South Africa should focus on developing and implementing post-school education and training (PSET) programmes that create the quickest pathways to employment for the country’s youth, attendees at the third Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) were told.
Private investment group Yellowwoods executive director and Africa Leadership Initiative fellow Nicola Galombik said at the summit on Thursday most of the youth who were not in education, training or employment (cohorts) had either left school prior to finishing their secondary education, or tend to be “in and out of education and employment”. She said that, “effectively only 6% of the youth are entering formal employment.”
Galombik noted that through programmes like Harambee – an employment accelerator focusing partnerships between government, business and young people – the potential of these young people could be assessed. Programme facilitators were able to collect data assessing the latent human capital potential by studying their 'fluid intelligence'. She noted that the data showed a weak correlation between educational attainment and potential.
As such, “we need to unlock and leverage the huge potential of these cohorts, but we cannot rely on current institutional models to do so . . . we need to find a way to accelerate their journeys through networks and partnerships between the private sector, government and nongovernmental organisations and initiatives.”
Galombik said that each of these interest groups needed to rethink their financing priorities and invest in new human capital solutions, while looking to address areas that are lacking in the traditional education system.
She suggested a focus on relatively quick and cost effective training programmes for entry level jobs that “do not necessarily need a formal qualification”, such as positions in sales and services, digital technology and analytics, administration, installation maintenance and repair, and junior managerial roles in tourism and conservation.
“We need to find the shortest possible transitions for cohorts by implementing training programmes that require the least amount of education, while still enabling cohorts to get their first job, and learn in the workplace.”
Rhodes University Neil Aggett Labour Unit associate professor Michael Rogan agreed with Galombik that less emphasis should be placed on a university-based education.
Rogan works with the Labour Market Intelligence Partnership, a partnership between the HRDC and the Department of Higher Education and Training aimed at establishing a credible institutional mechanism for skills planning.
He noted that between 54.2% and 62.5% of South Africa’s youth are unemploye and that of the population aged 20 to 24, roughly half are neither receiving further education, nor are they employed. Further, of the population of 24- to 29-year-olds, “those who are expected to be finishing their education or to have been absorbed by the job market”, about 49% have neither furthered their education nor are they employed.
Rogan also pointed out that of the people who complete Grade 12, only 60%, will have enrolled in PSET or be employed. Meanwhile, about 27% of youth who have completed their tertiary education are currently unemployed.
“So the key questions are: Why are young people not in employment or education, and why are young people that do have post-schooling education and training not employed?”
Citing statistics from Stellenbosch University, Rogan noted that, “for every 100 students starting their schooling and matriculating in 2008 only 67 wrote matric . . . of those that passed, only 12 received a qualification to enter PSET, only eight completed some type of diploma or certificate and only four completed a degree.”
As such, to focus on university education leaves out a large portion of the school-leaving population, and more emphasis should be placed on alternative PSET courses and programmes to accommodate this majority.
Rogan also pointed to research by the University of Cape Town, which linked academic performance to the ability to go to university. He noted that among high income learners, those that do well academically would probably go to university, and that the trend was more or less echoed by low income learners, largely as a result of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.
However, he noted that this research highlighted the plight of the “missing middle”, as despite academic achievement, these middle-to-lower income learners did not seem to be going to university.
The research showed that many of the missing middle ended up in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) courses and programmes, but Rogan added that these avenues also imposed financial constraints on middle-to-lower income learners. He also believed that TVET institutions placed too much emphasis on academic ability.
“We expect TVET institutions to provide opportunities or vocational education to those who do not excel in traditional academic environments . . . as such academic ability should not have as much an influence as it does.”
Lastly, Rogan highlighted that race and elitism still influenced who would be hired. Citing research from his own university, Rogan noted that researchers followed graduates from the University of Fort Hare and from Rhodes for about three years after they graduated.
One of the key findings was that graduates from historically black universities were more likely to be unemployed. He noted that among graduates with the “same level of study and same level of degree”, about 20.4% of Fort Hare graduates were likely to be unemployed, compared with 6.8% of Rhodes graduates.
Rogan commented that these biases reinforced the unevenness embedded in the education system, as even if a lower-income student were to achieve academic excellence throughout their primary and secondary schooling, and somehow managed to attain the funding necessary to further their education, “the university they attend impacts on the opportunities available to them”.