Skills development for job creation

Mandela Initiative newsletter (Issue 3, July 2017)


Youth skills lab C.Kirchoff

Chris Kirchoff/

Poverty and unemployment are the two greatest socio-economic scourges facing South Africa. What is more, unemployment is the main cause of poverty.

According to the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (1st Quarter 2017), South Africa’s extended unemployment rate, which includes discouraged work-seekers, is 34.4%. This amounts to no less than 8.5 people million people who are unemployed. For the youth the situation is even worse. The official unemployment rate of youth from 15 to 24 years old is 54%, more than half of the work-seeking youth of South Africa.

There is common consensus that a high level of inclusive economic growth of 5% or more over a sustained period of 10 to 20 years would reduce unemployment significantly, but what if there is very little or no economic growth? The South African economy grew only by 0.7% in 2016 and actually shrunk during the last two quarters.

One way of creating jobs in such a situation is by means of skills development. There is actually a shortage of skilled labour in the country. For instance, in its most recent study the Department of Labour found that the total number of vacancies in occupations ranging from semi-skilled to skilled in 2015 amounted to 93,417. Of these, 55,967 were in the Technicians, Associate Professionals and Professionals’ occupations. There are numerous other examples of shortages of skills in the economy, sometimes in small niches. Giraffe, an automated mobile recruitment app which operates on any cell phone with a web browser, found there was a shortage of scooter delivery drivers. It placed all the ones on their database in jobs, but still received requests for more delivery drivers!

There are numerous examples of shortages of skills in the economy, sometimes in small niches

Early in 2016, Mandela Initiative national coordinator, Emeritus Professor Francis Wilson, based at the University of Cape Town, requested me to tackle an action dialogue on creating jobs by means of skills development. As both job creation and skills development are passions of mine, I seized the opportunity to contribute to both these topics. I saw this as a chance to score two goals with one shot!

My first undertaking was to organise the Job-Creating Skills Development workshop, which was held at Goedgedacht farm late in 2016. There were 20 participants in all: 16 invited guests who were all actively involved in developing skills that create jobs, two academics who know a great deal about the topic, plus Francis Wilson and me.

The basic aim of the workshop was to find ways to enhance skills development so that there could be a significant increase in job creation in South Africa and a reduction in unemployment. This was easier said than done. Everybody at the dialogue was given the opportunity to tell us what they and their organisations are doing to contribute to job-creating skills development. As the workshop proceeded we heard of more and more impressive initiatives undertaken by business, industry, non-profit organisations, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges, a bargaining council and trade union. Here are just three examples.

Mercedes Benz South Africa (MBSA) had built a Learning Academy that costed R130 million, of which R80 million was funded by the Treasury’s Job Fund on condition that MBSA train and place 500 unemployed shopfloor learners on a three-year cycle as well as 120 apprentices per year. Since August 2014, 520 people had been trained in advanced technologies and robotics, of which 420 have been placed in jobs.

Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator has found and placed over 30,000 disadvantaged youth with no previous employment experience at over 200 companies including big brand names like PicknPay, Tsogo Sun and Sasol.

The Western Cape government has an Apprenticeship Game Changer to ensure that trained and skilled artisans are available for the industries targeted for fast growth in the province. As the stories unfolded, it became clear that there was no easy “low fruit” to pick in this endeavour because every strategy we conceived was already being tried somewhere.

Youth skills fitters C.Kirchoff

Chris Kirchoff/

What the dialogue did achieve was to demonstrate the wide range of initiatives and endeavours already taking place in creating jobs by means of skills development, as well as the inadequacies and obstacles standing in the way. Click here to view two diagrams that show the ailments diagnosed at the dialogue. Since the workshop I have done considerable networking and discovered far more initiatives taking place around the country. To tell all of it, as well as the ideas germinating in my head, would require another article of the same length . . . so watch this space!

A wide range of initiatives are already taking place in creating jobs through skills development but obstacles and inadequacies remain



This article was written by Emeritus Professor This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., University of Cape Town.