SA's ticking time bomb

South Africa stands on the brink of a youth uprising that will rival anything experienced in the days of apartheid.

“We cannot afford to lose sight of the bigger picture of the future and the direction this country is taking,” Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande told a regional vocational education summit in Cape Town last week.

“To have three [million] to seven million 18- to 24-year-olds sitting at home doing nothing is a ticking time bomb. The situation right now is worse than 15 June 1976, the eve of the Soweto riots. Feel it.
It is here,” he warned the Western Cape further education and training (FET) college summit on collaboration with the sector education and training authorities (Setas).

The one-day event aimed to establish partnerships between FET colleges and the private sector designed to increase the impact of skills development on employability. “If we don’t form these partnerships and provide the skills this country needs, we are sunk. That’s the reality.”

Nzimande cited recent research by the treasury showing that young people with work experience are almost three times more likely to find jobs than those without. “But those who most need workplace experience cannot find it, while those who have it are not continuing with their studies.”

‘No exposure to the workplace’
He said there were few things that disturbed him more than seeing young people working in places such as hotels and restaurants and discovering that they were working full-time and had no intention of studying further. “Then you go to an FET college or university of technology and find thousands of people who are studying but have no exposure to the workplace.”

Nzimande commended the 20-member Western Cape Seta cluster and six FET colleges in the region “for signing what might go down in history as the first agreement that concretises the vision of this new department—a closer alignment between industry and education”.

The agreement recognises the fundamental role of both parties in driving skills initiatives that stimulate regional economic development, job creation and poverty reduction.

“You will, I hope, have noticed that I have spoken of the partnership between colleges and companies—not between colleges and Setas.

“Colleges have a relationship with individual learners and these learners need to augment this learning with work experience at individual companies. Learners do not require time with a Seta. The Setas work at a different level and are intermediaries.

‘Organised networks’
“They are organised networks of companies that hold the promise of coherent occupational structures and career paths. They reflect the organisational structures of trade unions, employers and government departments and, frequently, also mirror industrial negotiation arrangements between these parties.”

The Setas “share markets and frequently share similar work processes. They can do what individual firms seldom have time or resources to do: interrogate trends and identify skill needs beyond simply the short term.” This meant they could give colleges, collectively, a sense of demand trends, Nzimande said.

Setas also had a “legal duty to disperse 80% of the skills development levy. Firms currently get back half of what they paid when they submit a workplace skills plan.

“This financial exchange—between the firm and the Seta—establishes the bond between them. It follows that Setas have a link to every firm in their sector and have information about their training plans and needs. This is precisely the information for which colleges hanker.”

In terms of the draft framework for the third phase of the National Skills Development Strategy (NSDS3), Seta involvement with public FET colleges would be increased through strategic as well as “pivotal” (professional, vocational, technical and academic learning) programmes and grants.

“All indications are that the national target of halving poverty and unemployment by 2014 will not be achieved. The global recession has resulted in negative economic growth in 2009 and projected economic growth of less than 3% for the next two years.

“In addition, we face binding skills constraints that limit economic growth and job creation. In 2009 441 622 people in the Western Cape were unemployed. This included more than 219 488 people that were unemployed for over one year.

“In this regard the parties to the FET-Seta collaboration agreement set out their intent to plan and work together ... in advancing the impact and provision of quality skills development and delivery.”

Johan Ryk, coordinator of the Western Cape Seta cluster, said the agreement would, hopefully, dismiss perceptions that Setas did not care what happened locally and could not be trusted to deliver programmes in the province. Further fears that should be allayed were that Setas did not acknowledge the role and experiences of their partners, especially the FET college sector, and that the sectoral authorities would always prefer private sector providers.

Collective responsibility
The overarching intentions of the agreement include taking collective responsibility for insuring that skills development programmes contribute to regional job creation opportunities for vulnerable groups, especially the youth.

The agreement acknowledged the NSDS3 emphasis on access to quality further and higher education as well as programme quality, relevance and responsiveness. To achieve these and other national policy objectives, the colleges committed themselves to:


  • “Be differentiated and responsible to geographical and sectoral challenges;

  • “Offer high-quality and relevant programmes at multiple sites of learning, supported by appropriate infrastructure, equipment and ICT support;

  • “Address low retention and throughput rates through quality support interventions;

  • “Tailor institutional practices of teaching and learning to the needs of under-prepared young people who seek further education and training opportunities;

  • “Develop strong linkages with industry that support workplace opportunities for students to gain the necessary work experience as part of their qualification requirements;
  • “Develop the capacity of staff to sustain quality skills training provision that is responsive to industry demand; and
  • “Enable the placement of staff and students in appropriate work to expand the quality of teaching and learning.”



For their part, the 19 participating Setas (the only authorities that did not sign were those for energy, forestry, safety and security and the public service) undertook to focus on the development of programme partnerships with the colleges to create opportunities for:


  • Improving infrastructure and facilities to improve the quality of teaching and learning;

  • Facilitating qualification and curriculum design to be more responsive to industry demands;

  • Providing quality lecturer, teacher and training development interventions;

  • Providing access to appropriate learning material;

  • Providing relevant student information and support;

  • Developing partnerships between public and private providers;

  • Providing financial support to sustain the work of key staff members or the creation of dedicated ‘chairs” for relevant programmes; and

  • Providing FET students with access to work placements.

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