MEDIA STATEMENT: Demand-led skills training for young people must be high on our new government’s to-do list

Before the recent watershed elections, political parties promised to create new jobs in various ways when voted into government. However, a third of young people between 15 and 24 are unlikely to access these opportunities because they don’t have matric qualifications or even basic post-secondary skills training. They are locked out of earning and learning opportunities.

They make up the more than 3 million young people who are not in employment, education or training (also known as NEET). The longer these young people remain disconnected from opportunities, the more vulnerable they are to financial hardships, social ills and deteriorating mental health.

“We need to connect young people to sustained income-generating opportunities and the key to doing this is improving access to the type of skills that the market needs,” says Bridget Hannah, Innovation Director at the DG Murray Trust (DGMT).

“This is why investing in demand-led skilling must be high on the new government’s agenda for the next five years,” adds Hannah.

Demand-led skilling is an approach to skills development in which training and education programmes are designed based on the current and future needs of the labour market. This approach ensures that individuals are equipped with the skills and knowledge that are in demand by employers, industries and the economy. While this may not secure employment, it vastly improves employability.

In the South African context, as our economy becomes increasingly digitised, there is a growing demand for skilled workers in technology-related roles. Similarly, occupations in repairs, maintenance and installations are also in high demand, and there is an increasing need for skilled workers to provide social services in communities.

The Presidential Youth Employment Intervention (PYEI) launched in 2020 aims to address skills gaps in the above-mentioned growth sectors by encouraging training providers to deliver relevant and effective programmes that lead to job placements, and by matching young people with training opportunities through a National Pathway Management Network (NPMN). The NPMN also closely coincided with the launch of the Presidential Employment Stimulus, which has inspired innovation and growth in public employment programmes which are opportunities for unemployed young people to get their first work experience.

“When there is alignment between skills and the labour market’s needs, we are likely to see improvements in job placement rates. However, unemployment rates show that the labour market overly values post-school degrees much more than other qualifications, so if we create skills pathways that are not degrees, but don’t bring employers on board, we risk wasting our energy,” warns Hannah.

This is why it is so important to build close partnerships between training institutions, government and industry.

Another critical gap to bridge in labour market inclusion is to embed work-readiness into skills programmes. This is one of the reasons why investment in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges as well as Community Education and Training (CET) is also important, given the fact that these institutions provide workplace-based learning.

“Moreover, we need to push ourselves to think creatively about skills to work linkages, always considering local contexts carefully. South Africa is vast and the needs of communities vary greatly – this needs to be kept front of mind,” says Hannah.

In a context where there are significant structures of support to enable skills acquisition to work integration, from the employment tax incentive encouraging small, medium and micro enterprises to absorb young people into the workplace, student funding through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), the large allocations of funding into the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs), entrepreneurial support through the Small Enterprise Finance Agency (SEFA) and the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) – the ingredients are all there for things to work well.

“We now need a government that is willing to prioritise these structures functioning properly. This will pave the way in supporting young people to access quality post-secondary education in a field where there is demand for those skills, transitioning to a meaningful first work experience,” Hannah concludes.

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