The 2019 Matric results came out last week and while that class was able to set a new record in terms of pass rate, the larger questions of whether those students are able to get into tertiary education as well as the job market thereafter still remain.

With the era of 4IR driving many of the discussions in government at the moment, and in particular whether the education sector is best preparing our future workforces, it is worthwhile asking if we are looking at the notion of matriculating correctly with the Fourth Industrial Revolution on our doorstep?

This is something that Gideon Potgieter, CEO of Resolution Circle, has been pondering for some time and now he believes that a stronger focus on the value of vocational training is needed.

A shifting paradigm?

This especially when it comes to answering the question of why a Matric certificate or university degree are required to find a job in this modern age.

“This is not an easy question to answer, but it can be attributed to how parents and the learners themselves are not fully aware of the potential of vocational training. Certainly, if the learner wants to go into a specialist field such as becoming an accountant, lawyer, doctor, engineer, and so on, this is the required course of action. But if the focus is not on attaining such a qualification, why go to university in the first place?,” he asks.

“Potentially, this can leave the student (or parents) with significant debt and a degree that they might not be able to get full value from,” Potgieter points out.

“In many developed economies, only a small percentage of the top learners go to university with the majority pursuing vocational training. The point is that learners do not have to spend two additional years in school if an internationally accepted alternative path is open to them,” he adds.

Getting 4IR ready

Looking at the education landscape through the lens of 4IR, Potgieter says that although emerging and pervasive technologies begin to embed themselves, there will still be a need for functional skills.

“Irrespective of how connected and technology-enabled society becomes, there will always be a need for artisans. The potential of automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning can only do so much. Human resources, especially those with technical and vocational skills will remain integral to how we live and work,” he explains.

“Additionally, learners at Grade 9 level already have sufficient knowledge to learn how to build and programme robots. Having the language skills in place to master grammar and spelling to code properly and a basic understanding of maths form the foundation of going into robotics and even the Internet of Things,” he notes.

Vocational training provides a viable alternative in this regard according to Potgieter, with trainers already preparing short courses and programmes built around 4IR.

“Given how many of the jobs of the future do not exist yet, this provides learners with exciting opportunities to be at the forefront of innovation and go beyond many of the traditional options available to them,” says the CEO.

Bringing in the private sector

As for bringing greater vocational training to the fore in the 4IR era, the burden does not fall solely on students, parents and the government alone, with Potgieter firmly believing that the private sector has its role to play too.

“Currently, the challenge for those doing vocational training is what happens after the theory is completed. Yes, students will receive a certificate but still lack vital job experience. If these students want to go into formal apprenticeships to register as artisans, there are not that many opportunities available to them. More needs to be done to change this,” he stresses.

“However, much of this comes down to securing the required corporate funding to give more students access to experiential training that is currently highly oversubscribed,” adds Potgieter.

From a business perspective, sponsoring these kinds of initiatives makes sense, according to the CEO. It assists corporates with their B-BBEE compliance and enables them to claim back a percentage of this expenditure against their skills development levy payments over the course of the financial year, he explains.

“Examples of where new programmes have been launched include the YES4Youth programme that addresses the shortage of internships to a certain extent. This sees large corporates committing to taking on interns, but it is still limited given the number of students in the country. More companies need to come on board,” in his view.

A different mindset

Fully aware that this change in thinking will take time and effort to accomplish, Potgieter presses home the importance of skills development remaining front of mind for government and corporates.

Added to this is a need to shift mindsets around education.

“What is vital is that parents and learners realise that there are options open to them other than only relying on Grade 12 and a university degree,” he concludes.

[Image – Photo by Barry Zhou on Unsplash]