Tackling skills development: Looking at the demand side and focusing on priority skills

At a recent HSRC seminar on unemployment and skills development, Dr Angelique Wildschut, Senior Manager: Research and Policy at NSFAS, and one of the authors of Skills for the future - New research perspectives, focused on the demand side of skills development. Previously, Wildschut was part of the HSRC-led Labour Market Intelligence Partnership (LMIP), a five-year research programme completed in 2018, which addressed the skills planning gap in South Africa.

Developing a list of skills in supply and demand to understand the imbalances

“For many years in South Africa, providers of education and skills training decided what programmes and qualifications to offer, and young people decided what courses to study, based on their own preferences, capabilities, and financial resources,” she said. “The results were graduates without the skills to access available jobs, critical shortages of artisans and professionals with high-level skills, and outdated intermediate level curricula that do not equip people with the new technical skills required in the workplace.”

A large group of unskilled youth are not working in the formal economy and many of them are regarded as unemployable, Wildschut said.

The research base needed to inform labour-market interventions, through post-school education and training planning and skills development, remains thin. But South Africa has to be careful not to adopt contextually inappropriate models of skills and development from advanced economies with different development trajectories, she warned.

“Even conservative global financial agencies recognise that current growth models exacerbate inequality and widen the gap between the privileged and the excluded. Innovation and technology have complex impacts on skilling, in some instances deskilling and excluding segments of the formally employed population and, in others, upskilling and empowering segments of the unemployed population. Therefore, matching skills supply and demand is not a simple econometric exercise.”

The LMIP has informed the government’s attempts to build a centralised mechanism for skills planning.

The researchers have looked at skills planning between firms, post-school education and training systems and intermediary organisations in several sectors, including sugar growing and milling in KwaZulu-Natal, automotive-component manufacturing in the Eastern Cape, and the Square Kilometre Array project in the Karoo.

Recommendations have included the need to promote public-private partnerships across all tiers of the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) system. South Africa also needs a centralised TVET curriculum that takes greater account of the needs of employers, shifts in technology, and the needs of students.

Dr Hersheela Narsee from the Department of Higher Education and Training emphasised the need for evidence-based resource allocations and a better balance between funding for TVET and higher education and training.

Following the successful completion of the LMIP in 2018, the HSRC continues to work on LMIP II. Researchers and the government are working together to produce a list of occupations in high demand along with a list of important skills in supply and demand to understand the imbalances between the two.

By March 2020, the government will develop a priority skills plan focused on a few occupations and sectors, Narsee said. Resources will be ring-fenced to ensure there are lecturers to train in those fields and that learners are channelled there.

“We are also looking at skills for sustainable livelihoods because we know the formal economy is not going to grow as much and people will need to look for their own work.”

The government has also established a ministerial task team to focus on the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on education, training and the workplace.