Unmet needs: Sinovuyo Apleni and Luthando Gubevu, founders of the Fundanii education project, teach computer skills to Mfundo Senior Primary pupils in Mdantsane. The education system produces a high number of social science graduates, who are not in high demand, compared with technical and service industry skills. Picture: Michael Pinyana
Unmet needs: Sinovuyo Apleni and Luthando Gubevu, founders of the Fundanii education project, teach computer skills to Mfundo Senior Primary pupils in Mdantsane. The education system produces a high number of social science graduates, who are not in high demand, compared with technical and service industry skills. Picture: Michael Pinyana

The persistent problem of skills mismatch in the labour market has not only become a significant contributor to the unemployment crisis, but is also a signifier of an ineffective education system unable to meet the economy’s needs.

Experts predicted and research confirmed years ago that science, technology, engineering, mathematics and financial technology would be the backbone of all economies, yet SA failed to solve its education failures, ignoring its potential to provide employment for millions and unlock growth in the economy while disrupting unemployment trends.

The unmet skills demands for labour in a country in which 7% of university graduates and 33% of Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) college graduates are unemployed illustrate the disjuncture between the education system and the world of work.

The youth unemployment rate is more than 38%.

Recruitment specialists are desperate for solutions as vacancies remain unfilled due to the scarcity of suitable candidates for occupations in high demand such as physicists, agricultural scientists, production engineers and boiler makers, despite the government investing millions of rand in research partnerships meant to develop the tools to solve the challenge.

The admission of more young people at higher-learning institutions through the extension of free education is no guarantee that these vacancies will be filled.

Despite attempts by higher-education institutions to launch programmes to deal with the challenge, one of the most useful instruments for students and interested parties has not been updated in two years. The list of occupations in high demand was last released in 2016, augmenting data from the 2014-15 survey of stakeholders. An undertaking to update its contents in 2017 was not fulfilled. The Department of Higher Education and Training, which is supposed to collate all data provided by the Department of Labour and other contributors of skills required for the economy, has not met its mandate to guide the career choices of students and inform allocations by the National Skills Fund, sector education training authorities (Setas) and other bursary providers. This is despite the department’s admission that the alignment of student qualifications and occupations in high demand could reduce high unemployment.

Transman CEO Angela Dick, who is also a Business Unity SA director, says the practical skills that industry and business need are not forthcoming from institutions of higher learning.

Instead, the education system produces more social science graduates, who are not in high demand, compared with technical and service industry skills. The Department of Labour conducted a study in 2011 that confirmed this.

"The qualifications generally achieved are not always what business actually needs, and this means you have disappointed youngsters who become depressed and angry when the qualifications they have are not suitable and cannot be absorbed into business," says Dick.

She traces the problem to the very early stages of the education process, saying that basic education is equally at fault as it fails to provide pupils with the knowledge that will ensure they are able to make informed decisions about their subject choices and possible careers. Business can also do more to assist pupils and students to come to terms with their future employment prospects, she adds.

"One cannot expect the education department to train future entrepreneurs and excellent candidates for productive employment if pupils and their families have no idea what is involved and what the possibilities are in the business world," Dicks says.

One cannot expect the education department to train future entrepreneurs and excellent candidates for productive employment if pupils and their families have no idea what is involved and what the possibilities are in the business world
Angela Dick
Transman CEO

A 2016 report published by the Labour Market Intelligence Partnership, a collaborative-research programme by the Department of Higher Education and Training and the Human Sciences Research Council, supports her assertions.

In the report, researchers recorded that a constraint for the post-school education and training system and the labour market was the quality of basic education. The department established initiatives to ensure that there was synergy between business and institutions of higher learning to "encourage universities to establish partnerships with the world of work". However, some of the country’s top universities say there are no holistic, active programmes with specific industries.

Wits University says students have to be trained to think independently and to apply knowledge acquired to tackle diverse problems in constantly changing workplaces. It prides itself on having a 50% enrolment of students for science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related studies, with humanities only accounting for 25% of enrolments and commerce, law and management 25%.

"This spread of registrations, together with the recent review of the university curricula, has placed Wits University graduates in an ideal position to respond to industry demands when they graduate.

"It also ideally equips them with the skills required for the Fourth Industrial Revolution," says the university’s academic deputy vice-chancellor, Prof Andrew Crouch.

But even students graduating from institutions ripe with resources need to be prepared for the structural mismatch between demand and supply in the labour market. According to the Labour Market Intelligence Partnership, the economy has a demand for highly skilled workers, while the country has a surplus of low-skilled workers.

"The economy should create more labour-intensive forms of growth in order to absorb the growing levels of people, particularly young people, as first-time labour market entrants," its study reads.

It documents research that found half of university graduates are employed in the community, social and personal services sector, which is dominated by the public sector, creating a distortion in the labour market since graduates are not being attracted to the private sector.

In December, the Department of Higher Education and Training invited public comment on the proposed National Skills Development Plan, which was developed to improve the integration of the post-school education and training system and the interface between it, tertiary education institutions and the world of work.

The plan will detail the policy goals contained in the white paper on postschool education and training. It calls for funding reforms; for systems and structures to be re-examined, focusing on Setas that are failing to meet targets and struggling with expensive and wasteful administrative systems.

Its aim is to create mechanisms for the Department of Higher Education and Training to "undertake specific interventions to support the development of the required capacity
to determine occupational demand", it reads.

Adapting to Changing Skill Needs, a report compiled by the Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development in 2017, found 52% of South African workers were employed in occupations for which they did not have the correct qualification, 27.9% were in jobs for which they were underqualified and 24% were overqualified for their jobs.

The Labour Market Intelligence Partnership remarks that the challenge for the government is to "contextually appropriate models for skills planning that takes into account the challenges of economic growth and inclusive development in SA.… The policy dilemma is how to respond to seemingly paradoxical imperatives given the diverse sets of development pathway," it says.

The proposed Skills Development Plan will outline ways in which the government can support the development of its citizens by ensuring they are fit for occupations in high demand and that it monitors and evaluates its systems to achieve this.

mahlakoanat@bdlive.co.za

Please sign in or register to comment.