|The Transition of Youth from School to Work: Issues and Policies (IIEP, 2000, 188 p.)|
|Chapter V. Youth and work in South Africa: issues, experiences and ideas from a young democracy by Adrienne Bird|
The new South African government has made a number of important interventions in the education and training arena. The most important of these are the following:
5.1 Quality and access
The quality of learning opportunities across the country is low for the majority of South Africans. To address this problem, the Ministers of Education and Labour joined forces to introduce a National Qualification Framework through the South African Qualifications Authority Act (SAQA Act) in 1995. This Act provides for an outcomes-based system where there is an explicit focus on what has been learned, as measured against socially agreed standards.
The National Qualification Framework (NQF) provides for the registration of general education as well as occupationally oriented education and training standards at general, further and higher levels of learning. It is made up of eight agreed national levels and a range of learning progression routes. Agreement on standards to be registered is recommended by 12 National Standards bodies made up of employers, trades unionists, government officials, professional bodies and education and training providers. This wide social partnership will enhance labour market as well as formal currency of qualifications.
Once standards and qualifications are registered, the quality assurance of the standards is ensured by a second set of established and new institutions. They register assessors and keep a record of learner achievements. They also formally accredit providers as competent to train. Quality assurance bodies will be established across the general preparatory learning system (schools and universities) as well as to oversee industry-based learning. The Sector Education and Training Authorities, to be described later, perform this function for firms in their sector, in partnership with professional bodies who carry out quality assurance at the tertiary levels.
The model was proposed to enable both young and older learners to have their current learning recognized through a process of Recognition of Prior Learning, and then have the opportunity to progress further in learning, be it in full-time or part-time contexts. The Authority has been accepted by tertiary institutions as well as industry and is slowly moving to a situation where standards can be registered and quality of learning providers and programmes can be assured nationally across the board.
Within the limitations of this presentation it is not appropriate to describe the wide range of initiatives taken by the government to improve access to schooling and the quality of that schooling. It must be noted that a Schools Act has been passed by the Minister of Education, which aims to effect a holistic transformation of schools. It introduced more autonomous school governing councils, a culture of learning and teaching, improvements in the quality of all educational inputs including curriculum (based on SAQA-type outcomes-based learning models), teacher upgrading and improved teacher/pupil ratios in the country.
The most radical transformation effected by the government is the elimination of all racial restrictions on access. All children are now required to attend school and schools are not permitted to turn away a child on the grounds of race. There has been a massive movement of black students into previously white schools in urban areas as these are perceived by many to offer a better-quality education. Schooling is now compulsory for all children for ten years, including a preparatory year.
5.3 School-to-work initiatives
The Ministers of Education and Labour have launched complementary initiatives to improve the range of learning opportunities available to learners in the post-compulsory learning phase and to enhance the responsiveness of the learning to the labour market.
The Minister of Education has passed the Further Education and Training Act. This legislation is focused on years 10, 11 and 12 in the schooling system and equivalent learning opportunities available in technical and community colleges. The Act puts in place a system of funding that guarantees 80 per cent of funds from the state to state-funded institutions. However, colleges are given 5 per cent incentives to focus on learning outcomes (NQF) as well as support to the most vulnerable students. But it does require colleges and other institutions of further education to find 10 per cent of their own funding. This is intended to improve responsiveness to community and industry needs for social development and economic growth. Innovation has already begun - colleges are introducing hives for those moving towards self-employment, and are beginning to seek to meet the needs of industry and find income-earning opportunities.
The Minister has also passed the Higher Education Act. This Act seeks to improve the access of previously disadvantaged groups to higher education, on the one hand, and to improve the responsiveness of learning to the needs of the society. The Further Education and Training Act as well as the Higher Education Act envisage that learning institutions should prepare three-year rolling plans, composed of a new focus on learning programmes. State funds will increasingly be weighted towards those programmes which are perceived as vital to underpin reconstruction and development of the society -mathematics, science and technology and the like. Both Acts introduce advisory bodies to the Minister of Education regarding policy and allocation of resources.
5.4 Learning for work, learning at work
The Minister of Labour has introduced two pieces of legislation: the Skills Development Act and the Skills Development Levies Act. These seek to improve the quantity and quality of learning for those already in work (be it self-employment or formal-sector activity) and those seeking to enter the labour market. The Skills Development Act establishes the National Skills Authority - NSA - that will advise the Minister on a national skills development strategy and means for its implementation.
A central vehicle for implementation will be about 30 Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) to be established across the economy, e.g. Transport, Tourism, Banking, Construction and the like. These are employer-trade union-government bodies, charged with the responsibility of promoting skills development in their sector. SETAs have been designed to improve the quality of demand-side information on skill needs and priorities. SETAs will be required to prepare Skills Plans on an annual basis - and these plans will have to identify skill targets and priorities for productivity and employment growth. Each SETA will be required to attend to the skill needs of both large and small employers in the sector. SETAs also provide an opportunity to diffuse the work of research agencies into industry.
The Skills Development Act also introduces a new framework for combining structured learning and work experience. Learnerships are being introduced to promote 'apprenticeship-like' qualifications, but at any level of the National Qualification Framework and in any field of occupational learning. SETAs will be responsible for their development and implementation. It is intended that they will identify areas of employment opportunity or constraint and then design learnerships to meet the need. These opportunities may be in the formal or informal segments of industry. Already 217 learners have completed the first four pilot learnerships in construction and tourism. Learnerships provide an ideal vehicle for a new and dynamic partnership between initiatives of the Department of Education and Labour - responsive institutions will provide the structured learning and SETAs will assist in finding placements for learners. Learning institutions will be able to secure additional funds from SETAs for this work.
SETAs are required to serve both large, small and emerging firms in the sector - for example, the Transport SETA will assist taxi drivers to upgrade as well as large railway companies. It is, however, recognized that SETAs will tend to be dominated by large firms. Hence the NSA has agreed to establish a standing sub-committee on SME promotion, on which all SETAs will be represented. This is what is envisaged. However, the NSA will need to link with multiple initiatives driven from outside its current area of responsibility. Some of these include initiatives launched by the National Youth Commission, an agency setup by legislation48. These programmes include such initiatives as: the Youth Employment Clearing House, that provides specialized employment information; Youth Employment Strategy that seeks to generate synergies across government departments at national and provincial level; Youth Enterprise Strategy for self-employment; and Research on Youth Economic Participation and Awareness.
48 National Youth Commission Act, 19 of 1996.
The Skills Development Levies Act is designed to put in place 'user charge-type' incentives and thereby to complement the Skills Development Act. It introduces a 1 per cent private-sector payroll levy. All firms will pay the levy, but will be able to claim grants for training done from their SETA, provided the training meets basic quality criteria. The training will increasingly need to align with the National Qualification Framework, to ensure quality. Enterprise-wide training plans will leverage block grants back to firms - but these plans and their implementation will also be quality assured. Firms will either deliver their own programmes or purchase training from training providers.
SETAs are expected to grow into a major resource for firms. SETAs may use a prescribed percentage of their levy revenue to assist with the development of sector skill plans, the design of learnerships, assistance to firms to develop enterprise skill plans and quality assurance of training. The standards on the National Qualification Framework will be used for all training plans. Funds may also be used to support research into trends and shifts locally and abroad in the sector.
The public sector is also included in all of these initiatives. Government departments will join the SETA most relevant to their area of work so, for example, the Department of Transport will join the Transport SETA. Government departments will also have to develop training plans. However, they will not pay a levy in the same way - and instead will have to budget 1 per cent of personnel costs. The public service will also have to conform to training standards registered on the National Qualification Framework. Only two public-sector-only SETAs will be established - one for Local Government, and one for the Public Service.
Implementation of these policies will commence in earnest during the second term of office of the new democratic government. Already extensive plans have been laid.
5.5. Learning in the context of job creation projects
Various government departments have launched job creation schemes -and these were confirmed and extended at the Job Summit. For young people the key concern has been securing access to these schemes and ensuring that some learning takes place within these programmes - including life skills.
The Department of Labour's Employment Services local offices are increasingly positioning themselves to act as a selection and referral agency for these schemes. What proportion of which group - young/female/local/person with disability - is a matter for a local community accord.
In general, programmes such as Youth Brigades or Youth Service schemes are more geared towards reintegrating young people back into productive society, and are less focused on the delivery of hard skills. By contrast, learnerships are strongly focused on occupational skills and aim to gain a reputation for high-quality training.