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Vocational training a viable alternative to Matric

Vocational training a viable alternative to Matric

This week saw the release of the Matric results. And just like every year, there has been controversy surrounding what many refer to as the pass rate versus the 'real' pass rate. But irrespective of that, South Africans may need to change their mindsets that getting your Grade 12 qualification and going on to university for a degree is the be-all and end-all of finding a job.

People tend to forget that having a Grade 9 allows a learner to continue their studies in post-school education and training that can be at a Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) college. In fact, overseas it is an accepted course of action with countries like Holland and Germany taking great pride in the skills gained at a TVET level. To the uninitiated, TVET focuses on artisanal skills such as mechanics, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, welders, hairdressers, and chefs. Furthermore, TVET also enables the learner to further their studies by opening more opportunities to gain additional qualifications.

So, why does the perception persist in the country that learners must matriculate, go to university for a degree, and then find a job? This is not an easy question to answer, but it can be attributed to how parents and the learners themselves are not fully aware of the potential of vocational training. Certainly, if the learner wants to go into a specialist field such as becoming an accountant, lawyer, doctor, engineer, and so on, this is the required course of action. But if the focus is not on attaining such a qualification, why go to university in the first place? Potentially, this can leave the student (or parents) with significant debt and a degree that they might not be able to get full value from.

In many developed economies, only a small percentage of the top learners go to university with the majority pursuing vocational training. The point is that learners do not have to spend two additional years in school if an internationally accepted alternative path is open to them.

Preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

More recently, the government has been pushing a technology-driven agenda to meet the needs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Some might argue that this is heavily reliant on degreed students. And yet, the digital world requires more than just office workers.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) speaks of the concept of Design, Conceptualise, Implement, and Maintain. The first two focus on engineers while the latter two have technicians and artisans in mind. MIT proposes a 1:4:10 ratio between engineers, technicians, and artisans to make things work in the digital future.

Irrespective of how connected and technology-enabled society becomes, there will always be a need for artisans. The potential of automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning can only do so much. Human resources, especially those with technical and vocational skills will remain integral to how we live and work.

Additionally, learners at Grade 9 level already have sufficient knowledge to learn how to build and programme robots. Having the language skills in place to master grammar and spelling to code properly and a basic understanding of maths form the foundation of going into robotics and even the Internet of Things. Furthermore, there is a global shortage of draughtsmen. Following Grade 9, learners can go on a vocational path to get the qualifications for both these career choices that will be essential in the future.

Already, training providers have started developing short programmes and courses built around 4IR. Given how many of the jobs of the future do not exist yet, this provides learners with exciting opportunities to be at the forefront of innovation and go beyond many of the traditional options available to them.

And when compared to other countries when it comes to vocational training, South Africa performs better than middle income countries like Brazil and Turkey, according to the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Review.

Private sector importance

Refocusing on vocational training is not only the responsibility of parents, learners, and government. The private sector also has a critical role to play in this regard. Currently, the challenge for those doing vocational training is what happens after the theory is completed. Yes, students will receive a certificate but still lack vital job experience.

If these students want to go into formal apprenticeships to register as artisans, there are not that many opportunities available to them. More needs to be done to change this.

However, much of this comes down to securing the required corporate funding to give more students access to experiential training that is currently highly oversubscribed. From a business perspective, sponsoring these initiatives make sense. It assists corporates with their B-BBEE compliance and enable them to claim back a percentage of this expenditure against their skills development levy payments over the course of the financial year. These claims apply whether they send their own employees for upskilling, or if they sponsor learners with their workshop and experiential training programmes.

Examples of where new programmes have been launched include the YES4Youth programme that addresses the shortage of internships to a certain extent. This sees large corporates committing to taking on interns, but it is still limited given the number of students in the country. More companies need to come on board.

And then there is Harambee that offers an excellent programme for unemployed Grade 12s. It works with corporates to identify their needs when it comes to the skills required in the workplace. Harambee then matches this to its database of unemployed learners and provide them with training programmes to give them the skills to fill those holes in the private sector.

No matter how you look at it, this is not an easy problem to solve. Skills development must remain at the forefront of the government and corporate agenda. But what is vital is that parents and learners realise that there are options open to them other than only relying on Grade 12 and a university degree. The economic growth of the country depends on it.

By Gideon Potgieter, CEO of Resolution Circle.

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