One million further education and training (FET) college students by 2014 — this is the target of the department of education in its quest to create skills in South Africa.
FET colleges have become a major thrust in the government’s plans for skills development since 2004, when President Thabo Mbeki said: “We will, during the course of this financial year, recapitalise all the technical colleges and intermediate training institutions, ensuring that they have the necessary infrastructure, capacity and programmes relevant to the needs of our economy.”
Subsequently, the National Skills Development Strategy (NSDS) 2005 to 2010 provides for close cooperation between sector education and training authorities (Setas) and FET colleges.
In addition, Asgisa, a government intervention set on removing blockages to development, has identified the need for focused interventions.
One of these is “a huge upgrading of FET colleges”. To act upon these priorities, the Joint Initiative on Priority Skills Acquisition (Jipsa) was created.
Jipsa has identified growth sectors that lack adequately skilled persons, including engineering, construction, financial management, management, IT, tourism and business process outsourcing.
In the IT networking field alone, there will be an estimated 113 000 vacancies in the next three years.
In the areas of internet protocol telephony, security and wireless technology, about 60Â 000 posts will be vacant.
South Africa is also short of artisans because of robust economic growth and the ageing of current artisans who are, on average, 54 years old.
FET colleges are now gearing up to contribute to these skills areas.
The capacity of colleges to contribute has been given huge momentum by the government’s R1,9-billion allocation for the FET sector’s recapitalisation.
Education Minister Naledi Pandor said last year that the recapitalisation process would fast-track the department of education’s ongoing efforts since 1995 to transform the FET sector.
Some of the negative features of the former technical colleges the department has been trying to overhaul include:
- programmes that were unresponsive to the emerging economy;
- low throughput rates and negligible industry take-up of students;
- olleges had lost contact with industry and had little knowledge of new trends, new technologies and the new shape of business in South Africa and beyond; and
- education policies for the sector bore little relationship to new demands, funding was inadequate and colleges were somewhat like schools with training workshops.
The recapitalisation project has already gone a long way to addressing these concerns. With budget items for infrastructure, equipment and ICT, and the development of professional staff in relation to new programmes, administrative systems and curriculum reform, it represents a comprehensive renewal of FET colleges.
Thanks to the recap — as it is commonly known in FET circles — colleges are poised to increase the number of students training in priority skills areas which will ensure their employability and/or entry into higher education.
During 2006, funds were transferred, the new curriculum was gazetted, lecturers were trained, textbooks were written, tenders and the specifications for infrastructure and equipment were awarded, examiners were appointed and students were recruited. In addition, the department of education developed a state-of-readiness instrument to determine whether colleges were prepared to introduce the new curriculum in 2007.
Coupled to the multimillion-rand recapitalisation programme, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel announced in his mini Budget — his Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement late in 2006 — that R600-million would be forthcoming for student financial aid.
In his 2007 Budget speech, Manuel announced that another R600-million would be made available to deserving students in the FET college sector.
The FET Colleges Act, which was passed in Parliament in 2006, consolidates and supports initiatives such as NSDS, Asgisa, Jipsa, recap and the delivery of a new curriculum.
Pandor has called it “one of the most significant pieces of legislation in the area of skills development and vocational education”.
At present, there are about 400Â 000 students enrolled at FET colleges, but the department of education wants to increase the number of students enrolled in priority programmes to one million in 2014.
Adapted from the book FET Colleges, Institutions of First Choice, soon to be released by the department of education