Skills development programmes are crucial to reduce unemployment in South Africa.
According to Statistics SA, in 1994, low-skilled workers made up 43% of the disadvantaged community’s workforce. By 2014, this figure had declined by nine percentage points to 34%, with semi-skilled workers as a percentage of the total, this workforce having increased by six percentage points to 48%. It is undoubtedly clear that skills development programmes and initiatives are an urgently necessary solution to this problem.
The lack of qualified teachers, ineffective teaching and bad subject choices, weak administration, the unwillingness of business and the government to invest in employee training and skills development, and an underdeveloped education system – especially in disadvantaged areas where schools lack basic infrastructure – are all pertinent factors that have contributed to unemployment and poverty in our country.
The unemployment rate, according to Stats SA, has risen sharply in the first quarter of this year, with 26,4 % of potentially economically active South Africans not working. South Africa has nearly 36 million employable people, but only 15,5 million are currently employed. This figure bears testament to a critical situation in need of attention.
It is thus essential for multinational companies, together with other private companies and the government, to implement skills development and upliftment initiatives to help bridge our skills gap and contribute meaningfully towards reducing our large unemployment rate.
Education is the foundation of a successful and flourishing economy and it should be a fundamental component of the annual strategic initiatives of every organisation and the government.
There are several ways in which private sector organisations can contribute to skills development and upliftment and help bridge the large inequality gap in South Africa. Offering bursary opportunities to young graduates who wish to study, or who are already enrolled at various universities and tertiary institutions in South Africa, is one way of helping some of those without the means to gain the opportunity to be upskilled, marketable and employable.
Bursaries should be awarded to individuals on merit provided they have maintained an average grade as per the stipulations set out by the company. The studies for each degree or diploma can be closely linked to the core business of the company offering the bursary.
The bursary programmes should strive to:
– Enhance youth development and employability;
– Create a pool of talent to feed into the sponsoring company’s internship programme, thus providing on-the-job training; and
– Create a skills pool for scarce and critical skills required by the sponsoring company that are not readily available.
Learnership programmes are another way of targeting unemployed matriculants who qualify, depending on the requirements as set out by the sponsoring company. They offer graduates hands-on corporate knowledge and experience in specific fields, depending on the nature of the course and the company involved, thus preparing the learner for their chosen career. Learnership programmes are often structured to enable learners to experience classroom and practical on-the-job training.
Learners who successfully complete the programme are awarded with a qualification recognised by a tertiary institution and with this qualification they already have a much greater chance of finding employment than a matriculant without any specialised skills.
While it is important to have a tertiary qualification, practical expertise and on-the-job training also play a vital role in making an individual employable and marketable within the job market.
One of the main challenges facing youth after graduation is the lack of practical experience and on-the-job training. Companies are looking for experienced individuals who already have a certain number of years’ experience depending on the nature of the job.
Many companies seeking those with practical experience forget that, in order to obtain the required practical experience, the company needs to give the individual a chance to gain experience. A college or tertiary education will demonstrate an academic proficiency. An internship bridges the gap between theory and practical proficiency by providing on-the-job training.
Internships also provide an opportunity for youth to demonstrate their skills and work ethic and often lead to employment once the internship is completed, depending on how the individual has performed through the internship.
During an internship, employers want to see the multi-dimensional thinking necessary to succeed in the workplace. The process of successfully applying, interviewing, obtaining and fulfilling the responsibilities of an internship demonstrates an understanding and ability to sequence and carry out a complicated plan.
Skills development should be an integral part of each organisation’s key business goals – not merely for the purpose of helping to achieve business goals, but also by helping develop the broader industry and continent as a whole.
Developing a talented and qualified workforce is only achieved through a collective effort and we all have a vital role to fulfil in reducing unemployment within our country.
Tumi Zondo is General Manager of Human Resources and Transformation at Total South Africa, www.total.co.za.
This article appeared in the August 2015 issue of HR Future magazine.