Skills Development: A South African Perspective
By Cathy Robertson
Prior to 1994, when apartheid ended and a new government was elected democratically, the only available skills training was full-time traditional training for which a student had to qualify and self fund, or an apprenticeship for the employed tradesman and sponsored by the employer (similar to the dual system practised in Germany).
The only ‘sponsored’ short skills training was the Department of Labour’s TUP (Training of Unemployed Persons) tasklists – lists of technical training outcomes. The numbers were limited to between 10 and 15 learners per group and the fee per learner was fixed. Learners were paid a daily stipend which was minimal and intended only to cover transport and subsistence needs. Anyone could offer the training as it required techical rather than pedagogical skills; a number of private providers established themselves by offering this training.
In 1998, the first Skills Development Act was promulgated, followed by the Skills Development Levy Act, and the whole skills development landscape changed. For the past seven years, the SETAs (Sector Education and Training Authorities), which replaced the old professional Industry Training Boards and represent 23 economic sectors of the economy, have played a major role in skills development. From the employment levies that, by law, have to be paid, they have had the much-needed funds to promote skills development.
At the same time, the National Qualifications Authority (NQF) was born and a plethora of new unit standard-based qualifications, registered with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), appeared which could either be done as a 1-18-month learnership (⅓ contact and ⅔ workplace experience) or the unit standards could be clustered into skills programmes.
Unfortunately, employers initially regarded the employment levy as yet another tax, and the unclaimed levies became available to providers as discretionary funds for training of the unemployed belonging to certain designated groups – the historically disadvantaged 80% black Africans, 57% women and 4% disabled.
Before training could take place, the training provider had to become accredited with its primary ETQA (Education and Training Quality Authority) – a laborious, bureaucratic process requiring a mountain of paperwork. As a result of this, a great deal of the funds that should have gone into training and addressing the critical skills gap went into funding the mechanisms of maintaining this hugely expensive, cumbersome process.
The public FET Colleges, of which Boland College is one of six in the Western Cape and one of 50 in South Africa overall, were deemed accredited by the Further Education and Training (FET) Act of 1998. This meant that they were not required to obtain full primary accreditation to offer programmes for the various SETAs. All that was required was that they receive programme approval, which meant that they had to prove they had the capacity to offer the programme (ie learning materials and registered constituent assessors and moderators). However, many SETAs misunderstood this requirement, which led to a great deal of wasted time and energy going through the bureaucratic exercise, by putting together unnecessary documentation time and time again so that the SETAs would be satisfied that the colleges, whose core business is training, could actually deliver the training. This situation has not changed and it has made it very difficult for colleges to offer responsive, flexible – in terms of time and place and mode of delivery – and demand- and needs-driven education and training.
So, what has changed and what are the real challenges to skills development in South Africa?
- In rural areas there is a very high level of unemployment and communities are impoverished. For a rural college like Boland College, which serves a wide geographical area of 200km2 (approximately 150 square miles), the challenges are to get the people, without a transport system or money, to the training venues. This usually means added costs which make training much more expensive than in the urban areas.
- Programme approval remains a challenge. Qualifications expire and are either re-registered or changed, and are then registered as new qualifications requiring fresh programme approval or an extension of scope. The backlog at the SETAs has never eased and this exercise often takes months.
- 20% of the skills development levy goes to the National Skills Fund. It always was and still is a real challenge to access this funding.
- The SETAs prefer to give the skills development funding to employers. Many employers have established their own training units which have been accredited because the SETAs recognise the financial rather than the human resource benefit of skills training. The funding is therefore not easily accessible to training providers who have identified a real need for training and wish to access the necessary funding.
- The learnership system stopped a gap for a while, but the trend is to return to the apprenticeship system with the compulsory trade test to ensure a high standard. The level and standard of craftsmanship has taken a real nosedive in the past decade and this consistent decline, as well as the average age of the qualified artisan being pegged at 58, has to be addressed. The timeframes of a learnership are regarded as being too short. There is also not enough workplace experiential learning for a learner on a learnership in some of the trades.
- Until March 2009, there were 25 ETQAs, 23 of which belonged to the SETAs, each with its own bureaucratic procedures. For a multi-provider such as the colleges, this was a nightmare. In future, there will be only three ETQAs: Umalusi for FET; CHE-HEQC for higher education; and the QCTO (Quality Council for Trades and Occupations) for all occupational qualifications on the NQF. The SETAs will assist the QCTO in its quality function, concentrating mainly on the workplace. Hopefully, this change will bring standardisation.
There have been massive changes in the education arena which are, unfortunately, mostly driven by political agendas. In South Africa, education and training was originally under the control of two ministries: the Department of Labour (DoL); and the Department of Education (DoE). The two departments worked independently of each other, and this meant that there was a clear distinction between vocational (DoE) and occupational (DoL) education and training.
There was little similarity between the two systems. The dichotomy of having two controlling departments is also reflected in the structure of the colleges, which offer vocational as well as occupational training – often with two staffing structures and different learner profiles.
- DoE was responsible for school education and vocational education and training. The system was traditionally supply-driven, and all educational institutions reported to their regional departments of education in the provinces.
- DoL was responsible for training in the workplace and training of the unemployed. In essence, it was demand-led training and offered training on the NQF, which DoE did not. The SETAs and the TUP training arm of the regional Department of Labour offices also fell under the jurisdiction of DoL.
- The public FET colleges offer programmes to post-school, second-chance learners at risk or adult learners who want to re-skill and upskill, utilising a number of different modes of delivery. Since 1995, there has been no system in place to revise and upgrade the currency and relevance of the DoE programmes. Instead of addressing this need, the DoE has phased out all the traditional programmes and phased in a new, three-year Level 2 to Level 4 programme, with only one exit level. The pass and throughput rates have been abysmal and the perception of employers and the public is that colleges have become the haven of school dropouts. The colleges are being forced into offering other accredited institutions’ programmes to make up for those that they have lost, which is making education and training, which had always been affordable at the colleges, expensive. Colleges are also faced with the challenge of advising the community on their education options which have been drastically reduced, and not to their advantage or according to their needs. Increasingly, colleges are depending on occupational programmes in order to maintain service delivery and for their survival.
- After the election of South Africa’s new president, the entire education system of the past was changed. There are now two national education ministries: the Department of Higher Education and the Department of Basic Education. Schools fall under the latter. All training has now been removed from DoL. The SETAs and FET colleges now report to the National Department of Higher Education. The provincial offices of education will soon close. This is going to have an enormous effect on training and funding. No-one really knows how this is going to implemented.
In the meantime, the challenge of addressing the enormous skills needs in South Africa, with its huge unemployment figures as well as a poor work ethic and an attitude of entitlement on the part of the beneficiaries, continues.
However, the colleges and private providers remain proactive and are really doing a wonderful job of adapting to all the changes with a resoluteness and optimism that is staggering.
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