A round-table session was recently hosted by Optimi Workplace, and facilitated by Tim Modise, with the aim of exploring the intersection of education, workplace training and skills development in driving economic development and social transformation in South Africa.
The delegates who took part in the session included tech entrepreneur, Abed Tau (founder of My Dough), Simphiwe Mtetwa (editor-in-chief CSR News SA), Aunyana Moloisane (MD Optimi Workplace) and Caiphus Mafiri (AET Manager MQA).
What is it going to take to stimulate economic growth in South Africa? How do we deal with unemployment? What role do skills development and entrepreneurship play?
These are big questions. Questions with no straightforward answers. They point to multilayered, cross-sectional issues that carry the legacy of South Africa’s past and the weight of its politically and economically complex present. The future is pretty uncertain.
But if we explore these matters critically, examining them from every angle, we might just start to inch our way forward.
Some of South Africa’s leading experts in education and training, entrepreneurship and corporate social responsibility recently gathered to discuss how to address economic growth and unemployment at a round table discussion.
I’d like to share three key themes that emerged.
We need a blueprint
Look at some of the world’s most successful economies and you’ll find an interesting trend. After first deciding what kind of future they wanted to create, countries like Singapore, South Korea and China reevaluated and reconfigured their education systems.
They worked backwards from an ultimate vision, and put the steps in place to bring it to life by providing graduates with the right skills and qualifications to enter the workforce.
South Africa doesn’t have a clear economic blueprint of where we want to be in the next 10 to 30 years. There are plans and policies, but they’re not widely known or available — either within the public or private spheres. And, more importantly, there’s little evidence that they’re being implemented effectively.
We need a practical, achievable, public plan. And we need to adjust our education system to make it a reality.
We need to improve education, training and skills development
Which brings us to the next matter: education.
South Africa’s education system isn’t properly equipping high-school learners for tertiary education or for the world of work. “Of 100 learners who start Grade 1 in South Africa, 12 enter university, and only four leave with a degree in their hands,” Caiphus Mafiri, the AET Manager of the Mining Qualifications Authority, said at the round table.
There are many complex reasons for this. They include the quality of teaching in schools; the support provided to learners throughout their academic years; and the socioeconomic factors that influence their mental, emotional, physical and financial well-being, and their chances of success.
Entrepreneurship advocate Abed Tau, the founder of My Dough, expanded on this. “The South African economy also expects employees to have a degree,” he said. “As a society, we place too much emphasis on qualifications and not enough on skills. We don’t consider the fact that someone with practical training has hands-on experience. Whereas someone with a degree hasn’t necessarily put their studies into practice. We need a mindset shift around what we think education is, and how we hire.”
We need to be reimagining, investing in, and promoting the length and breadth of education and training in South Africa. This involves promoting technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges that equip graduates with artisanal skills they can use to start businesses and create employment for others. And engaging with the private sector to provide learnerships and skills development opportunities that are meaningful, rather than mere box-ticking exercises.
We need to encourage entrepreneurship
“Entrepreneurship will always be the cornerstone of what moves nations forward,” said Tau. “And that means providing people with the skills they need to establish, run and grow businesses, and creating an enabling environment every step of the way. In Kenya, it takes two hours for an entrepreneur to register a business. In South Africa, the process takes three days. This has to be improved.”
Simphiwe Mtetwa, Editor-in-Chief of CSR News, agreed. “South Africa’s efforts to create employment are failing its people. We should be helping people to establish livelihoods, not helping them find jobs. We need to provide them with the opportunity to create their own income, so that they don’t have to depend on a system that isn’t serving them.”
I believe that we need to take a step back and reimagine education, training, skills development and entrepreneurship through an economic lens. I advocate for the return of the multi-certification programme that was rolled out in selected provinces a few years ago, where children left school with a matric and another qualification, a practical skill, that they can nurture and grow. I believe that variations of this idea could spur students, graduates and employees at any stage of their professional journeys.
A prosperous future depends on a clear vision, supportive public policies, a thriving private economy and engaged workforce with diversified skills and entrepreneurial capabilities. There is work to be done. But there is hope yet.
Aunyana Moloisane is the managing director of Optimi Workplace, a division of the Optimi Group, one of South Africa’s leading names in the education and training industry.