The education and training quality body, City and Guilds Centre for Skills Development (CSD) had published research results, titled ‘Practical matters: What young people think about vocational education in England, South Africa and the Netherlands’, in September 2011.
Some recommendations are singled out to South Africa, to serve as potential good practice guidelines for education and training policy makers.
The research project explores the attitudes and perceptions of young people across three countries towards vocational education and training. Between March and September 2010, focus group discussions and individual interviews in England, Netherlands and South Africa. These interviews were complemented by country-specific literature reviews and country reports
Rename vocational training to ‘practical training’
Vocational education and training does not fit within the discourse of school learners and FET college learners. Many are more comfortable with the term ‘practical learning’. This clearly has implications for terminology used by policy makers and providers.
Provide early careers advice
School learners and FET college learners commented on the lack of effective careers advice and guidance provision at key decision points. Many felt that it simply started too late to equip them with the information to make informed choices.
Colleges should visit schools to educate learners about their options; the relevant government departments could also provide better guidance structures.
Open training progression routes
Many learners felt that they would need to progress to higher education if they were to achieve their goals. Many were unaware, however, of the potential barriers to higher education from a vocational route.
More needs to be done to open up progression routes from FET college programmes into higher education and more work needs to be undertaken to help learners to understand their progression options prior to commencing college programmes.
Advertise colleges more widely
Many young people commented on a lack of marketing initiatives at a national level. Learners admit to a lack of understanding about exactly how they would move to further study. Joint advertising campaigns between institutions could also help learners; institutions currently tend to advertise only their own courses, rather than working together to advertise educational routes.
Better marketing strategies were highlighted by a number of learners as being vital to the attractiveness of vocational training courses. In most cases, the marketing of colleges and courses was non-existent.
Some young people noted that marketing of courses was occasionally misleading; it was suggested that learners feeling misled by course descriptions would be more likely to give negative feedback about them to other potential learners.
Key findings on vocational training
Young people value vocational education and training as relevant to finding jobs.
Young people want to know their options and routes for progression. Learners do not understand learning pathways and options available to them and want to know how they can progress.
Young people want to make informed, independent decisions. The careers advice and guidance systems available are not giving young people sufficient information with which to make an informed decision.
Young people have opinions on how to improve their education system. Young people are a resource on which policy makers and practitioners can draw, rather than constructing systems around them into which they have little input.
Key recommendations on vocational training
• Use terminology that young people understand
• Provide accessible careers advice and guidance tailored to the needs of young people. Current careers advice and guidance provision was not considered suitable, or good enough, by the young people it is designed to target. By providing young people with a tailored, relevant careers advice and guidance service, better choices can be made for study and employment.
• Involve young people in policy and practice dialogue. Young people are the constant in vocational education and training, yet are not consulted regularly in regards to design and implementation of initiatives for improvement. Young people have strong opinions on the education and training they pursue.
• Publicise progression routes and run advertising campaigns across institutions.
• Encourage work placements. Experience and insights gained by learners during work placements cannot be underestimated as a means of careers advice and guidance. These need to be offered before young people have to make important decisions about learning routes.
• Run trial days and open days. Trial days and open days for vocational courses, similar to those held by universities, would enable learners to test areas of interest before making a final course decision.
SA youth 40% untrained, unemployed
SA has 2.8-million young people between the ages of 18 and 24 who are not in education, employment or training, representing around 40% of the age group. Those who have discontinued their education between grades 10-12 and those without a matric exemption (a university entrance qualification pass mark) are more likely to be in this group.
Technical colleges were separated along racial lines in the apartheid era and were seen as an alternative form of education for those learners who were not academically inclined. Provision was shaped by the prevailing system of apprenticeship in South Africa at the time, as well as by the types of jobs available to learners in a racially constituted labour market.
South Africa currently faces a skills shortage, caused in part by an exodus of highly skilled individuals to developed nations. Consequently, skills development and job creation are high on the Government’s agenda, where policy development sits within the context of bringing about race, gender and employment equity.
Public further education and training (FET) colleges, which replaced Technical Colleges at the turn of the century, are seen as a means through which historically disadvantaged people might access education to improve their prospects of gaining employment and to redress historical inequalities.
Learnerships and training quality low
Restructuring of the former technical colleges into FET colleges at the turn of the century resulted in many challenges for existing staff. Apprenticeships also declined during this period. Although apprenticeships have been replaced by learnerships, completion rates for learnerships remain low.
South Africa’s current lack of skilled workers may be attributable, in part, to the decline in apprenticeships and the poor quality of technical training at colleges. In recent years, new policies affecting the governance, funding and curricula of FET colleges aim to reform and modernise vocational education.
The FET Colleges Act, for example, increased the autonomy of the 50 multi-campus FET colleges by making them the employers of staff and enabling them to decide on programme offerings. Colleges are now funded according to the type of programme taken by learners, and funds are transferred to colleges and managed by them.
Only state-approved curricula are funded, such as the National Certificate Vocational (NCV), which was introduced in 2006 to incorporate stronger knowledge components rather than just narrow technical skills.
The National Plan for Further Education and Training aims to double the number of learners in FET colleges to one million by 2014. Pathways from colleges into higher education have been expanded, and improved links between different forms of education have been supported by the creation of the Department of Higher Education and Training, which places all non-school education under a single Ministry.
Practice, however, suggests that these improved links are insufficient to enable progression; onerous minimum admission requirements for NCV learners from FET colleges into higher education indicate mistrust of the FET sector among South African universities.
Attitudes to vocational education and training
School learners were largely unaware of FET colleges and vocational training. Some saw vocational education and training as a second choice education that would result in low paid jobs with no career prospects. College learners held more positive views.
They placed a high value on the practical component of vocational courses, describing them as ‘contributing towards a better understanding of theoretical knowledge within the curriculum’. They also felt that the focus of their courses enabled them to gain a more in-depth knowledge of their chosen field, which made the curriculum more relevant and interesting to them.
College learners felt that their practical experience should make them more appealing to a potential employer than those with a school-based academic background, but were doubtful that employers would recognise their qualifications.
One urban school group argued that college studies were too focused and locked learners’ futures into a particular route, which they may later be unwilling or unable (because of a lack of jobs) to pursue: ‘say I chose vocational… and then two years down the line I don’t want to be a mechanic any more but I’m already blocked from [the] academic [route]’. Academic studies at school, they argued, provided a wider range of options.
Learners in general, however, placed a high value on vocational education and felt that the education was superior pedagogically, providing more in-depth knowledge than other forms of education. They did not regard themselves as school failures, but as learners who were bored by school or who were studying in a programme which was more focused than school and which could eventually lead to university or work.
College learners felt that they were pursuing a specialisation which was more interesting and of more value than the school alternatives. Throughout the research, learners spoke intelligently about links between knowledge and skills.
They had an intuitive sense of the importance of skills shortages, qualification recognition and even advanced notions of qualifications being developed at higher education level
• The City & Guilds vocational training attitudes reports is available via the SA Skills Hub at http://www.skillzhub.co.za/forum/index.php?topic=220.0
PHOTO; Career guidance at a young age is recommended by a City & Guilds report to close skills and employment drains. SA DHET minister Dr Blade Nzimande had earlier warned professional bodies to play active roles in career guidance, information, and removing barriers to entry into their sectors.