Celebrating 30 years of democracy with a focus on Setas’ impact on skills development

Setas are involved in skills development projects across sectors of the economy. File Picture

Setas are involved in skills development projects across sectors of the economy. File Picture

Published Apr 28, 2024


By Yershen Pillay

In celebrating 30 years of democracy, the critical contribution of the Sector Education and Training Authority (Seta) system created under the Skills Development Act cannot be ignored.

Their successes—and challenges—were celebrated at the historic Seta Skills Summit in Kempton Park this week.

The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, noted that Setas are crucial in implementing and facilitating skills development within their respective sectors.

Nzimande’s call to action underpinned Setas role, considering the alarming statistic that more than 3.3 million young people in our country between the ages of 15 and 24 are not in employment, education, or training,

The Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation, Buti Manamela, made an insightful and clarion call that the mission of all Setas should be to ensure that every citizen has a skill.

Our primary mission as Setas is to facilitate the skilling and training of people in the South African context. This is not negotiable. This mission is instrumental in bolstering the economy in accordance with the Master Skills Plan, the White Paper for Post-School Education and Training, the National Skills Development Plan, and the National Development Plan 2030.

The focus areas of Seta projects include infrastructure, workplace-based learning, such as internships, entrepreneurial and cooperatives development, and skills programmes related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

While the Setas were implemented nearly four years after the birth of democracy, their transformative impact on the skills landscape since democracy is truly remarkable. They have addressed the skills gap and instilled a sense of inspiration for the future of skills development in South Africa.

A flashback to 1994 reveals that the democratic government had inherited a broken education system wracked by the systematic underdevelopment of most children who studied in South African schools under apartheid. The origins of the skills deficit can be traced back to pre – 1994. There is no doubt that much has changed in skills development since 1994.

The transition from apartheid to democracy was a monumental shift, as illustrated by the words of our first Minister of Education, Professor Sibusiso Bengu. He likened merging 17 apartheid “own affairs” departments into a single department serving all citizens to changing the course of a plane mid-flight without crashing.

Initially, the government focused on creating a unified department and implementing outcomes-based education (OBE) policies. These policies, which have significantly shaped the lives of ordinary South Africans over the past three decades, were instrumental in addressing historical inequalities. They improved the teaching and learning conditions and achievements of black South Africans while also promoting inclusive education.

Introducing free primary education is a beacon of hope, providing greater access to education for marginalized and vulnerable communities. This significant step has reduced financial barriers and increased enrolment rates among disadvantaged learners, painting an optimistic picture of the future.

If one needs reminding of the challenges on hand, consider that under apartheid in 1982, the ruling National Party reportedly spent an average of R1,211 on education for each white child and only R146 for each Black child, fuelling the inequalities and, therefore resulting in the skills challenge we face three decades after democracy. Today, government spend on the education of a child does not discriminate on the basis of race.

Addressing the apartheid education skills deficit began via Parliament in 1998 through the Skills Development Act, which sought to help people in their sector gain skills or improve their skills if they already have them. The act laid the foundation for the institutional and financial framework for Setas, including the National Skills Authority (NSA), the National Skills Fund (NSF), and institutions in the Department of Labour. The act requires the Minister of Labour to establish and support a Seta for every national economic sector.

Reflecting on the journey since its establishment under democracy in South Africa is important. However, all Setas must remain steadfast in its commitment to driving positive change and transformation.

As South Africa continues to navigate the complexities of a rapidly evolving global economy, Setas must stand as a beacon of hope and opportunity, empowering individuals, fostering innovation, and driving sustainable growth—one skill, one partnership, and one initiative at a time. This was the challenge given to us as Setas in Kempton Park this week.

At the recent Seta Summit, there were three trends identified for skills development and training. First, Setas should respond to the digital skills trend. In this regard, it was resolved that every community should have a SMART Skills Centre to bridge the digital skills divide. Setas should work collaboratively with communities to establish SMART Skills Centres. We need to develop digital-first learning and strategic programmes and more relevant to the needs of society.

The second key thematic trend was the green skills trend. The green skills trend encompasses environment, social and governance or ESG priorities and ESG reporting, as well as an increasing focus on sustainability. Setas need to focus on sustainability and drive green skills projects. The skills development act does not limit SETAs to skills development but to a broader mandate of sustainable livelihoods and contributing to the quality of life.

The green hydrogen economy should be explored for creating new opportunities in the overall green economy. To this end, a new centre of specialisation for green hydrogen skills will be established by the Chemicals Seta (CHIETA), MQA, and TETA. The green hydrogen skills centre will play a key role in training green artisans.

The third and final trend is that of the innovation skills trend. This includes digital innovation and non-digital innovation. Setas should prioritise new ways of skilling and training and consider innovative skills programmes that address the day-to-day struggles of the poor and working class.

Celebrating 30 years is necessary. However, the task remains to ensure an even stronger footing in innovating for impact towards a skilled, sustainable future. As a sector, we must collaborate with industry and other social partners to expedite the impact of skills development for the benefit of our country, especially the poor and working class.

‘Together Skilling the Nation’ is our challenge as Setas for the celebrations to continue meaningfully with impactful outcomes for all citizens.

Yershen Pillay is Chief Executive Officer of the Chemical Industries Education and Training Authority (CHIETA)

The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL.