The National Skills Authority (NSA) chairperson, Lulama Nare, says government efforts to increase funding for students who qualify to study at public colleges and universities have expanded access to education in South Africa.
This, Nare said, was crucial to addressing the skills gap challenge in the country.
“Access has also been progressively expanded in TVET [technical vocational education and training] colleges. We just need to popularise the work that we are doing with the different skills [areas] to assist beyond what is offered in universities,” said Nare on Thursday on the sidelines of the National Skills Conference held in Pretoria.
The NSA, in conjunction with Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande, is convening the National Skills Conference for stakeholders in the post-school education and training system. The conference will end on Friday.
The conference is held under the theme, ‘Skills Development for an Integrated and Differentiated Post-School Education and Training System: Past, Present and Future’.
Nare said since 2011, the NSA has focused on ensuring that quality learning programmes are offered and training programmes prepare students for the place of work or to start their own businesses to create more jobs.
“There is a strong commitment to provide the right skills for the available and critical positions in the labour market. However, we acknowledge that we still need to do more because we have realised that youth receive training in skills that are required by the market, yet they are not absorbed by the market.
“The role of the private sector, small businesses and State-owned enterprises is to intensify their offering of jobs and absorb young people, who have been skilled through the evolution of skills development.”
She said youth must always consider choosing skills programmes that are able to allow them to progress to the next level of their chosen careers.
“We want to make sure that there is quality. We are identifying critical skills that are needed in the country and those that will boost our economy,” said Nare.
She said the private sector has been making progress in helping government to create jobs and address unemployment but more still needs to be done.
“The private sector needs to step up a bit and open up their spaces because government is also subsidising what these youths do in the private sector. This evening, we will be awarding the companies that are playing their role to train and retain young people in the workplace.”
More people getting educated
The Director-General at the Department of Higher Education and Training, Gwebinkundla Qonde, said South Africa, like other developing nations, is faced with the challenge of growing its economy – which needs the right skills to develop.
Qonde cited the recent Statistics South Africa Community Survey, which revealed that the number of people, who indicated that they had no schooling, has declined from 3.7 million in 1996 to 2.3 million in 2016.
Similarly, there had been increases in the number of people who completed a bachelor’s degree over the same period, from 410 686 in 1996 to 1.2 million in 2016.
People who have completed secondary school education have more than tripled between 1996 and 2016, from 3.5 million to 11.9 million.
Within the 55 – 64 year age group, the number of bachelor’s degree holders is five-fold in comparison to what it was in 1996, having increased from 33 549 to 171 424 in 2016.
Qonde echoed Nare’s words regarding student funding. He said government has significantly increased the funds available for student loans and bursaries, particularly through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
“Since at least 2011, poor students in our TVET colleges have not had to pay tuition fees and have been assisted with accommodation and transport,” said Qonde.
In his Budget Speech in February, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said a provision of R5 billion has been set aside to fund the higher education and training sector in 2019/20.
He said the department is engulfed by a variety of education and training needs that may not necessarily be resolved by the university, TVET or Community Education & Training (CET) sectors alone. He said this requires the urgent collaboration of industry and government in the main and broad skills development stakeholders in general.
“I regard this conference as a timely platform for reflection and engagement by all of us in order to pause and to genuinely introspect without being defensive, and this goes to government, organised business and organised labour in particular,” said Qonde.
Qonde said in the next five years, the department envisages to substantially expand access to education and training for youth and adults, regardless of whether they have completed school or not.