Responsiveness and employability: an argument for building interactive capabilities in technical vocational education and training colleges in South Africa

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Public vocational education and training (VET) institutions have long been enjoined to be more responsive to industry needs. However, this policy orthodoxy is weakly theorised. One result is that learners and providers are counselled to focus on immediate employability, and blamed for not achieving it. Another is that there is only marginal focus on how employability is impacted by the possibilities of growing decent, sustainable and productive jobs, or by current and potential patterns of globalised production. In short, the language of responsiveness highlights the importance of skills providers acting to meet the skills needs of industry, yet these needs are typically underspecified. At the macro level internationally, there are concerns that with the rise of service work, the traditional focus of intermediate vocational institutions on technical skills has decreasing relevance. Equally, there is concern that formal sector employment more generally is either declining or lagging behind economic growth, which is a problem that has already been identified in South Africa. It is therefore necessary to understand the main contextual dynamics of specific sectors, which contribute to very different skills regimes. What are the prospects for growth in skilled, productive, sustainable intermediate level jobs in a sector that requires vocational education and training? This policy brief engages with such questions by drawing on a case study of technical and vocational skills development in the South African sugar sector in KwaZulu Natal (KZN).