'Padkos' for school leavers

Most teachers long to do more for learners who are about to leave school—and time has just about run out. Are there any ways at this busy 11th hour you can help learners build resources and support systems for their post-school journeys?

The previous issue of Training for Life (September 3) suggested that teachers should focus on career guidance at the end of the school year. This article looks at last-minute ways you can help school leavers.

Given the fact that more than 50% of our 18- to 24-year-olds are not in education, training or work, it is likely that school leavers realise they depend more than ever on information and guidance from teachers and others.
There are a few ways to prepare padkos for the road ahead by ensuring that students know the non-university options and by helping students set up support systems.

Non-university options
Most career-guidance materials focus on university study although most school leavers don’t go to university. They need help to learn about other options, including the range of possibilities at further education and training (FET) colleges.

They offer an alternative route for those who have completed at least grade nine in the formal schooling system. They include both vocation and occupation-directed qualifications that can lead to a matric and, more importantly, give young learners the opportunity to work towards a specific occupation at a younger age than is possible in the formal schooling system.

There are 50 government FET colleges with a total of 263 campuses and colleges. You can help learners find out which are best for each regarding, for instance, location and programmes. Tell students what state bursaries are available at the colleges. The range of choices at the colleges varies and a starting point is to contact the colleges nearest your school to find out what they offer.

A list of FET colleges and information on state bursaries can be found at www.careerhelp.org.za, the career-guidance online service of the South African Qualifications Authority (Saqa) and the National Qualifications Framework, or for assistance call 086 011 1673, SMS 072 204 5056, or email help@nqf.org.za.

There are also many private FET colleges. Because all private institutions of education have to be accredited by the government, help your learners check the status of any private college they might be considering. A reliable way to do this is to contact the Saqa helpline.

Government support for scarce-skills development includes learnerships, apprenticeships, skills centres and bursaries for training at FET colleges. The annually updated list of national scarce and critical skills is on the department of labour’s website. Current scarce skills on the list include call-centre managers, industrial and mechanical engineers and technologists, medical technicians and chemistry food and beverages technicians.
Learners should also be made aware of the government programmes for school leavers who are not in work or study:

  • The National Rural Youth Service Corps offers training for youths with a grade 10 certificate in rural areas;

  • The National Youth Service Programme provides access to training in community development; and

  • The Expanded Public Works Programme provides job opportunities in infrastructure programmes.

School leavers should be familiar with sources of information about workers’ rights. The website www.careerhelp.org.za has a link to mywages.co.za, which provides a range of relevant information.

Support and mentoring
We are all dependent on support systems, both formal and informal. Can you help students create support systems and learn to find mentors?

First, support groups. These can build resilience, share resources and generate new ideas. Community and family-based support systems are invaluable. Formal support systems are essential because they provide information and links often beyond the experience of the family and community.

You might consider helping learners to form their own support groups while they are still at school. These might keep meeting for the first few months or year after leaving school and could research tips on what makes a support group work, decide on some principles and a plan of action. For example, they might choose to meet weekly and talk through the challenges each one is facing, share the resource of a computer, gather and share information, provide emotional support and support healthy lifestyle choices.
Second, mentors. They can offer encouragement and information, explain the unspoken norms and expectations of a place of study or work and describe the way things really work. All these are essential for successfully navigating new work or study environments.
Many employers complain that young people start work with strong academic records and yet often mechanically apply what they have been told instead of thinking flexibly and solving problems. The glorification of the individual in Western culture often hides this reality—usually the high performers have had mentors, formal and informal, and are successful thanks to a web of supportive relationships. If learners are cued into the unspoken norms of workplace culture, they will find it far less risky to try something new.

You could help learners identify mentors, including a mix of informal and formal ones, who could be important for different needs they might have. Mentors have been especially important, for example, for women moving into traditionally male-dominated areas of study and work. Encourage school leavers to include mentors who know first-hand the barriers faced in institutions by virtue of colour, gender, sexual orientation, disability and other diversity criteria, and how to address these.

All of us need a sustainable and meaningful livelihood over a lifetime. This long-term perspective can help students to see the importance of taking advantage of any opportunity, formal or informal, to learn useful skills and gain experience, including voluntary work, that might be useful in the future. It can also discourage school leavers who experience disappointment from further undermining their future with risky behaviour.

In our concern about the disheartening odds for work and study for young people, let us give accurate information and not sugar-coat the issues, while at the same time recognising the aspirations expressed by most young people to be the best they can be and to contribute to society.

Patricia Flederman is a consultant to the South African Qualifications Authority

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