|Education and Training|
Letâ€™s go back to "Apprenticeships"!
South Africa has received international acclaim and recognition for having successfully dismantled the previous apartheid system and replaced it with a democratic order. This was a monumental task, which our new government tackled with distinction.
The task of government presents a never-ending series of challenges and difficulties, some of which may render the government ineffective or in extreme cases may lead to disfunctionality and collapse. A government which operates on the basis of weak, ineffective and inefficient institutions, policies, systems and laws will, in turn, not be able to govern effectively.
We have been rated highly for our expertise and skills in the area of policy conceptualisation and development. There is international consensus that our ability to develop appropriate pieces of legislation and policies has facilitated government intervention and allowed us to deliver on the broad mandate of transforming the country into a non-racial and non-sexist democracy and improving the lives of the previously disadvantaged people of South Africa.
We have also come up with appropriate and intellectually stimulating names for our various policies and governmental programmes of action, which really catch the eye and have captured the attention of people worldwide. I mention a few of these for the purposes of this article; the RDP, GEAR, ASGISA and JIPSA, immediately come to mind. One of the greatest challenges in the whole of the African continent, real or perceived, is the lack of capacity to implement our good and well-intentioned policies and programmes of action. It would, however, be unfair and incorrect to make a sweeping statement in this regard and fail to acknowledge some other African countries, which have made great strides and are actually succeeding in the area of policy implementation, often under trying circumstances.
Political commentators and researchers all point, among other things, to the problem of lack of legislative and institutional coherence as being responsible for poor and weak policy implementation which has resulted in poor service delivery. The Minister of Labour has, by his own admission, highlighted this lack of a single and combined department of education and training in the country as being responsible for some of the problems that bedevil our efforts when it comes to the delivery of skills. (Speech by the Minister of Labour, Mr. Membathisi Mdladlana MP, FET - ASGISA Workshop, 15th August 2006, Executive Birchwood Hotel, Boksburg). This brings me to the key theme of my article, which is about the retention of the apprenticeship system as a skills development implementation mechanism to complement learnerships in South Africa.
When the Skills Development Act was passed in 1998 and first implemented in March 2000, the apprenticeship system which was implemented in terms of the Manpower Training Act of 1981 was not repealed. The motivation for this decision, which made logical sense at the time, was to allow all current apprentices to complete their apprenticeship programmes. The arrangement was for the Minister of Labour to announce at an appropriate time, a date at which the apprenticeship system would be completely abandoned. Now there is talk from the Department of Labour, i.e. the Minister and the skills development officials that the department intends re-introducing the apprenticeship system for the training of much-needed artisans and technicians in the country.
OLD AND NEW SYSTEMS
Let me now try and highlight the differences between the old apprenticeship system and the new learnership system. The apprenticeship system is as old as humankind itself and has taken different forms over the years. The basic tenets of the apprenticeship system arise from traditional patterns whereby boys are trained by their fathers in all household tasks associated with manhood while girls are trained by their mothers in all household tasks associated with womanhood. This practice has seemed to cut across cultural and national boundaries. As human society progressed through history, this form of traditional home-based training was extended to factories and industries where it was established, modernised and transformed into a formally recognised system for workforce training in the modern world. Evidence from sources consulted reveals that South Africa’s form of apprenticeship system was imported from Britain. It was formally introduced to the country after the discovery of gold and diamonds during the second half of the nineteenth century. However, it was not until after the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910 that the apprenticeship system was institutionalised and governed by legislation.
Apprenticeships combine both theory and practice, and the latter component is about real, hands-on practical workplace-based experience. Apprenticeships thus have the advantage of combining theory and practice, doing and learning, the workplace and the classroom. The education and training provider works in close co-operation with the employer in terms of the delivery of the apprenticeship. By an education and training provider, the apprentice is taught the theory component of the apprenticeship by qualified teachers. In a workplace, the apprentice works under the supervision of a mentor or coach. On completion of both the required theory and practice components, the apprentice would sit for a trade test which would lead to professional certification.
The information economy requires a different, more flexibly-skilled worker who can contribute to greater profitability and productivity. The skills training strategy of the government should thus have the capacity to produce the kind of workers who possess skills that are required by the economy. Chapter 4, Section 16 of the Skills Development Act defines a learnership as follows: “The learnership consists of a structured learning component; the learnership includes practical work experience of a specified nature and duration.” The practical work experience required here is unlike the simulation and practical exercises that get done at technical colleges to supplement theoretical learning. The required practical workplace experience component in a learnership is about exposing learners to the real world of work. As the Minister of Labour, Membathisi Mdladlana (13 April 1999) stresses: “… learnerships, like apprenticeships before them, are still based on the idea that spending time in a real-life workplace is a critical part of learning – if work readiness is what is needed.”
Apprenticeships in South Africa were narrower in focus than learnerships, because they focused only on blue-collar workers within the Further Education and Training (FET) band and could be accessed only by younger people. The learnerships, on the other hand, have a broader focus and cater for all the levels of the NQF which include the General Education and Training (GET), FET and Higher Education and Training (HET) bands, cover both blue-collar and white-collar jobs and can be accessed by both young and old people. Within the previous apprenticeship system, the qualification that was awarded to the apprentice on completion of the apprenticeship was actually embedded in the apprenticeship itself. The new learnership system makes a clear distinction between, on the one hand, a learnership, which relates to input, and, on the other hand, a qualification, which relates to output. Stated in another way, a qualification (i.e. the output) and a learnership (i.e. the input), exist as separate and stand alone entities and the learnership, which is the input, must lead to the award of the qualification, which is the output. The NQF system which encompasses learnerships is credits based and so differs from the apprenticeship system which was time based. The advantage of a credits-based system is that a learner is credited for the achievement of each and every outcome during the teaching and learning process. If, for some reason or other, the learner drops out of school and cannot complete the qualification, the learner will receive recognition for the number of credits that has been acquired when s/he exits the system. With the apprenticeship system, if the learner for some reason or another drops out of school and cannot finish the apprenticeship, the apprentice actually exits the system with nothing. It was, therefore, the inadequacies of the apprenticeship system to satisfy the skills needs of the country which contributed to policy change.
I believe there is an Apprenticeship Working Group within the Department of Labour which has been tasked with looking into this particular issue. I participated in the first Apprenticeship Working Group which was set up in 2000 to look at ways of getting apprentices out of apprenticeships so as to make way for the introduction of learnerships, among other things. So, I write from the periphery of this process in terms of the mandate and operations of the current Apprenticeship Working Group. My views are informed by my serious concerns about the lack of legislative coherence and consistency not only between government departments but also within each government department. One would have thought that the new learnership system had sufficient capacity to train artisans and technicians. In fact, that is how the new concept of learnerships was conceptualized and developed. It builds on the apprenticeship training model, but expands and broadens its scope of application so as to train people for both blue-collar and white-collar jobs.
We need a flexible and adaptable system which takes into account new human capital development requirements as imposed by the Information Age. Most countries of the world have transformed their apprenticeship systems in order to fit in with or be able to respond adequately to the education and training requirements of the Information Age. In Britain, they call their reformed apprenticeships modern apprenticeships and, in Australia, new apprenticeships. In our country we came up with a new and unique name and the original intention was to call our reformed apprenticeship system, learnerships. This begs a number of questions. Is this about a name change which people feel has no meaning for both employers and government, who still prefer to retain the name apprenticeship, which has historical roots dating back to the origins of human kind? Another more appropriate question would be around the capacity of the learnership system to deliver the skills required by the country. What weaknesses or capacity limitations are there that make it incapable of producing enough artisans and technicians? How have the artisan and technician oriented sectors of our economy been training artisans and technicians since 2000 when SSETAs were introduced? Are we still simply married to the term apprenticeship like many other countries of the world? If the problem is with the capacity and scope of coverage, why not rethink and re-conceptualize the learnership system to strengthen and broaden its capacity and scope of application?
This issue is causing a lot of uncertainty and confusion. It boils down to the same fundamental challenge of legislative incoherence, policy disequilibrium and systemic inconsistencies.
Perhaps we should go back to the old name “apprenticeships” and drop the name “learnerships”. I would like to propose a new and more appropriate name: NQF APPRENTICESHIPS, because that’s what learnerships actually are.
Dr Sazi Kunene is the Research Manager at Services SETA (www.serviceseta.org.za).