Skills development spend could aid #FeesMustFall

Students march at Wits during a Fees Must Fall protest earlier this year. File picture: Nokuthula Mbatha

Students march at Wits during a Fees Must Fall protest earlier this year. File picture: Nokuthula Mbatha

Published Oct 20, 2016


The classic story of a black South African youth can be summarised as follows: complete matric, scramble between relatives to come up with the money required to pay registration fees, obtain a National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NFSAS) loan for those who are sufficiently poor, a bank loan or some or other way to fund this precious guarantee to a better future.

And in the years that follow, the years that should be the best years of your life with no real responsibilities, except of course to complete your studies hopefully in record time (that means three to four years), you may be burdened with the breadwinner dependency problem, which implies that, the little income in the form of a stipend you may receive from your funders, be it a loan or if you are fortunate, a bursary, it must be stretched to make grocery purchases, not just for you, but for your family back home.

You then hopefully graduate, that is if you are in fact not among those who drop out, considering that South Africa has one of the highest university drop-out rates in the world. Available literature from the Department of Higher Education and Training on this subject approximates that number to be between 50 and 60 percent of students at higher learning institutions in their first year of studies.

And so there you are, degree in hand, ready to conquer corporate South Africa. Lo and behold, you will probably struggle to find meaningful employment.

The growth rate is currently below 1 percent and with predictions into the near future not showing much of an improvement. Joblessness is the norm for many graduates. Even with papers in hand, young black people are still unemployable. Does anybody see anything wrong with this picture?

The government has put in place plans and policies that speak to the creation of jobs and opportunities for South Africans in general and black youths specifically. The Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) policy is an example of one such policy. In terms of the Codes of Good Practice on BBBEE, companies operating in South Africa must spend at least 6 percent of their payroll annually on training black employees; the majority of that money will need to be spent on core and critical skills, and on at least 85.9 percent African black people once the adjustment for the economically active population (based on Quarterly Labour Force Survey 3rd Quarter, 2015) is applied.

Let us for a minute assume that corporate South Africa does indeed train its employees as required by the codes. To spend the skills development monies assumes that a company has in fact employed these young black people who are young and gifted - they have, after all, come up against all odds and have qualified to be at the employment table.

Now comes the difficult question around training: shall Mmantoa and Sipho spend the next two years in more training, perhaps an MBA or some or other form of classroom learning? While Jacqui and Gerhardus start with on-the-job learning, building networks that cannot be found in the boardrooms? This is where the process of addressing social inequalities through policy comes short.

Extra credits

The young black graduate will, without doubt, gain the extra academic credits. But to their disadvantage they will not be exposed to the soft skills that can only be taught through experience, observation and mentorship.

These are skills that are ingrained through years of practice: that is being confident in a boardroom, dressing for success, speaking up and being bold. Jacqui and Gerhardus are mentored from the home, but unfortunately for Mmantoa and Sipho, exposure to these skills is only obtained in high school if they are lucky and in the workplace if they are not so lucky.

Karabo, who was educated in a former model C school, on the other hand, may have already been exposed to the right kind of mentoring and is therefore bold and outspoken, but unfortunately for her, she must be retrained to be on par with her non-black counterparts, for alas she is black.

We must be honest that 6 percent of payroll across the country is not small change, it has the potential to make substantial changes not only to the quality of first-time employees that enter the work place, but can significantly upskill black people with core and critical, as well as the much-needed softer skills, only if it can be used efficiently.

Because the codes allow for these monies to be spent on a company’s own employees and also on unemployed black people in general, the monies could also be channelled towards the current #FeesMustFall movement.

Although it is unclear what that number would be, even half of the skills development spend target would surely go a long way in making a sizeable dent in this challenge.

* Nomzamo Xaba is the group executive of research and advisory for Empowerdex.

* The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Media.


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