a good TVET system and should be partnered with in negotiations.
- Government must permanently ring-fence sufficient funds to cover its portion of the costs of PSET institutions and programmes.
- Mechanisms must be put in place to ensure an efficient PSET system.
- Current legislation and regulations need to be clarified, harmonised and finalised before any more are introduced, as there is much policy uncertainty in practice.
- The key concept of a single integrated PSET system is given insufficient attention in the National Skills Development Plan or other policy documents. It thus risks being lost to incremental improvements that will not address fundamental problems in the current system.
- The National Skills Development Plan consulting process has not yet resulted in significant changes to the plan based on detailed submissions.
- The regulatory framework governing skills development is fragmented across government departments: for example, lack of coordination across the Labour Relations Act, the Compensation for Occupational Diseases and Injuries Act, and the Skills Development Act. A cohesive framework could significantly strengthen enablers for business to support skills development.
- There is no clear, sustainable financial framework for TVETs in particular and PSET in general.
Although the challenges outlined here are general, TVETs are especially problematic. TVETs are geographically and financially the most accessible post-school skilling institutions for most South Africans, and should be the core of the PSET system. However, TVETs face a number of challenges, including:
- Curricula that ignore business needs. For example, they tend to focus on secondary sector skills rather than services sectors, which are more labour absorptive.
- Low learner throughput (there is a 20 percent completion rate).
- A generally weak relationship with the private sector. This is antithetical to the practical foundations of TVET colleges and, in some cases, prevents students from qualifying.
- Rigid adherence to the qualifications-based National Qualifications Framework, rather than exploring multiple paths to skilled or semi-skilled employment.
- Inappropriate geographic distribution that does not take learner densities into account.
Improving the PSET system is a mammoth task. However, it is becoming more urgent as economic growth stagnates. The future of work requires fewer hard skills for one specific job in favour of a shift towards life-long learning, flexibility and critical thinking.
South Africa is at a turning point. Greater competitiveness and economic growth require an educated, skilled workforce, as well as policies ensuring stable and conducive macroeconomic conditions. Without these outcomes, sustainable and inclusive economic growth will be elusive.
The way forward
Business believes that the PSET system should be developed using the following guidelines to deal with specific South African challenges. We need to:
- Understand that skills on their own are unlikely to deliver economic growth, and that broader policies are required.
- Create a supportive macroeconomic environment.
- Ensure post-school institutions complement one another and avoid unnecessary duplication.
- Equip students with a focus on entrepreneurship and technology.
- Create and maintain partnerships between government and business.
- Expand the system to ensure we reach more students.
There is an urgent need to improve the TVET system to reach more students more effectively by:
- Ensuring reliable funding.
- Focusing on scalable education to reach more people.
- Investing in skills forecasting to understand and educate for the skills that will be required in future.
- Improving the quality and reputation of TVETs to attract students.
- Involving stakeholders such as students and employers in the development and implementation of TVET curricula.
- Collaborating between business and government.
Education and skills development are crucial for South Africa’s long-term success. There are problems with the current post school education and training system that are only going to intensify as the world of work becomes more dynamic and service-oriented. South Africa has unlimited opportunities for economic growth and social progress if government focuses on improving the quality and provision of education and skills to meet economic needs. Business is an important part of the solution and is eager to partner with government to improve the skills system.
BUSA and the Institute for Futures Research. Ensuring Success for South Africa’s Post-School Training and Education System by 2030.
BUSA and Ken Duncan. Towards a Position on the National Skills Development Plan. 3 February 2017.