The National Skills Authority (NSA), a government organisation that oversees and partners with a variety of institutional bodies, held its national skills conference last week at Birchwood Hotel, Gauteng. This is the fourth conference of its kind since the establishment of the department of higher education and training, and occurs every two years.
This year, the report on National Skills Development Strategy 3 (NSDS 3) was officially released, and the conference was attended by esteemed guests such as Minister of Higher Education and Training Naledi Pandor, and Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. There were representatives from the business sector, organised labour, civil society, community leaders and civil servants. As NSA chairperson Lulama Nare stated, the report is a key component of evaluating the practicality and efficiency of the NSDS 3, which was implemented between 2011 and 2016.
“This report will provide evaluation in the design of the NSDS 3 as well as an evaluation of implementation of the goals. This includes measuring the level of uptake of the NSDS 3 by stakeholders — we met with organised labour, business, community providers and government. It looks at the rate of participation by the Sector Education and Training Authorities, employers, public universities, colleges and private providers. It also looks at the extent of benefit to recipients who participated in skills development programmes and transformation imperatives,” Nare said, on handing over the document to Pandor.
The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report on community education and training was released at the conference. The department of higher education and training has been in partnership with the OECD doing skills research, and the second part of the research, entitled “Adapting to changing skills needs” was unveiled.
On the first day of the conference Dlamini-Zuma present on one of her many fields of expertise: planning, monitoring and evaluation. Her speech was heartfelt as it was practical, and led to a deeper understanding of the skills development ecosystem, as well as how it make it more efficient.
“Let me just start by extending my gratitude for the invitation, because I think this is a subject and an issue of education that is so important, because it’s part of investing in our most precious resource: our people. It is so that our people can drive the social, cultural and economic development of this country.”
Dlamini-Zuma also stressed the links between the department of higher education and training, OECD, and the NSA — as well as how monitoring and evaluation of skills development in South Africa is inflected by international norms, and different methodologies in places such as Brazil and Ethiopia. “Context, culture, history and beliefs shape monitoring,” she said.
The day was replete with interesting expert panels and presentation sessions — first with all stakeholders in the morning, and then a series of five smaller commissions on critical topics took place in the afternoon. Of the morning presentations, the one by statistician general Risenga Maluleke was the most engaging. He presented some significant numbers on the labour market, and which demographics are most vulnerable to unemployment.
According to Maluleke, the rate of unemployment amongst youth (15-24 year olds) increased by 7.8% in the last 10 years, and the two racial groups with the highest unemployment rate are Black African and Coloured groups. Maluleke’s presentation highlighted the challenges to attaining the goal of inclusive economic growth, as well as why transformation imperatives are key to achieving this growth.
Haroon Bhorat, Professor of Economics at University of Cape Town, presented on the most recent Labour Market Intelligence Programme report and Laura Brewer from the International Labour Organisation presented on how “green job needs” may change some of the skills capacitated, which is especially important in South Africa where, historically, the labour force has fed the demands of mining and agriculture.
The commissions that took place in the afternoon had more audience participation and dialogue, as well as more nuanced engagement with the huge sector of skills development. Presenters gave talks on their areas of speciality, and the commissions were divided in to the following: Labour market dynamics and trends, Future of work, Contribution of skills development to the NDP 2030 and future skills, Strengthening capacity of skills development institutions in the private and public sectors and Promoting efficiency and effectiveness through monitoring and evaluation.
Shirley Lloyd, former director of the national qualification framework directorate at the department of higher education, kicked off the commission on demand-led skills development with some philosophical questions: what is learning, and why have we divided it into three streams?
“We need to dismantle paradigms about what knowledge counts,” she explained. In her discussion she noted how the proposed three learning streams can’t be neatly organised and how learning theory shows successful uptake of skills when a variety of knowledges, such as emotional and social, are engaged with by teachers.
In the labour markets dynamics and trends commissions, Lebogang Molaise from Cosatu stressed that as good as the minimum wage implementation and policy has been, there needs to be a living wage, which “ensures people are effectively remunerated for their work”. In her presentation she highlighted the various ways this could have a knock-on effect on decent housing, as well as poverty reduction.
On day two, recommendations and report-backs on the commissions were heard by conference delegates. Some of the key findings from the commissions included: problematising the way in which skills development is managed when the recipient is disabled, questioning the responsiveness of the 1998 Skills Development Act and exploring what the notion of innovation in digital skills training practically means.
Brenda Ntombela, who discussed the commission into NDP 2030 goals and skills development, said: “We need to create clear linkages between education, teaching and the world of work because they operate at different levels … thinking of issues like white-collar apprenticeships — such as in the field of nanotechnology — could be beneficial to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
Day two also saw the deputy director general for small business and development, Lindokuhle Mkhumane, speak on the role of small business in South Africa’s skills development landscape. One of his first points had delegates reaching for their laptops and notebooks.
“We are a recently established department, realising that small businesses are critical for the economy. If you read your statistics, 98% of formal businesses are small businesses. According to the World Bank report that was concluded this year, SMMEs employ 50-60% of South Africans. Unfortunately, they only contribute around 34% to the GDP,” he said.
To round off the conference, there was a question and answer session, which critically reflected on the conference proceedings, based on information on the ground. Building on that was the pledge session, where different stakeholders made promises to uphold the skills development plan and recommendations as a priority. In two years’ time these promises will be evaluated by the NSA, to ensure the country’s skills development systems are in top shape.