The world is changing at lightning speed due to digitalisation, globalisation, the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and other developments, which are exerting a profound impact on lives and workplaces. Skills development, retraining and reskilling aim to enable individuals and collectives to become productive and engaged in livelihoods, and to adapt their capacities to meet changing demands and opportunities. The potential of the current workforce should be the data that the Human Resource systems maintain, informing which people are best suited to which upskilling or reskilling programmes.
The National Skills Authority (NSA) plays a significant role in the skills development system, mainly assisting in achieving the objectives set out by the Skills Development Act, upskilling the workforce of South Africa and ensuring that the unemployed are prepared for the labour market. The NSA assisted the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology in the development of the National Skills Development Strategy (NSDS) and the National Skills Development Plan (NSDP), which was informed by national priorities, as well as the White Paper for Post-School Education (WP-PSET). The NSA also has a responsibility to monitor the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs).
The third National Skills Development Strategy (NSDS III) presently acts as the strategic guide for skills planning across the public and private sectors. It was also introduced with the specific purpose of addressing the structural deficiencies that exist in the South African labour market and to develop a workplace that is skilled, mobile, and can respond to the modern economic environment. The goals, outcomes and outputs of the NSDS III were designed to respond to the critical skills development challenges facing South Africa, to ensure that the resources of education and training stakeholders focuss on addressing challenges, and that measurable impact is achieved over the time period of the strategy.
Skills development has previously been detached from education and training, and there needs to be a review on how our universities and Technical and Vocational Educational and Training (TVET) colleges can better deliver on the demands of industry and the economy. The SETAs have a responsibility to ensure that talents are developed in line with the current transformation within the world of work. Their training programmes are conducted as learnerships, internships, skills programmes and apprenticeships to individual industries. Skills planning is essential to ensure that the education and training systems are able to meet the skills needed for social and economic development, reduce occupational and skills shortages, and reduce mismatches between the skills that people have and the work that they do in a changing world.
Many of the new economies speak to the future, the digital economy in particular. Future skills that may be needed must be taken into consideration, and provisions have already been made for these skills in the NSDP. The NSA’s current strategy focuses on increasing access to higher education and training, and looking at ways to equip the workforce with the necessary skills for both their livelihoods and overall productivity. The strategy also addresses the skills gaps in students graduating from universities and TVET colleges, organising more industry-related training so that graduates are more employable and work-ready.
During the implementation of the NSDP, the NSA will be advocating the following:
• Skills development support for entrepreneurship and co-operative development for the country’s economic benefit through supporting entrepreneurial programmes
• Supporting career development services, getting skills right in South Africa, calling for the provision of tailor-made career advice services to students early on
• Linking education and the workplace, thereby improving the relation between education, training and work as a key policy goal of the WP-PSET, and a strong focus on workplace-based learning
• Encouraging and supporting worker-initiated training
• Improving the level of skills in the South African workforce: the country is challenged by low productivity and the slow transformation of the labour market, so employees should familiarise themselves with elements of digitalisation and machine learning.
• Supporting the development of a Post School Education and Training System that encourages society to support and build a developmental state, with a specific focus on rural development and state-owned entities.
The NSA further promotes the advocacy of workplaces to become training spaces. Learners should be given access to the workplace, to give them exposure to the working environment.
In essence, the labour landscape has inappropriate skills and the South African labour force remains at risk, hence the call for effective skills anticipation that informs and engages all relevant stakeholders. The NSDP encourages SETAs to support the process of determining demand for occupations and the upskilling of the existing workforce.
South Africa is a developing country on the one hand, but on the other hand it has pockets of excellence similar to developed countries. If the populace is not properly equipped, the country will be forever left behind. The skills sets provided should shift the focus from low-level and mid-level skills to mid-level and high-level skills to be competitive. The future should be steered towards the growth of the informal economy, and educational institutions must introduce curricula that teach and offer entrepreneurship as a learning programme.