Picture: 123RF/ CATHY YEULET
Picture: 123RF/ CATHY YEULET

In the midst of the unemployment crisis, with levels hitting a 16-year high in the third quarter of 2019, a new project between the department of trade & industry and African Development Bank (AfDB) aims to produce graduates who will leave colleges with fully functional businesses of their own.

The department received a R23.6m grant from the AfDB to spend across four programmes aimed at encouraging entrepreneurship and revitalising some of the special economic zones that the government built years ago to try to boost industrialisation.

About R6.2m of this will be spent on the enterprise development pilot in which four technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges around the country will groom ready-to-operate entrepreneurs and open doors to local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to use their manufacturing workshops.

Instead of making our learners employable, we need to make them their own employers.
Gardner Dewu
Ekurhuleni East TVET college acting centre manager 

“At the centre of the unemployment crisis the industries are not able to absorb all the students we produce. So, instead of making our learners employable, we need to make them their own employers,” said Ekurhuleni East TVET college acting centre manager Gardner Dewu.

The pilot project has been in the making since 2015, but it is taking off now because two of the colleges got their workshops only recently. Another college in Esayidi, KwaZulu-Natal, was added to the pilot in 2019.

In Lovedale TVET college in the Eastern Cape, where the pilot project is now in its second year, 356 students and local entrepreneurs have gone through the introductory courses since 2018. Twenty-eight local businesses became part of the SME development programme. They use the boilermaker and sheet metal workshops for their own business needs while transferring their skills to the students.

The department’s pilot project co-ordinator, Nontombi Marule, said the department wants to shift the focus from just research & development, by taking research outputs to tangible projects which are implemented at a grass roots level.

Alex Area, principal investment officer at AfDB group, said that with SA’s youth unemployment rate as high as it is, the pilot is aimed at helping the government create an environment that will make entrepreneurship spike. 

The students going through the pilot are given starter kits in the form of a comprehensive tradesman toolbox, which they will need for their specific skills to start a business.

If it produces the desired results, the pilot will be rolled out to more colleges around the country.

buthelezil@businesslive.co.za