Government debates moving skills development from the Labour Dept 10

ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe has confirmed that the ruling party is discussing moving the Skills directorate from the Labour Department to the newly formed department of Higher Education and Training.

Speculation about moving the skills development initiatives that are run by the Department of Labour to the Education Department has been simmering for many years.

The establishment of a new government under President Jacob Zuma has ushered in a new era with an enlarged Cabinet and a number of additional departments. These include the new portfolio of Higher Education and Training which is headed up by newly appointed Minister Dr Blade Nzimande.

The responsibility for school education has fallen to the new department of Basic Education.

While the headline announcements about Cabinet appointments was made on Sunday 10th May by President Zuma, finer details about the government changes have not been made available.

Will FET Colleges fall under Higher or Basic education? Will Setas and other skills development structures currently in the Department of Labour move to the new Higher Education and Training department.

With the naming of the Ministers the new government has not used the conventions that are currently in place in South African education; General, Further and Higher education.

It would seem likely that all General education would be housed in the new Basic Education department, and include further education that happens at schools. It would seem that FET Colleges would fit best within the new Higher Education ministry.

And if the new Higher Education ministry is going to include training wouldn’t it make sense to have the skills development department that is currently housed in the Department of Labour moved as well? Surely we couldn’t have two ministries responsible for training? That would make things even more uncoordinated than they have been to date!

I would have thought that all these finer details would have been sorted out before the announcements were made. President Zuma held his first meeting with his Cabinet on Tuesday morning, presumably to inform them all of this plans.

But on the same day ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe addressed union members in Gauteng, calling on them to, “engage in a serious debate on whether or not the skills directorate in the department of labour should be moved to the department of higher and further education”.

How long will it take to ‘engage in a serious debate’? Can the country wait while these discussions are being held?

The skills world is waiting with baited breath for the announcement of the Board of the QCTO, Quality Council for Trades and Occupations. Can these be announced by the Labour Minister while this serious debate is going ahead?

Gwede Mantashe will have a good grasp of the issues from his time as head of the Jipsa Working Committee. There he was successful in ‘banging heads together’ and getting representatives from the old Departments of Education and Labour working in the same direction. This broke the prolonged impasse about the National Qualifications Framework and lead to the joint Ministerial Statement. This in turn led to the Skills Development Amendment Act and the National Qualifications Act.

Of course that opens up another can of worms. During hearings for these Acts last year (when they were still Bills) it was noted that the legislation named the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Education as being responsible for various functions. It was suggested then that this be changed to read, ‘the Minister responsible for…”.

This advice wasn’t taken and the National Qualifications Framework Act 2008 is full of references to the Minister of Education, a post which doesn’t exist anymore. The Skills Development Act of 1998 places the responsibility for skills development with the Department and Minster of Labour.

It looks like some amendments to these Acts will be necessary quite soon.

Considering the key role that Blade Nzimande has played as a Zuma supporter, and his skills as a politician and activist, it seems likely that the result of the ‘serious debate’ that Mantashe is calling for has already been decided.

“We need a person who understands the concept of the skills revolution: that the skills revolution is critical for the success of this country,” Mantashe told the Numsa delegates. “Therefore, you need a revolutionary to do that revolution.” That ringing endorsement from the ANC Secretary General carries a lot of weight.

A new Department taking responsibility for higher education, FET Colleges and workplace training might bring the alignment that the country needs in our skills efforts. However there will be challenges in bringing the three groups together. Universities are independent of government, which can only propose and encourage actions that they would like to see in the sector. FET Colleges are currently run at provincial level, and Setas are all independent legal entities with their own boards.

Aligning the interests and actions of those role players is essential for South Africa’s success, but it won’t be an easy task. But then it seems like we are going to have a committed revolutionary on the case!

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10 thoughts on “Government debates moving skills development from the Labour Dept

  • Catherine Martin

    In response to Leon, I’m glad Minister Nzimande is well qualified to handle this potentially difficult department. Higher education has many warts, including inflexible curriculum and quality assurance policies, slow response (or denial of) labour market needs, arrogance and a belief that they are ‘better’, high dropout rates, and unemployable graduates as a result of the above. FET colleges – oh-my-God – why did they get rid of N courses for artisans without replacing them with something useful, when this country is importing foreigners to do critical artisan work? The NVC is a disaster! And SETAs have not upskilled the nation. Communist, take note!

    Blade needs to untangle the technikon/academic university merges and forge a culture of work which makes it OK for people to aspire to practical skills – in other words take the focus off the notion that you are only successful if you’ve been to university and become a manager. Academic universities must be focused on the generation of unique African research, and only 4% of the population should rightly access them. Make them smaller but more productive in that regard, encourage most people to learn through FET colleges and technikons. But most importantly: the QCTO is developing the most effective learning solutions for labour market demands, and a lot of care should be taken not to derail the hard work happening under Ms Liz Thobejane, Mr Chris Vorwerk, and many stalwarts of work place learning. Institutes of education can only provide generic training. Strong curriculum development that is linked to identified occupations, is fit-for-purpose, and is quality assured by “people who care” as says Chris Vorwerk – now that is the real world, the world of the communist, Mr Nzimande! Do not let that go. Do not let the white elephant which is SAQA take over the functions of the QCTO because SAQA failed the nation in its attempts at standards generation and quality assurance. The current learnership based on the ridiculous stratified system of 120 credits with core, fundamental and elective unit standards does not work. I have worked with that system and been blinded by its ineffectiveness for the last 11 years – and like a newborn Christian, my eyes have been opened! The NQF and SD Amendment Acts have acknowledged this failure anyway, and the QCTO brings a new ray of hope. Let’s go back to what’s right for industry.

    Get SETAs to focus on research of scarce and critical skills in their sector, and sure enough, allow them to receive levies and disburse grants, and through ‘standing committees of stakeholders, manage the development of curriculum. But the SAQA brand of quality assurance does not work. Allow industry to opt to quality assure learning so that the system becomes more contextualised, leading to real productivity in the work place. And by the way, the QCTO gives lots of rooms for higher education institutions who are proactive and responsive to market needs to develop best practice knowledge elements of curriculum.

    So I think the new HET system can work with the will to change, and the right leadership. Let’s hope, though, that the HET ministry will still consider Nedlac, ESSA and other employment-linked structures of the Labour Department as major stakeholders in its affairs – and engage in constructive dialogue for the benefit of South Africa.

  • Des Squire

    One of my sources advised on friday that the Skills Development Section of the Department of Labour received a memo advising them they are to be redeployed to the Ministries of Education. This seems to confirm rumours that have been circulating for some time. It now appears the rumours may well be confirmed.
    It also appears clear from media remarks and other articles that appear on the Skills Portal that Dr Blade Nzimandehe the new Minister of Higher Education and Training and government intend keping skills development high on the government’s agenda.
    Before we all go mad it is worth remembering that the Skills Development Amendment Act and the ammendments to the NQF were signed off earlier this year and gazetted on 6 April 2009. It will be necessar therefore to once again amend legislation in order for any changes in institutional structure and reporting to be changed. Until this happens carry on as prior to this as the rest is pure speculation at this stage. When further facts have been established we can commence reacting further.

  • Sylvia F. Hammond

    Hi John,
    From my personal experience I do not agree with your description of the problem. There are companies from all language groups doing well & equally from all language groups simply ignoring what needs to be done. It is not a language, or race or gender issue.

    I also don’t agree that we need to send anybody overseas – we have the knowledge and skills here, and we have many people within the training industry who work hard at what they are doing and want to make a difference. Look at the work done by the training service providers who are members of the skills-universe as evidence of this.

    I do agree that there is a significant transformation job that needs to be done and that job is partly the responsibility of the skills development community – but not entirely. There are many other structures and processes responsible for contributing to transformation.

    From a skills development point of view, what we need to do is revise and build on the systems that we have – and that is already well advanced – the new structures will be in place by 2010. The QCTO structures will significantly improve the focus of qualification development & training towards necessary occupations. New legislation has already been passed & now we have the restructuring of education, higher education & the occupational skills area.

    Finally, we need to look at how the Setas are structured, who comprise the Seta boards, where the decision-making power lies, and most importantly – the competence to manage the Seta operation. If we improve that, then we are well on our way to making a major leap forward.

  • Sylvia F. Hammond

    Hi Leon,
    Hear, hear – well said. I absolutely agree with you – I’m looking forward to what Dr Nzimande is going to contribute.
    Business has done nothing but complain about the levy system wanting to revert to older systems of refunds for training – only the training that they want to do – not what the economy needs.
    Business has constituted 50% of the Seta boards from the start of the system in 2000 – what have they achieved? Some have participated only for what their individual company can benefit – not what is required for the economic sector or the national economy.
    There is an enormous amount of work to do to redress the effect of our previous education systems, particularly literacy and numeracy, and maths and science education. However, maybe we should not have expected that business would make a constructive contribution to this.
    Our skills shortage & our shocking record of human resource development evidenced in the Competitiveness Report is a national challenge. Let’s give Dr Nzimande our support in our national interest.

  • Leon Pillay

    We need change… people this could be the start to educational transformation in South Africa. I am dissapointed to note that most individuals especially those in training and development refer to the Higher Education Minister, Dr Blaze Nzimande as either a politician if not an activist. The minister has the capacity to see the larger picture, much of this experience will come from the years he has been active in education transformation. He has to his name numerous publications on national socio economic skills stratagies, he teamed together with an education specialist,Susan Mathieson and from this synergy published, “Educational transformation in South Africa’s transition to democracy” Minister Nzimande chaired the education portfolio commitee of which he showed true grit and spirit in becoming a future catalyst to transforming South Africa’s education system. His thesis was based on the field of human resource management and he further lectured as an Industrial Psychologist serving on the Unisa board at the centre of education policy development. He was instumental in developing capacity around sector and workplace strategies to improve worker skills. Whether he is the right person to head the new department ?Pleeese…

    We must not forget the development of the SETA’s and their real function within our economic landscape. I am sure most of you are aware of their role in this regard. VET (Vocational Education Training) was seen as an effective tool to educate our youth, help unemployment, poverty etc… the broader SA society looked forward to more youth been skilled, more jobs been created through a policy reform process. Unfortuantely this did not happen. SETA’s were restructured from exisiting industry sector chambers, the manpower days, most of which were controlled by industry sector federations. These sector federations claimed to uphold industry quality assurance benchmarks. Some federations had their own further education training institutions while those that did not, quickly endorsed private education institutions as their trainers of choice.

    Are we really worried about Tertiary Institutions accessing funds from the skills development levies ? Rather that than have millions of rands sitting in a pot collecting cobwebs. We must not let Corporate South Africa of the hook. These resources were made available for organisations to create new skills, improve on the exisiting ones, incentives as you would know, tax breaks, subsidies from the SDL were simply not enough to get Corporate SA to buy into the need to develop more skills.

    Instead some sector industry federations started to argue Learner versus Apprentice training. Waste of time and money. Much arguments around the generation of unit standards, some SGB’s disbanded. New vocational system of training versus the traditional department of manpower block release training. Manufacturing, trade qualifications on a go slow. Organisations complained about the administration bungles between SETA’s, SAR’s and late subsidy payments. Our country loses skills in the trades to other countries, organisations in SA slow down on developing more trade skills in all sectors of manufacturing.

    SETA’s have not proved to be the most efficient resource to bridging the skills gap in our economy. Some have claimed to perform well, while others have just not caught the boat. FET’s on the other hand need more capacity around workplace skills and not necassarily trade skills. A whole new approach is needed. Corporate SA need to stop blaming the system and get on with allowing more people to join the economically active though learnerships.

    We all need to work though this change together, we can start this change by not refering to Government departments and their people eg: Higher Education as authorities but agents of change to what we all hope is the continuous learning and the development of new skills for all the people of SA. Employer, employees, learners, vocational educators, the state, industry federations, unions, trainers, SETA’s, it is not about the funds, it is about us working together. I am certain that the Higher Education representatives including its leader will come up with some change, transformation, revolution into education, business to be responsible for assisiting with increasing the skills in our country. Enough of the carrot …… as training consultants I am certain many of you are feeling the pinch, with organisations placing hold if not stopping all training interventions. We need to ask ourselves the question, Were these interventions the total cost of company or partly subsidised by the SDL ? Business will always need some excuse to use the economic slowdown, to cut numbers, to stop developing. These organisations will soon find themselves in hot water due to their traditioanl management styles, it is these organisations that refuse to change their status quo, counting their employees as just numbers and not people who need continuious learning in order for organisational effectiveness and from it competitive advantage.

    Education and the split ministries are of no bother to me. Dr Nzimande must rise to the occasion and focus on the further development of our working class, some with little or no education. Some in the same jobs for many years, not allowing those new recruits to enter the workplace at start up level.

    More state pressure on Business in SA to look at this as a patriotic challenge to affording all the people of our country the opportunity to be skilled and earn a decent living from it.

    In the spirit of learning

    Leon Pillay

  • Rochelle Blaauw

    Hi Allan

    I would personally think that the move give perspective to training in the sense that training done via Seta that are NQF alligned will be stationed in the right position. The Seta’s are also providing training that is on NQF Level 5 and 6 and therefore works on the same standards as F/HET Colleges.

    The only input I would have is it will honestly assist the country IF Government and the Education Departments can productively communicate with business in compiling qualifications because I believe business should be the first stop in finding out what the actual skills needs are in all industries.

    Lastly, my wish is just that there should be co-operation between both ministers as well as labour.


  • Graeme Stickells

    What ever system is put in place it has to be, to quote a colleague, a system of checks and balances. There cannot be a single organisation determining what the skills need is and providing for the skills need.

    I would like to see a system where the DoL, through the SETAs, determine the skills need, both educational and occupational, and the DoHE&T providing for the skills need through university, FET college and private provider programmes.

    Obviously this would entail close co-operation between both Ministers.


  • Bongani Matshobane

    Hi Allan

    Well I am not sure how this swapping and changing is going to help people who need to be trained in critical and scarce skills from the grassroots. I feel the simpler things are made the better. There is a big illiterate problem in our country hiding in most companies and where suppose to totally focus on how easier but yet effective we can curb it. The perception was suppose to be from bottom to top, then come up with strategies that will speed up the process and not hinder it. Trying to fix up on top than at the bottom where service is needed, it would surely be a waste of time. With the same breath I do not say it is useless to have administration set up, it is imperative but let it not hinder at the same time.

    What I see coming is, we are going to be sent from pillar to post when enquiries are made concerning all that entails training. At the end of the day HR and the training managers of companies are going to be disillusioned to embark on training their staff. Look at how it is now, most companies still are not training their staff from grassroot level because of a lot of information in the documentations that must be filled, such as WSP/ATRs, which some of this information repeats itself so often in the same document and a have to bear with the long waiting period for the document to be approved for grant funding. And now this?

    Kind regards

    I feel that things are being complicated than made easy and surely it impacts on the people that are said to be skilled.


  • Gail Sturgess

    The whole Skills Development debacle has never and will never work in the workplace. As far as I’m concerned if government activity could produce the same quality of student doing the same qualification from different “higher education” institutions that would, indeed, be a wonderful and major achievement. As far as “training”, especially work-based training, it’s just not going to work.
    Under labour we had a chance that, with the new OFO, it might have worked, but moving to HE – no way! They have NO understanding of workplace development.