DRIVING THE SKILLS TRAIN

SETAs provide South African industry with an invaluable stream of skilled individuals ready to add value to the economy. Leadership spoke to Zukile Mosheshe Mvalo (Deputy Director-General: Skills Development Branch of the Department of Higher Education and Training) about the challenges and opportunities within the SETA sector.

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What have been the challenges for SETAs in the last year?

In confronting challenges of the country, as enunciated in the National Development Plan (NDP) such an unemployment, inequality and poverty, it is required that the entire post-school system including Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs), respond to the need for a massive expansion and a radical improvement in the quality of education and training, in order to contribute to the lives of individuals, the developmental needs of the economy and to the broader society.

The Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) of the 1st Quarter of 2017 has indicated that unemployment stands at 27.7%, simple meaning that 6.2 million South Africans are unemployed. The QLFS has also reported that 32.4% of those between the ages of 15-24 are not in employment, education nor training. Expectation therefore, for the SETA system is huge, to assist, amongst others, with the provision of decent opportunities for over three (3) million young persons between the ages of 15 and 24 who cannot access either learning institutions or the labour market.

For the past year(s), whilst some SETAs meet their targets, it remains a concern even if it is only one (1) SETA that is not meeting all its targets as set in the Annual Performance Plan or Service Level Agreement. All twenty-one (21) SETAs must endeavour to meet all their targets, especially with regard to learning programmes such as learnerships, internships, work integrated learning, apprenticeships etc, as these learning programmes have direct and positive impact on the lives of millions, especially our young people.

Various tracer and impact studies indicate, amongst others, that unemployed learners participating in learning programmes such as learnerships are easily absorbed by the industry. The case in point, is a tracer study commissioned in the fibre processing and manufacturing sector in which 73% of employers agreed that learnerships improve learners’ knowledge of the industry, which in turn improves their employability chances. Governance of SETAs is significantly improving year by year, as in the financial year that ended in March 2016, ten (10) SETAs achieved clean audit by the Auditor-General of South Africa.

What are the successes that SETAs have enjoyed over the past year?

Since the introduction of new SETA Grant Regulations by the Minister of Higher Education and Training in April 2013, we have seen SETAs spending more billions in PIVOTAL programmes, which simply means professional, vocational, technical and academic learning. To highlight this point, SETAs combined, from 2011/12 to 2016/17 financial years, contributed significantly to the production of 90 969.

For workplace based learning opportunities which includes learnerships, internships and work integrated learning since we introduced these new Grant Regulations our total target for up to March 2017 was 229 285 and our achievement stands at 334 273.

The National Development Plan has set the target of 30 000 artisans to be produced by the country annually by 2030, therefore the future looks positive, if in 2016/17 the country delivered 21 188 artisans. A recent tracer study in 2016 by the Swiss-South African Cooperative Initiative (SSACI) in collaboration with the Department of Higher Education and Training found that 79% of newly qualified artisans find employment [6% self-employment and 73% employed].

To expand post-school opportunities some SETAs are establishing Skills Development Centres across the country, especially in rural areas, where there is less access to post-school opportunities. Another notable area is that SETAs are now establishing offices in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges, which is a significant step towards ensuring that there is a link between the world of education and work. 

What excites you about the years ahead for what SETAs will be achieving and the role they will be playing in our economic growth?

For the years ahead, the work of SETAs will be closely aligned, amongst others, with the National Development Plan, New Growth Path, Industrial Policy Action Plan, the White Paper for Post-School Education and Training and other key policy documents of government which have outlined important strategies and priorities for development, with an emphasis on inclusive growth and employment generation. The Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr BE Nzimande has directed SETAs to prioritise skills development interventions required in Government’s Nine Point Plan, which covers:

  • Resolving the energy challenge;
  • Revitalising agriculture and the agro-processing value chain;
  • Advancing beneficiation or adding value to our mineral wealth;
  • More effective implementation of a higher impact Industrial Policy Action Plan;
  • Encouraging private sector investment;
  • Moderating workplace conflict;
  • Unlocking the potential of small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs), cooperatives, township and rural enterprises;
  • State reform and boosting the role of state owned companies, information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure or broadband roll-out, water, sanitation and transport infrastructure as well as
  • Operation Phakisa aimed growing the ocean economy and other sectors.

The economy in the last quarter of 2016 and first quarter of 2017 has experienced contraction with 0.3% and 0.7%. Projections indicate that even if average annual economic growth were to rise to 5%, unemployment amongst 15-24 year olds would be 44% and 31% by 2020 and 2030 respectively, in the absence of special interventions.

We must ensure therefore that our programmes and policies should focus on developing skills that are required by the economy so that the youth can become part of the mainstream economy. This challenge is even more exciting as I am part of the team crafting solutions to deal with challenges facing the country, especially young people. 

Why is artisan development so important?

The New Growth Path, the National Development Plan amongst others have prioritised efforts to support employment creation in the following sectors: infrastructure, the agriculture value chain, the mining value chain, the green economy, manufacturing sectors, tourism and so on. These sectors are crucial to grow the economy at the level envisaged in the New Growth Path and National Development Plan. Primarily, the skills that are required, are artisanal.

The Minister of Higher Education and Training has prioritised artisan development in the Department and assigned the Deputy Minister to be an “ambassador” of artisan development, hence the Department launched its ambitious “Decade of the Artisan”.

After a successful “Year of the Artisan” in 2013, the campaign was aimed at promoting artisanship as a career of choice to South African youth.

In 2016, the Minister published the List of Occupations in Demand, most artisanal trades are topping this List of Occupations in Demand, especially, Millwrights, Toolmakers, Boilermakers, Fitters and Turners, Carpenters and Joiners, Welders, Plumbers, Motor (petrol) Mechanics, Diesel Mechanics, Instrument Technicians, Metal Fabricators/Sheet Metalworkers, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Technicians, Auto Electricians, Riggers, Electricians.

What message would you like to share with the corporate world about the potential for how artisan development can play a role in economic development?

Manpower Group survey of 2016 commissioned over 42 countries with more than 41 700 hiring managers globally indicating, vacancies that are difficult to fill, by priority of which artisanal trades emerged at the top of the list, showing that artisanal trades are in demand internationally.

First world countries with long tradition of advanced apprenticeship models, such as Germany, Austria and Switzerland, have managed to maintain lower unemployment levels for youth. 

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