Strategic Alignment

 Strategic alignment of skills training to bolster the economy

Demand-led skills training is seen as a tool to bolster the economy through an investment of R100 billion towards addressing employment issues post-COVID-19 and was announced by The President of South Africa recently as a crucial part of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP) to enable the absorption of 20 000 students into artisanal programmes.

TVET remains one of the apex priorities of post-school education and training in South Africa, with much focus on supporting TVET Colleges to offer relevant and responsive training curricula aimed at the development of skills which produce employable young people and that will result in them addressing the articulated need for artisans in the country.

A June 2020 paper by Stephanie Allais and Carmel Marock (Centre for Researching Education and Labour, University of the Witwatersrand), highlights a wide array of weaknesses in the TVET sector, yet despite these, “TVET is still looked to for solving labour market crises—and the language of urgency, immediacy, and agility is being used by key stakeholders and role-players in this regard. TVET is still looked upon as key to teaching new skills, which may be required in a changing economy, as well as to ‘reskill’ & ‘upskill’ the many who have lost their jobs or will lose them in the months to come due to Covid-19”. Experience across the board, however, indicates that substantial investment in TVET and skills development programmes does not always translate into qualifications and/or jobs. The reasons for this are multi-faceted but can also be linked to how learning and skills are assessed which is especially relevant for the new occupational trades, where the showcase of integrated knowledge, understanding and application is acutely important in assessments.

Several studies indicate that the South African artisan ecosystem is often flooded with poor quality, part qualified or at worst unqualified persons (passed through an assessment process) when what Industry requires is good quality, qualified artisans, well able to integrate to the world of work. Furthermore, the pervasive nature of technology advancement, indicates an exponential increase in the demand for innovation linked to future skills demands, including digital skills, especially amongst youth – this was acutely acknowledged and felt during the Covid 19 lockdown phase. It has become increasingly imperative to integrate these employability skills, linked not only to current workplace demands, but also future trends. Much research has confirmed the value of work readiness training, beyond technical competences, must include functional competence linked to soft skills, increasingly focused on problem solving to enable youth from especially poor households to more successful transition to the world of work.

This is reflected by the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention which focuses on the green economy, employment matching, workplace readiness and promotes, ‘shorter, more flexible courses in specific skills that fast-growing sectors need and innovative ways to support youth entrepreneurship and self-employment’ in its 6-prong plan.

 Aligned to SANEDI’s strategy

The Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) Skills Programme aligns with with SANEDI’s five-year 2020/2021 to 2024/2025 strategic plan. An opening statement of the Interim CEO in the 2020/2021-2024/2025 SANEDI Strategic Plan, broadly refers to: “The rise of the knowledge-based economy has resulted in changes in the levels and patterns of energy consumption, which has subsequently led to shifts in types of fuels and technologies available to us. The energy sector is the backbone of the South African economy and SANEDI plays a key role in the country’s socio-economic development”. The GIZ Skills Development for a Green Economy (SD4GE) initiative will go a long way in supporting this statement, through empowering individuals with the necessary knowledge (technical theory and vocational training), to seek meaningful employment (socio-economic development) in the clean energy sector in South Africa, with the requisite skills.

President Cyril Ramaphosa and Ministers serving in a variety of portfolios within his Cabinet, regularly make calls on the private sector to work with government (and its agencies), to reduce the unacceptably high levels of unemployment in the country. This initiative will assist in this national ‘call to action’ and will assist SANEDI to deliver on its mandate in terms of the National Energy Act (2008), to improve the cooperation between actors from the public sector (vocational training institutions) and the private sector, in dual training approaches in South Africa. Furthermore, this proposal supports a structural change towards a more employment-oriented dual-training approach in South Africa. The Interim SANEDI CEO in her opening statement of the Strategic Plan, goes on to state that: “Successful collaboration between SANEDI and industry has allowed us to drive several, research, development and pilot projects that will contribute to the national energy objectives. In this regard, SANEDI has facilitated and supported a number of national and provincial government departments, to understand possible mitigation actions that would lead to a more efficient and swift deployment of renewable (clean) energy in the country. One of the key objectives in the transition to a clean/green economy, is empowering people with the necessary skills and knowledge, to meet the challenges of a changing industry and SANEDI has a proven track record in bringing multiple parties together, to achieve that objective.

Furthermore the objective of Knowledge Management and Sharing, specifically: “The purpose of capacity building (skills development), energy research, development, demonstration and deployment programme is effectively knowledge creation that can support and inform energy-related planning and decision-making by all stakeholders.” Moreover, it supports capacity building and skills development, to support the Green Economy at the workplace level, which can serve as a catalyst to encourage additional research in this area of bottom-up skills learning. Once again, this falls squarely in SANEDI’s mandate, to research such innovative new approaches to addressing energy challenges in the country and sharing the knowledge obtained through these endeavours align and delivers on the key objectives and developments and strengthens SANEDI’s ability to play a leading role during this transition to a clean economy.

 Assessing the demand for skills in energy efficiency and renewable energy

Within the economy, companies are increasingly turning to energy efficiency and renewable energy to mitigate the risks associated with the impact of Covid-19, which presents growth opportunities for players in the solar photovoltaic (PV) market as well as energy service companies (ESCo’s). This stimulates the demand for highly skilled artisans who, ideally could be produced by the existing TVET & Skills Development System. Offering upskilling programmes for already employed and newly graduated artisans can support job retention and transition to earning.

To understand the demand-side, a Skills Demand Assessment in the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency sectors survey was conducted. Structured questionnaires and semi-structured interviews were conducted with 16 companies and leading industry associations in partnership with Green Cape, GBCSA, SAPVIA, AHK, SANEDI and SAEEC.

The Skills Demand Assessment explored employers’ skills requirements in the current market and how they experience graduate placement programmes with the aim of conceptualising a programme that develops demand orientated skills and improves employability through an optimised workplace experience. This aligns with the German dual system, where companies recognise the value of workplace training.

The assessment confirmed:

  • the duration and quality of workplace experience impacts employability
  • the importance of complementary skills e.g. attitude which can be afforded by a student selection process during an employability intervention
  • skills requirements, including data management/Excel in energy efficiency management, entrepreneurship and Health & Safety and working at Heights
  • the value of business incentives to enable businesses to facilitate graduate placement programmes