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Picture this: You’re a passenger of a massive cruise liner sailing the coast of some gorgeous turquoise coastline. The captain sounds the alarm as you’ve hit a shallow reef in shark-infested waters and the ship is about to sink. Of the lifeboats that are available to recuse passengers, only 10% of them are in 100% working order, the rest are punctured with holes in the pontoons and cracked hulls. You have two choices:

1)      Keep loading people into what is essentially, another sinking boat or

2)      Although, by far the most daunting option under the pressure and without being a qualified marine expert, use the resources (damaged boats), skills (of the passengers and crew themselves) and material you have to build new, better equipped buoyancy devices that could save more people?

Quite a drastic scene off the back of a festive break for most South Africans but a hypothetical reality for so many businesses in the skills development space.

South African news channels have been overflowing with stories surrounding matric results and increased national pass rates, but what now? Students are scrambling to secure their spots in one of the countries tertiary education institutions, but what about those students that won’t be able to even apply for one of these spots based on their marks – without judging the circumstances surrounding their results. Moreover, what training are the school and tertiary systems providing learners from a work ready skills development perspective and what role can South African businesses play, despite these circumstances, improving the education opportunity for these individuals and upskilling them in work readiness learnerships without being an education facility or needing to set aside exorbitant amounts of education fees?

The answer is far simpler than one may think. And there are massive tax benefits!

“As a business owner, it’s easy to sit on the side lines and comment on the state of the country’s skills level, but ignorance seems to be preventing companies from taking the lead and making a change,” says Daniel Gibhard, CEO of The Skills Development Corporation (SDC). “By simply focusing efforts on improving skills development at learnership levels, that are actually rewarded as a company tax incentive, companies can have a massively positive effect on an entire economy.”

Government has already made provisions for companies to support the improvement of the skills development gap by providing them with the opportunity for businesses to benefit through the skills development efforts they make within their organisation. Section 12H of the Income Tax Act supports the Skills Development Act which has been established to ‘improve the workforce’s access to education that can have a positive effect on productivity and quality of life, offers businesses an attractive rebate incentive to create an active learning environment, and can have a significant impact on a company’s B-BBEE score’.

According to Melissa van Aswegen, ETQA Manager at SDC, the lack of comprehensive knowledge in terms of how the industry and benefits work, the timelines associated with them and cultures that resist change are probably three of the biggest obstacles we need to overcome if we want to move forward in the plight to bridge the gap in skills development. She also believes we need to work closer with the HR teams when undertaking their recruitment process to ensure we’re aligning the job-seekers to the learnerships being funded. Over the next two years, plans are underway for the Quality Council of Trades and Occupations (QCTO) to take over more functions from the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETA’s) which will ultimately reduce the disconnect between industry and graduates. South Africa will also see new technologies introduced in the skills development space and the advocacy for Research of Prior Learner (RPL) will continue to be a priority for government. These are all significant steps in the right direction. Plans to equip graduates with more work-readiness and soft skills using more advanced digital applications that are linked to Quality Assurance associations are also all considerations being made by government authorities which we hope will shape the entire review of the Skills Development Act within the next decade.

Although SDC applauds those businesses who are taking their skills development efforts in-house, the truth is that the programmes offered are often sector specific and can only start having a positive effect once the department has reached an appropriate economy of scale. Understanding this reality is why we’ve expanded and continue to grow the learnership options we offer from an industry and skills level perspective. By implementing this operational strategy, we can not only expand our learnership options but can also maintain the learners’ commitment across our programmes.

When making skills development considerations as a business, be sure to research the companies you intend on partnering with, visit their campus and enter into a mutually beneficial partnership that shifts the skills development undertaking from a grudge purchase to making change – building your own ship that could fundamentally improve education opportunities and alter an entire country’s economy.