Closing the skills gap

Skills development is not only good for business but good for SA youth.  Jeanne Esterhuizen, President of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation, operating in the automotive aftermarket sector consisting of around 20 000 employers and about 380 000 employees says if learnerships are the key to optimising employability, this is where the integration of apprenticeships in the TVET system becomes vital in producing quality and relevant skills which are well aligned with the labour market to improve the job ecosystem, particularly for the youth. 

Rajan Naidoo, Director at Edupower Skills Academy says learnerships are the key to optimising employability. “Unemployment is a massive challenge that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. Predictions are that 35% of South Africans won’t have jobs by December. And this only accounts for people who are actively looking for jobs,” he says

The challenge is many youth lack the relevant skills to be effective in the workplace and employers are often reluctant to take on inexperienced and poorly skilled youth. Esterhuizen agrees saying the reality is that there is still a huge skills gap.  “Providing the right skills is fundamental to young people’s ability to compete for quality jobs and learnership programmes are the ideal vehicle for this,” notes Naidoo. 

Learnerships are an effective tool to develop work competence, and to equip participants with life and work readiness skills relevant to a specific occupation.

Esterhuizen says one of the factors hindering progress is the complexity of the legislation noting that many employers in particular struggle to understand the many different frameworks and the red tape in our skills development system. She says in the South African context informal micro, small and medium employers also do not receive any additional Discretionary Grant support from the Sector Education and Training authorities to create the capacity in the workplaces to participate in training initiatives so badly needed in our economy “One can understand that a smaller employer, with one or two employees, doesn’t have the kind of support mechanisms that a corporate employer will have to train apprentices.”

She says the other challenge is the fact that when developing qualifications, we cannot forget we also have a very strong Bargaining Council system in South Africa that also deals with formulating skills profiles, skills-based job-grading systems and training-related issues from both the labour and employer side. There is also no incentive for employers to release specific subject matter experts or practitioners to any external training structure to help develop the required qualifications.

Further to this only parts of available data are fed into the SETA system which ultimately informs Sector Skills plans, which is the roadmap to your education and training institutions, such as universities and the TVET system.

“The problem is that data can be inaccurate due to a lack of research resources  and as applicable data systems are mostly not integrated, the outcome does not accurately reflect what the industry needs are at any moment in time.” She says the other big challenge is that the qualifications development and registration process take far too long. “By the time a qualification is registered it is already outdated and the employer has to start the process again. This is a very serious issue hampering Skills Development,” says Esterhuizen.

“There is no doubt apprenticeships are the way of the future. From industry we need a concerted effort to get more involved in building relationships with TVET Colleges, in providing input and sourcing investment to ensure the right equipment and curriculum is being used. From Government we need a relook at the structures and we will then be in a far stronger position to provide relevant, up to date apprentice programmes that bring industry and all of the role players much closer together. We must also bring in the whole value chain, from the OEM’s down,  into these discussions,” concludes Esterhuizen.