SA economy can benefit from Vocational training

How can we prevent such waste?

Vocational education and training (VET) can deliver significantly benefit individuals and businesses, but VET is not getting the traction and recognition needed to attract a large number of students, according to a new report from the City & Guilds Group.

The report explored the state of vocational education and training in four countries: South Africa, the United Kingdom, India and the United States. It highlights how VET can have a significant impact on economies across the world. For example, in the UK, a 10% increase in professional and technical skills over the next ten years could increase UK GDP by £163 billion by 2025. [i] In the UK and US, a 10 percentage point increase in the number of 16-18 year olds enrolled in vocational education could lead to a 1.5 percentage point reduction in youth unemployment. [ii]

In South Africa, the unemployment rate in 2013 was 25% – five times the world average for unemployment. Youth unemployment, at 54%, was more than double the general rate. [iii] Therefore increasing investment in VET could see significant returns for South Africa’s economy.

Speaking about the research, Mike Dawe, Director of International at the City & Guilds Group said, ‘The report indicates that vocational education can help to fill skills gaps, boost productivity, enhance industries and increase employment – all of which have a significant impact on individuals, businesses and the economy as a whole.’

‘However, there is an ongoing challenge in South Africa, where vocational institutions and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges find it difficult to attract large numbers of students. People still see university study as the first prize and vocational options as second-choice at best – or they don’t even know what vocational options are out there.’

vocational; education

Increasing investment in VET will also benefit employers, who are concerned by skills gaps. In each of the countries studied in the report, the worry over the long-term impact of skills gapswas prevalent. PwC’s most recent case study of South African CEOs found that 36% were ‘extremely concerned’ about the availability of key skills, compared to a global average of 17%.[iv]


While the challenge to increase uptake of VET in South Africa is extensive, progress is being made. South Africa has one of the highest rates of public investment in education in the world. At about 7% of gross domestic product (GDP) and 20% of total state expenditure, the government spends more on education than on any other sector, according to Brand South Africa. Government spending on basic education during 2015/16 is estimated at R203 468 billion.

Over the next three years, roughly R640 billion will go towards basic education.[v] The challenge is making sure that sufficient funding is directed toward all aspects of education – not just academia, but VET too.

In seeking to meet both social and economic aspirations, the South African government has outlined a strategy to achieve a more integrated approach to post-secondary education, including VET, over the next 20 years.[vi] The South African government intends to increase workplace training, starting with government agencies and departments who will be encouraged to offer workplace training for vocational students. This is a first step towards fostering more workplace training in the private sector.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, a majority of international students in America and Germany (some 51.5 percent) choose this path. South Africa for too long has attempted a cookie-cutter approach to secondary education: Stay in school; go to college; and we’ll all be happy. To our continued consternation, it doesn’t always work. If South Africa wants to remain competitive, we have to keep our young people engaged. Germany and America has the right formula. RSA business and political leaders should learn from the German approach and invest in creating and supporting a vocational education system. Businesses will get the skilled workers they need, young people will see new career opportunities open up to them, our middle class will be strengthened, and our economy will benefit.

‘Even though there is a lack of data proving the benefits of vocational education in many contexts around the world, national governments have realised the significant role vocational education and training plays in their countries’ futures,’ added Dawe. ‘The proposed changes to enhance the South Africa system could have a really positive impact, particularly if they are aligned to long-term planning. The commitment from the government is encouraging and South Africa has a huge opportunity ahead of it. We’re keen to see how we can support the government during these upcoming developments.’

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