Public further education and training (FET) colleges are well placed to play a critical role in skills development by entering into public-private partnership agreements with business and industry.
The potential for such joint ventures has always existed, but the recently launched third phase of government’s National Skills Development Strategy (NSDSIII) sets the scene and seeks to create an enabling environment for enhanced possibilities among stakeholders in the skills sector.
The strategy seeks to encourage and actively support the integration of workplace training with theoretical learning and to facilitate the journey individuals make from school, college or university, or even from periods of unemployment, to sustained employment and in-work progression.
In the past public-private partnerships encountered various challenges, the chief of which was a lack of synergy between the various post-school sub-systems (such as the FET colleges and Setas) and the lack of confidence business and industry have in the ability of the colleges to deliver quality teaching and training programmes.
However, the strategy focuses strongly on the development of the FET college sector. One of its stated goals is the growth of a public FET college system that is responsive to sectoral, local, regional and national skills needs and priorities. This makes public FET colleges central to government’s programme of skilling and reskilling the youth and adults.
It follows that the transformation, expansion and improvement of the capacity at FET colleges are key to the integration of education and training. How is this practically possible?
Some FET colleges already have experience of successful public-private partnership ventures that could serve as models. One such is at my institution, Orbit FET College in the North West: the automotive repair and maintenance programme, also referred to as Mi-Grade (motor industry accelerated artisan development programme).
This programme is offered at our Mankwe campus and operates as a partnership between Orbit, the Ford Motor Company Southern Africa, Merseta (the manufacturing Seta) and Lelethu Education and Training. Orbit is the lead training provider, with the nucleus at the Mankwe campus in Mogwase.
Ford’s contribution includes the donation of vehicle components and specialised tools, the provision of learning aids and technical advice and support.
Merseta quality-assures the programme and also sponsors the cost of the training through discretionary grants.
Lelethu Education and Training helps with co-ordination between stakeholders. The programme integrates the developmental components of recruitment, screening and interviewing. To qualify for acceptance, learners need to:
- Be 18 years or older, with a driver’s licence;
- Have a technical grade 12 with mathematics or an N3 or a National Certificate (Vocational) — the NC(V) — at level 4;
- Meet industry-specific competency profiles; and
- Attend a final interview with a panel consisting of all relevant stakeholders (such as senior service managers or dealer principals).
Orbit’s automotive repair and maintenance programme involves all members of the partnership to ensure the recruitment of unemployed learners, the signing of learnership agreements, training and assessment at the college and the participation of more than 100 motor service outlets to do work-based training.
To date more than 200 students have been enrolled and trained. Those who have successfully completed the programme have been placed within Ford SA at its Silverton Plant and at various Ford dealerships.
The success of such a project should not be measured only against its own goals but also by the extent to which it meets the aims of the strategy priority areas, such as speeding up growth and transforming the economy to create decent work and sustainable livelihoods. All stakeholders need to consider seriously the benefits of partnerships with business and industry.
FET colleges are public institutions with the mandate to be active catalysts in the education and training of the three million or so South Africans who are not in education, not in employment and not in training to produce a better workforce or create jobs that will grow the economy.
It follows that all those who want to ensure that meaningful opportunities towards job creation and self-employment are created or that employable graduates are produced should ensure that FET colleges are central in the training agenda. The colleges might still have gaps and challenges but by investing in these institutions through meaningful partnerships we will be investing in the future of our nation.
So the question is: Will all stakeholders in business, industry and the skills development system be willing to rise to the challenge of a changed mind-set and, in a collaborative effort, ensure that the objectives of the NSDSIII are realised by pursuing public-private partnerships?
Maryna Marais is the chief executive and principal of Orbit FET College in Rustenburg, North West province