Bridging The Gap: The Transformative Power of TVET Colleges and Applied Skills Training

By Raine St. Claire

Closing the skills gap is essential in tackling the rapidly rising unemployment rates. By doing so, it will not only address the immediate employment challenges but also pave the way for significant economic growth as a catalyst for the development of a thriving and robust economy. Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges provide an excellent opportunity for young people who may not have access to traditional universities. These colleges empower them to acquire practical skills, enhancing their employability and enabling them to start their own companies.

A staggering 32.6% of South Africans are currently unemployed. 50% of those without jobs do not have a Matric certificate; 40% had in fact completed matric and 2.4% are university graduates. As the government strives to combat these high unemployment rates and bridge social class disparities, there is a push for learners to consider vocational education as a viable alternative to traditional universities. The demand for artisans in South Africa is particularly high, and TVETs could emerge as the superheroes in addressing the unemployment crisis and in helping the country to meet its target of producing 30 000 artisans a year by 2030.

Unlocking the Potential Between Education and Employment

In a system where academic qualifications often fall short, assisting young people in low- and middle-income countries to achieve quality education and employment opportunities seems like a no-brainer. However, a significant gap exists between the TVET systems, meant for this purpose, and job markets, preventing the full realisation of the TVET potential. This ‘disconnect’ undermines the ability of TVET to empower youth and drive sustainable economic transformation. With over 50 TVET colleges and more than 300 campuses in South Africa, each specialising in various fields, many students still await university placements due to the misconception that TVET is a less desirable option compared to traditional academics, unfairly casting doubt on the intelligence and capability of students who attend technical and vocational training colleges.

More Options for Empowering School Leavers

School leavers in South Africa require a clearer understanding of TVET education’s opportunities. Zamokuhle Sam Zungu, Deputy Director-General responsible for the TVET sector at the Department of Higher Education and Training, believes that TVET colleges offer a wide range of vocational skills that can reduce unemployment and equip learners for immediate employment or entrepreneurship. However, there is an “inverted pyramid” with more school leavers aspiring to attend universities rather than TVET colleges.

The historical belief that TVET colleges, seen as a less preferred option, needs to change. Technical and vocational training can be a powerful pathway to employment and socioeconomic advancement for communities. The benefits of TVET colleges in South Africa, each specialising in various fields, are enormous. They recognise the significance of vocational education in shaping the future of young people and equip them for personal and professional growth by offering a wide range of vocational skills that prepare learners for immediate employment or entrepreneurship. Artisans are trained to perform specific tasks such as fault finding, manufacturing, repair and servicing.  The training programme may include academic components like mathematics, science, drawing or technical language specific to the trade. Everything you learn will be extremely relevant to the practical skills you will be applying.

Connecting Industry With Skill

Sizakele Mphatsoe, Head of Education at Kagiso Trust, stresses the importance of producing more artisans, as they play a crucial role in supporting engineers. Initiatives like the Three-Stream Model aim to prepare Grade 9 students for TVET college education, potentially reducing unemployment and encouraging self-employment. Collaborations with industry leaders such as Sasol and Eskom are essential for providing students with a clearer path to their future careers, ensuring that their TVET training aligns with industry needs. These initiatives can help students understand the potential of their TVET education and where it can lead. 

Eskom, which heavily relies on vocational training skills, recently formalised a collaboration by signing a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to develop renewable energy artisan skills in South Africa. This partnership supports the implementation of Eskom’s Just Energy Transition (Jet) Strategy in conjunction with the South African Renewable Energy Technology Centre (SARETEC). However, SARETEC with only one campus collaborates extensively with TVET colleges nationwide to meet the demand. Their ‘hub-and-spokes’ model means they find colleges that have the right setup to deliver the required programme. 

The learner experience minimises classroom learning and emphasises hands-on training through lab work and employer placements. Sasol also places an enormous priority on artisan skills development specifically to decrease unemployment and promote comprehensive development in the country and the communities it serves. In its commitment to advancing skills development through TVET institutions, particularly emphasising the cultivation of technical and managerial expertise, the company dedicates nearly half of its annual R700 million budget to expand access to quality education opportunities.

Crucial Role of TVET Qualifications

Vimala Ariyan, CEO of Star Schools, a platform aiding students in completing matric and advancing to higher education, underscores the crucial role of TVET in providing accredited vocational training. This mission addresses the skills shortage, particularly impacting marginalised groups and contributing to the reduction of rising unemployment. TVET institutions offer affordable and excellent opportunities for studying and developing vocational or occupational skills across various fields. Industries such as building and construction, hospitality, culinary arts, tourism, and information technology highly value skilled employees with practical knowledge.

TVET programmes are specifically designed to meet rapidly changing skill requirements in different sectors, prioritising practical, skills-based learning and fostering self-directed education and independence. Students not only gain valuable hands-on experience, often lacking in theory-based universities, but the practical workplace experience is seamlessly integrated into the curriculum.

This integration makes TVET colleges a powerful pathway for securing employment or venturing into self-employment. Furthermore, for those aiming to further their academic qualifications through higher education, TVETs serve as the perfect stepping stone to stay relevant and advance their career prospects.

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