Covid-19 impact on education, skills development and training

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The webinar featured Dr Charles Nwaila, Chairperson NSA; Dr Thabo Mashongoane, Executive Officer NSA; Zukile Mvalo, Deputy Director-General Department of Higher Education & Training; Vijayen Naidoo, CEO Quality Council for Trades and Occupations; Dr Ashwani Aggarwal, Team Leader International Trade Organisation Geneva; Dr Florus Prinsloo; Work Based Learning Business Coach – Synaptic Mentor and Lynette Mentor, Executive Transformation, Learning and Skills Development, Barloworld Group.

This was part two of the NSA webinar series themed Negative Effects of Covid-19 on Skills Development and Training in the Workplace, where technology is becoming the main driver of change in today’s world. It is a time where it is crucial for business leaders and employers to understand the major shifts that are happening in the industry, to ensure that their skills planning and other strategies are in place to survive the negative effects of the Covid-19.

Zukile Mvalo, Deputy Director-General Department of Higher Education & Training

ZC (Zukile) Mvalo pointed out that 94% of the world’s workers live in countries affected in some way by Covid-19, and that many had lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. About 73% of the workforce in South Africa is now working during level three of the lockdown, but the pandemic is still affecting attendance at schools and universities, many of which are conducting online learning. It is a huge challenge for both public and private training institutions, but also an opportunity for introducing alternative methods of learning and training.

Over seven million people of working age are unemployed in South Africa, and among the youth, unemployment is a massive problem. The Department of Higher Education and Training has made it a priority to identify which occupations need skills the most, and are in high demand, and to link education to the workplace. Work-based learning programmes are being accelerated, and apprentices are beginning to return to the workplace as lockdown levels ease. A (Volume 2) toolkit for quality apprenticeships has been developed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which helps to provide concise information about good practice and practical tools.

Mvalo then addressed a number of questions from webinar participants concerning how youths can be accommodated in the workplace, regarding training and employment. There is a high rate of those who were trained in the workplace being employed there, he said. Issues of race and gender are being addressed in SETA training programmes. The government has prioritised obtaining essential services and goods from SMMEs during the lockdown.

Dr Ashwani Aggarwal is the International Labour Organization’s (ILO’s) Team Leader for work area on Work-based Learning, Apprenticeships, Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) and Core Work Skills.

Dr Ashwani Aggarwal said there is a constant demand for examples from developed countries and how they can be applied to developing ones, but there are different conditions in various countries. He said the ILO toolkit is developed to help policymakers and practitioners design and implement their programmes to help lower youth unemployment, even in developing countries that have problems with workplaces offering sufficient quality apprenticeships. The toolkit has 125 tools from more than 40 countries in different levels of development. There is a special emphasis on digital technology and innovation; apprenticeships are being used to develop digital skills and to bridge the digital divide. The toolkit can be applied in any context and comes with a checklist to ensure all steps have been completed and assessments have been carried out. The toolkit is available from the ILO website and may also be obtained from the NSA.

It was emphasised that during the Covid-19 crisis, those who are unable to work should take the opportunity to increase their skills. Responding to questions, Aggarwal said webinars will be made available upon request, to any country, but also that the ILO website has a lot of information, that it updates its tools continuously, and that it deals with the subject of digital apprenticeships.

Lynette Mentor said that South African businesses had been affected on a continuum by the lockdown: some came to a standstill, some cut down operations and others continued as usual. Technical training that involved tools was most adversely affected, and digital training the least. Bandwidth constraints have affected digital training. Businesses have had to comply with health regulations, which impacted on their budget; IT teams were put under immense pressure to keep employees connected. Employers have had to fund data costs for remote learning. Physical distancing affected how classes were delivered; many South Africans find it hard to work at home as conditions are not conducive, and adjustments have had to be made by both employers and employees.

Lynette Mentor, Executive Transformation, Learning and Skills Development, Barloworld Group

Trainers lost income as classes were cancelled, and many learners have been left in limbo. Students at residences have had to return home and learn from there were possible; some have had to change their sleeping patterns to find quiet times to learn at home. Graduate unemployment is expected to grow as the economy has shrunk. Several sectors have been badly hit, such as tourism. All companies must be BBBEE compliant, but conditions have changed and those that could previously “absorb” trained students are struggling because of the lockdown.

Mentor then provided case studies of small and large companies, and said that in the lockdown, some companies have adapted well and even improved how their businesses work. Digital platforms sometimes create greater access for sharing information, and the fact that workers don’t have to travel to work gives them more time to focus on work. She said we must focus on the positive aspects and work together closely in this crisis, and get funding to those most in need.

Responding to questions, Mentor said that those who are struggling with understanding BBBEE compliance in the Covid-19 context should consult the relevant institutions. Skills of the future projects have often been put on hold as businesses struggle to survive. The informal sector in particular is fighting to keep its head above water.

Part three of this NSA webinar series will be themed Skills Development and the future of learning during and post the Coronavirus pandemic and will take place on August 28 2020.

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