When reflecting on the successes and failures of the government post-1994, advances in secondary and higher education attract a great deal of attention from politicians, policymakers and pundits.
Among others metrics, developmental plans, such as the medium-term strategic framework, compare and contrast the number of South Africans who have achieved a grade 12 level of education to those who have achieved a degree level of education over the past 25 years.
In line with this metric, matriculants are typically told by their teachers, family members and friends of the importance of a degree. But, despite the historical emphasis on going to university and obtaining a degree in their chosen field after completing grade 12, matriculants might not need a degree to succeed.
Stanford Mazhindu, spokesperson of the Uasa trade union, said, “A university degree is not the be-all and end-all of further education.”
Although the value of a degree should not be undermined, it no longer guarantees success in finding a job. Based on the findings of a recent study conducted among graduates at the University of Cape Town, there are graduates, particularly undergraduates, who struggle to secure employment after completing their degrees.
As 2019 drew to a close, matriculants awaited their national senior certificate exam results. Based on their results, they will either be able to pursue degree studies in their chosen field or required to revisit and adapt their educational aspirations.
As opposed to being dismayed, Mazhindu advises that matriculants who “miss the mark” for university entrance should consider further education and training at a college or an artisanship, which may give rise to better results in terms of employment and income potential.
A number of skills are in short supply in the country. The artisan industry is one of them. In 2017, the government announced that South Africa had a shortage of about 40 000 qualified artisans who are needed to work on infrastructure projects such as roads, schools, hospitals and power stations.
In response to these statistics, Jesse Duarte, deputy secretary general of the ANC, said the shortage of artisans signified “a key obstacle to economic growth, job creation and business expansion”.
Despite being a strategic imperative to stimulate economic transformation through job creation, little has been done to address this shortfall. Instead of producing qualified artisans locally, South Africa continues to import people with the requisite skills and experience from other countries. This is especially problematic when noting that the national unemployment rate is 29.1% — the highest it has been in more than 11 years.
There is more than one path to success. Relevant stakeholders can no longer afford to gloss over the fact that there are viable alternatives to getting a university degree — such as becoming a qualified artisan.
Nicola Vermooten is a registered industrial psychologist and PhD graduate