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JOHANNESBURG - A recent report released by Statistics South Africa shows that university graduation numbers are on the rise.

Evidence also shows that the number of students from previously disadvantaged backgrounds studying at the country's 26 public higher education institutions is on the increase, partly due to the support which the government gives through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.

The number of students graduating from local public universities had risen from 165 995 in 2012 to 203 078 in 2016.

Of the 975837 total students enrolled in higher education institutions in 2016, 72% or 701482 of them - were black Africans, while 6% were coloured and 5% Indian. More females - 58.1% of all students - were also studying at universities, compared to 41.9% of males. Gender parity is at the core of our transformation process, as of today nearly 60% of all students studying at higher education institutions are females.

At the core of the post-school education and training landscape is the question of how we use the resources of the country to cement partnerships and social compacts for youth education and training through Work Integrated Learning with a dedicated focus on programmes for accelerated institutional transformation and economic inclusion outcomes.

The need for high-end skills on the one hand and the availability of low-end skills on the other provides the backdrop against which the mismatch between skills supply and labour demand exists.

The previous quarter's results of the Quarterly Labour Force Survey released by Stats SA on October 31 2017 shows that the official unemployment rate is 27.7%, the highest figure since September 2003.

This gives us cause for concern because largely those who are unemployed are between the ages of 24 and 34, including the category of not in education, employment or training (Neet), meaning that the most vulnerable group at risk will be our youth.

Five years ago, the department entered into an agreement with the Human Sciences Research Council and the University of Witwatersrand to establish a project called the Labour Market Intelligence Project (LMIP).

The purpose of this partnership is to establish a credible mechanism for skills planning. Such an intervention is intended to support government's economic development strategy and to direct resources to areas where skills and training are needed. Considerable progress has been made.

Given the importance of LMIP, not only to the department, but also for the government and other stakeholders more broadly, it is important for the department to share the insights from LMIP with its stakeholders. The department has acknowledged that the skills planning process is a co-ordinated effort of government, business, organised labour and other social partners, and is committed to sharing information and intelligence across the system.

Market intelligence

There is a dire need for South Africa to achieve a better match between the supply and demand for skills to improve productivity, and improve social and economic outcomes for individuals and communities. The use of labour market intelligence linked to planning is one of the important instruments for achieving this.

The government needs to ensure that we have appropriately and sufficiently skilled people in the labour force to give effect to its development plans and strategies. The government has given the task of ensuring that South Africa’s labour force is capable and skilled for an inclusive growth path to the Department of Higher Education and Training.

Quite early in the establishment of the department, it became clear that we had to establish a credible, institutional mechanism for skills planning, which will result in a skilled and capable workforce to support an inclusive growth path.

Given the surge in industries reminiscent with the fact that the 4th Industrial Revolution is upon us, we will need to rethink educational systems and encourage life-long learning to make human resources competitive and succeed in the 4th Industrial revolution.

The 4th Industrial Revolution is expected to create disruptions in the labour market by eliminating some of the low-skilled and/or repetitive jobs, at the same time increasing the shortage of talented and highly-skilled workers.

Going forward there is a need for enduring partnerships between the government, private sector, policy makers, international bodies and researchers.

Working together, we can rise to the challenge of ensuring we have the skilled people needed to meet the demands of a changing economy. Business is better positioned to lead on skills for the future in line with their projections.

Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize is the Minister of Higher Education and Training

-BUSINESS REPORT