Higher Education and Training Minister Naledi Pandor says while SA is gaining ground on solving its skills crisis, there’s still lots to do. Here, in this edited Q/A, is what she considers some ways of solving SA’s job crisis.
Fin24: In a technical and vocational college report published last year, it found that there were some 3.4 million young people who were neither in training nor in education. How do we reach out to them and get them working?
Naledi Pandor (NP): I think one of the things we need to do is have diverse offerings (at training colleges) available because there are young people who come from school who may want to become an electrician, a plumber, an automechanic. But then there is the young person, who is a bit older, who has been out of school or who has never been to school and he needs a very different set of programmes. In terms of that person, our community colleges should respond to her and they should offer her a programme that a young adult would be excited to partake in and I think, at times, that programme may very well include some form of basic literacy – be it computer literacy at a basic level and then a skill such as design or needlework, financial management skills, or marketing or in fact digital (skills).
Fin24: To what extent do you think we’re on the right track?
NP: I think there’s a lot to do. There’s nothing wrong with talking but that shouldn’t be the only thing. We must become very good at implementation and follow-through. I believe that beyond the plan, the issue of impact is important. Nothing should be left to chance. We should be following up, making sure that what we support and provide funding for is working the way we intended it to work.
I think there’s a lot of scope for Setas (Sector Education and Training Authorities) and for employers to do much more. I’m concerned that in the Seta programmes, young people are doing learnerships and then they move to another Seta and do another learnership, whereas the learnerships should help … them to take up employment… There are so many sectors in which there are opportunities – I’m keen to encourage our (training and vocational colleges) to include entrepreneurship as a strong part of our training.
Fin24: Retired judge Jonathan Heher in his report on free higher education has previously highlighted the gross underfunding of the training sector. Are we investing enough and what more needs to be done?
NP: Well, we’re not yet investing enough. Both in TVETs (Technical and Vocational and Education Training colleges) and universities and thirdly in the community colleges. These are sectors desperately in need of funding, but from this year there is an upward trend and should this be sustained, we will begin to see a turnaround.
However, money is also a problem because sometimes you place resources in institutions and they don’t have the capability to effectively manage these institutions and then a lot is wasted. So we are supporting the colleges with developing financial administration and working very closely with their finance officers to ensure there are persons who are able to oversee and manage increasing large allocations from the state.
Fin24: What would you say to the critics and to businesses who question the quality of the TVET certificate?
NP: In my view, SA is going to succeed at addressing its problems only in so far as we manage to establish partnerships across different stakeholder groups. The problems of SA don’t belong to President Cyril Ramaphosa or to his political party, they are South African problems and so we must constantly search for ways of collaborating. I’ve made it my own objective that I should establish strong partnerships with the business sector so we are now going to pilot a programme from next year (so that) when students enter the programme, they will already have an apprenticeship contract and that is the way that TVET colleges should be. We should be having very strong links with industry.
Fin24: In his opening address at the Jobs Summit, President Cyril Ramaphosa said we can’t be a nation of zombies – and that the unemployed are like zombies wandering around aimlessly. What hope would you give the jobless, especially the youth?
NP: I would encourage young people to find out what is available, to visit their local library, to use the facilities there, to seek out information in terms of the kind of internships offered by different government departments, by NGOs. Try to get active, don’t be on the street corner. There are many opportunities. I find that information is a big gap in our community, not a lack of opportunity.