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Navigating unemployment in a changing skills development landscape

How will the imminent transition from the Setas to occupational qualifications under the QCTO impact our unemployment crisis?
Navigating unemployment in a changing skills development landscape

It’s no secret that South Africa has the highest unemployment rate in the world, a title we have held for some time. And the latest figures aren’t too encouraging either - Stats SA recently confirmed that our jobless rate rose to 32.9% in the first quarter of 2024, an increase of 0.8% from the previous quarter.

Particularly worrying is our youth unemployment rate, with a staggering 59.7% of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 being unemployed.

Given these gloomy numbers as well as our persistent skills crisis, it’s no wonder that many of us in the skills development and training fields are deeply concerned about the looming changes set to shake up the industry in the next few weeks, and the impact on our already dire unemployment situation.

For those that don’t already know (an alarming number of employers as well as some training providers are still in the dark!), on 30 June 2024 all historical Seta qualifications are due to fall away and from 1 July onwards, all learners will only be able to register for occupationally directed qualifications through the QCTO (Quality Council for Trades and Occupations).

While the QCTO was established with the laudable aim of ensuring quality and relevance in vocational education and training as well as promoting skills development that aligns with the needs of the economy and enhances employment opportunities, the reality is that very few stakeholders, including the QCTO itself, are ready for the final changeover to take place just yet.

For starters, with barely a month until the deadline, there are nowhere near enough qualifications registered on the QCTO system right now to cater for all workplace training currently taking place.

There are currently only 769 registered qualifications that have been published on the QCTO website, which are expected, at this stage, to replace the thousands of legacy qualifications that are due to come to an end on 30 June this year.

More specifically, and as it relates to unemployment, right now there are very few full qualifications at an entry-level that have been registered by the QCTO. For many years, under the Seta system, lower-level qualifications served the important function of providing a foot in the door for individuals who were unemployed and unskilled, affording them a ‘bridge’ into the workplace.

Given the currently available QCTO qualifications, this opportunity will no longer be an option for the majority of South African youth who don’t even have a Matric, let alone maths and science, which are entry-level requirements for many of the new occupational qualifications.

Another limiting factor is the lack of generic qualifications that could be applicable across different industries. The new QCTO qualifications are extremely focused and specific to particular occupations, requiring learners to be very targeted in their career choices with minimal flexibility.

When looking at the history and objectives of the national qualifications framework (NQF), The South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) state the following on their website: “When learners know that there are clear learning pathways which provide access to, and mobility and progression within education, training and career paths, they are more inclined to improve their skills and knowledge, as such improvements increase their employment opportunities.”

The SAQA website goes on to cite British academic, Sir Christopher Ball’s view on the kind of learner profile that is suited to the 21st century – the ‘flexible generalist’. Ball was of the view that such people are needed to realise the goal of life-long learning.

`Flexible generalists` are people equipped with the necessary knowledge, skills and values to easily adjust to multiple career changes in order to achieve their own personal development, while at the same time making a significant contribution to society.

The shift in thinking is from education for employment (developing the ability to do a specific job) to education for employability (developing the ability to adapt acquired skills to new working environments).

This raises several questions: Is the concept and spirit of the QCTO not completely at odds with the above notion of the ‘flexible generalist’ and will this new system leave us with a less adaptable workforce?

And more importantly, will the QCTO succeed in its objective of creating a skilled workforce in order to contribute to job creation and economic growth or will our grim unemployment figures continue to soar?

Perhaps the solution lies somewhere in the middle with a combination of the specialised structure of the occupational qualifications, while at the same time offering the flexibility of more generic options that can provide individuals with broader, transferable skills, fostering adaptability in a rapidly changing job market. Surely there’s a space for both models.

28 May 2024 14:25


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MD at Progression