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In the wake of the highest matric pass percentage recorded in the last 25 years, learners are faced with trepidation surrounding the future of their education. Of the 790,405 candidates who wrote the 2019 NSC examination, only 186,058 matriculants obtained a bachelor’s pass. A further 144,762 learners achieved a diploma pass, while 78,984 achieved a higher certificate pass. With only 23.5% of matrics qualified for university admission and 76.5% of learners in an educational cul-de-sac, what alternatives to education does our youth have?

In the face of high unemployment rate among the youth, the opportunity lies in turning South Africa’s rapidly-growing adolescent population into an asset through skills development and training. According to Neil Reddy, Business Strategy & Projects Manager at Veer Steel Mills, the onus is on local enterprises to equip the workforce with portable skills and create job opportunities for the betterment of South Africa’s economy. “Businesses must increase their efforts in cultivating the skills and talent of our youth to address the critical skills gap that we are experiencing across industries. Effective skills development will increase the labour force’s employability levels, and heightened skills lead to higher productivity. To make a meaningful difference to the current state of the nation, businesses must make it their mission to solve issues such as these.”

In the manufacturing sector, there is a consistent need for people with technical skills and technical aptitude, particularly in an ever-evolving landscape of equipment, technology and production best practice. “Formal skills development and ongoing training facilitation are necessary to ensure continuity of skills in the workplace. At Veer Steel Mills, we have partnered with both Merseta and The Resolution Circle through the University of Johannesburg to implement desperately needed learnership programmes. Our programmes run for 12 months at a time, providing training to 250-300 learners at a time. Once qualified, we do our best to absorb these learners into our organisation; job creation is important to us to complete the circle.”

Local business’ responsibility for economic growth does not just end there; it is up to manufacturers to aid in empowering entrepreneurs. “Through our Ubhoko initiative, we aim to develop a direct support and logistics network for customers living in informal settlements. These critical employers in our economy are instrumental in driving cost-effectiveness and expanding access to steel end-users across our communities.”  

Vigorous development strategies are necessary to meet the challenges of maintaining healthy and sustainable growth in South Africa. Reddy believes that to achieve this, a dynamic relationship between government, skills development and training organisations, businesses and civil society is essential. “The Industrial Development Corporation shares in our vision as we spread our footprint across the country, and our efforts are amplified by the consistent support of the government. Creating opportunities for the domestic market is made possible by the DTI, via the International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa, who implement policies and controls that operate in the favour of industry security and healthy competition.”

Through increased access to the training of portable skills, it is possible to rectify socio-economic inequalities, bolster employment, and in so doing, increase employability and economic growth. Skills development is the critical first step ensuring that South Africa is built on a solid and sustainable foundation.