Minister Nzimande introduces ‘drastic changes’ to the way Setas operate 29

Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, addressed the CEOs of all Setas at the InterSeta Forum on the 7th of December. The Minister used the opportunity of his first formal address to all Seta leaders to outline his vision for the future of the sector education and training authorities. While he believes they are essential in achieving the country’s the skills development goals, he is insisting that they operate much more closely to government in the future. The full text of his address to the Seta CEOs is below.

Minister of Higher Education and Training address to the SETA Forum

7 Dec 2010

SETA CEOs, Chairpersons and Deputy Chairpersons of the Boards, I am grateful that we have this opportunity to meet today and engage on a few matters that are of interest to us all. It is just over a year since the skills development function was transferred to my department by the president. While there has been some interaction between the SETAs and the department and I have had the opportunity to meet with some of you, this is my first formal interaction with this forum in the manner in which it is constituted today.

On 3 November I announced the new SETA landscape which is effective from 1 April 2011. Despite the calls from some circles to close down the SETAs, I have, with advice from the NSA and my department, opted for the announced option.

There are various reasons for this, but the most critical is recognition that SETAs are important institutions. The New Growth Path identifies skills shortages (poor quality of education and training/skills development) as one of the major constraints that need to be addressed to realise its objectives. High levels of education and training are also critical if we are to address the challenges of poverty and inequality in our country. The three summits held by the department during the course of this year, and particularly the Skills Summit in September, in fact underscored the importance of SETAs in the education and training landscape, and the critical role they must play going forward.

It would have been folly for me to close down the SETAs given the expectations and the challenges we face as a country. We therefore have to reflect critically and ask ourselves whether in their current form, SETAs are up to the task of addressing the skills development challenges facing our country.

Undoubtedly, over the past 10 years of their existence, work has been undertaken in the SETAs that has contributed positively to our skills development initiatives. However, challenges remain, some of them very serious, and I will raise these forthrightly in the interests of boldly addressing them. I am sure you will join me in this effort.

The configuration of government in the past has contributed to some of these challenges. The location of education and training institutions in the former Department of Education and the skills development infrastructure in the Department of Labour made it very difficult to bring about the necessary and required synergies in education, training and skills development. It also made it difficult to ensure articulation of programmes/qualifications between the sub-systems of post-school education and training, for example FET and higher education.

The integration of education, training and skills development in a single department, affords us the opportunity to address this major challenge.

Having indicated my view regarding the value I place in the SETAs, I nevertheless think we need to initiate some drastic changes in these institutions if we are to convince the public that they are worth having, but more critically if we are to achieve our goals of skilling our nation. I want to mention here today a few critical areas of concern for me.

Let me first clarify my relationship as the Minister of Higher Education and Training to the SETAs in order to properly contextualise this address to you today. The Skills Development Act establishes the Minister as the Executive Authority for skills development and SETAs as implementing agencies of the Executive Authority. The problem is that because SETAs have their own Constitutions and their own boards appointed in line with their Constitutions, and under the PFMA, these boards are the accounting authority and CEOs the accounting officers, SETAs have increasingly become organisations who believe themselves to be – or at least act in a way that presents themselves as being – ‘independent’.

Some SETAs have gone so far in defence of their independence (from the state) to consider taking the state to court, actually believing that an institution set up under an Act of Parliament to carry out a state mandate has the right to take its own government to court. Isn’t that bizarre? Not all SETAs go quite this far, but many SETAs are quite prepared to go to the press and publicly criticise their Executive Authority. Of course, this couldn’t have happened if the Executive Authority had used its executive authority in the way that was envisaged when the SETAs were established. Action by some SETAs in extending and defending their independence and inaction by the Executive Authority have combined to lead us to this position.

SETAs are criticised for failing to align their work with government and sector priorities. This has resulted in the public questioning the value-add of SETAs and the importance of SETAs has been reduced in the public mindset. Yet SETAs are critical institutions in our education, training and skills development landscape.

Perceived distance with its own implementing agents means there is a top down and compliance driven relationship; instead of a qualitative relationship where the department and the SETAs share responsibility for a common direction and where the Executive Authority is able to drive the transformation that is so critical to our growth and development via these institutions. We need to move away from this perceived distance and compliance driven approach. Next to the SETAs’ logos, there is the SA government mast. This joint branding is there to communicate to stakeholders and the public that SETAs are institutions of government and therefore carry a mandate of government.

There is a widespread perception, which I believe is at least to some extent true, that the SETAs have generated a whole new industry of service providers who have not prioritised training that matches the intentions of the SETAs. They have instead created parasitic and sometimes even corrupt relationships in the skills development arena.

SETAs are also not adequately making use of our public education and training institutions, even where these have capacity. Instead, they are opting in the first instance to use private providers, including some with highly questionable credentials and levels of quality.

All of the above are of serious concern to me, and I urge you to work with us to address these matters. Since taking over responsibility for the SETAs in November lat year, I have spent an enormous amount of time discussing the SETAs with departmental officials, as well as engaging a variety of stakeholders and listening to ordinary people about their views on the SETAs. We can have a theoretical debate about all of this but I would advise that this would be a wasteful use of our time. If necessary, legislation can be changed. So what I want to emphasise to you today, is that the Executive Authority IS going to be emphasised and SETAs ARE going to become partners with the Executive Authority in implementing the will of government.

In this regard, let me raise a number of critical issues that I think we must address if we are to make a difference in skills development and restore the credibility of our institutions in the public eye.

1. Addressing governance issues: the Constitutions of the new SETAs

Research done on the performance of SETAs has pointed out that the operation of SETA Boards and various related governance issues are a key challenge affecting the efficient functioning of SETAs. Before March 2011, I will be signing off the constitutions of the 21 SETAs as part of their establishment. I have instructed my department to finalise a framework of criteria to be used in determining and standardising these Constitutions. I must say upfront that I, personally, take these Constitutions very seriously. They represent a standard of governance for every SETA. By signing these Constitutions, I will be providing a platform for governance in the SETAs over the next five years.

I have therefore taken a close interest in the work the department is completing on the model Constitution to ensure the following are key interventions in that document.

a) Consistent governance standards across the 21 SETAs; and that these align to best practice standards. Boards in SETAs must maintain strategic focus and refrain from spending hours discussing procurement or operational management issues. Boards must become increasingly professional. There is no contradiction between the stakeholder representative model and professionalisation of Boards.

We believe that Boards will become more efficient through:

1. Introducing independent chairpersons

2. Limiting the number of Board meetings to a reasonable number

3. Reducing the size of Boards

4. Participation of the minister in the appointment of Board members

5. Having a standard remuneration rate for Board and committee members

6. Holding accountable Board members who do not carry out their duties as required

7. The minister’s participation in the appointment of SETA CEOs and other members of the Executive Committees of Councils, in line with similar practices in relation to public entities.

These measures will ensure that there is improved governance of SETAs and will free up the Boards to focus on strategy and sector skills development priorities.

b) We need to confront the problem of varying standards of Board fees in SETAs, as well as the varying salaries of CEOs. Some SETAs pay very high Board fees per sitting while others pay no fees at all. Without removing the flexibility of Boards to take some of these decisions, we must introduce some standards and benchmarks to ensure this does not affect the functioning of SETAs. Board members must be careful that they don’t trade in their authority by becoming vulnerable to excessive Board fees.

c) We must standardise financial structures and guarantee their establishment in the constitutions of SETAs. This is important to ensure that all SETAs align to best practice, PFMA and National Treasury regulations in setting up financial committees, their mandates and reporting.

I will not sign off a SETA’s constitution unless it adheres to this framework!

I will soon be appointing a Ministerial Task Team to be led by the General Secretary of Nehawu, Mr Fikile Majola, to look into the capacity and readiness of the SETAs to implement NSDS III, amongst other things. I have included in the terms of the Ministerial Task Team, a brief to find long-term and sustainable solutions with stakeholders on how to address the issue of governance of SETAs for the long term. Amongst other issues, the task team will look at the possibility of clustering services to address capacity issues in some of the SETAs, and also to achieve economies of scale. For example, there are certain administrative and IT services that could be shared by SETAs. Saying this does not give you licence to enter into large-scale contracts with service providers! In the short term, the SETA constitutions will be used to introduce the most obvious and standard best practice principles.

These Constitutions will take effect from 1 April 2011.

We will also seek to strengthen our own department so that it is able to effectively play its oversight role and, most importantly, give adequate support to the entire SETA system.

2. Training

I have serious concerns with regard to the relevance, quality, cost and access to training facilitated in the SETAs.

a. Sector Skills Plans

Developing Sector Skills Plans is core to the SETAs’ mandate. The submitted drafts raise questions about the seriousness with which these are accorded priority in some SETAs. Many SSPs don’t yield quality, credible information to guide learning programme plans by SETAs. The intense efforts in the Department over the last few months to restore the importance of SSPs, matched by the documents submitted by the majority of SETAs amplify my concerns.

Without credible information we cannot have proper skills planning, which raises questions about the relevance of training priorities developed by the SETAs. Concerns raised by many employers, who need middle and high level skills, that their needs are not met by the SETAs, are valid in this regard.

b. Quality and relevance of training

Only a third of training facilitated by SETAs leads to full qualifications and this is concentrated in a few SETAs. Overly focusing on training that does not lead to full qualification is not a good investment of the levy resources!

The attention paid to monitoring the quality of training by providers and workplaces is a great source of concern to me. SETAs must improve oversight over the area of workplace skills plans (WSPs) and annual training reports (ATRs) from companies. There is no point processing mandatory grant payments on receipt of WSPs and ATRs, without assessing whether the quality and distribution of training opportunities included therein results in benefits to the workers.

c. Per capita cost of training

The comparison between the per capita cost of training and the associated outcomes is disgraceful. The average cost of a learnership is R40 000 to R50 000 per year. Adding the associated administration costs, i.e. the planning costs, project management costs, costs associated with accreditation and procuring providers, certification etc – this could multiply threefold. Some of these learnerships are not even a year long.

SETAs accredit the training providers which they then appoint as service providers under them. Consequently, the favoured providers monopolise training and training material, escalating the costs further, but also playing the role of gate keeping.

d. Distance between SETAs and public training providers

Over the years SETAs have largely created strong partnerships with private training providers, neglecting public training providers. It is partly due to this reason that the type of training provided is of short duration not leading to full qualification, and very costly. As a result, we have not made a significant impact in the production of middle and high level skills through the skills development levy resources.

This does not mean that I do not value the role of private training providers. We have to achieve a balance and ensure that we take advantage of the subsidised public system in order to get more out of our resources.

3. Surplus funds in SETAs

Some SETAs have made requests to roll over funds to next year. This happens while at the same time there are serious constraints to supporting learning programmes in the public education and training institutions in particular. This is a sign of poor management and planning. We will introduce for the 2011/12 financial year a mid-term review similar to what we have in government’s mid-term cycle where budget projections are taken into account. This will be used as a basis for revising the SLAs going forward. This practice will ensure we bring an end to the accumulation of surplus funds by SETAs; whilst the need out there for training is not being met.

I am raising concerns that I am sure the public out there also have. And these are the matters that should be worrying us as a collective here. If we do not attend to these and other matters, then five years later questions will be asked about the need for SETAs.

As government and the Department in particular, we will have to do more to support the SETAs as well while we exercise our oversight role.

The way forward

We are improving the planning framework to ensure the NSDS 3 provides a stronger base for the SETAs, through the service level agreements (SLAs), to set targets that align with the sector skills needs – i.e. not a one size fits all approach – and ensuring an improved focus on the core mandate of SETAs.

The DHET and the SETAs must continue working over the medium term on strengthening and improving the credibility of information in the SSPs. The immediate focus is to have an improved SLA between the DHET and the SETAs. The SLA provides a strong basis for the Executive Authority to ensure SETAs focus on sector and national priorities in the context of the new NSDS 3, the post school landscape, the critical alignment with delivery institutions and increasing access to work experience and placements for college and university students and graduates.

This means that the SLA is restored firmly to being a cooperative agenda between DHET and the SETA over the financial year. In the absence of quality SSPs, we need research to inform these SLAs. The process that has begun involving the SSP review panel will continue in order to provide a researched SLA framework for every SETA that is based on current draft SSPs, research on the economic profile of the SETAs, and demand for priority skills. The process will culminate in a short list of areas which is pertinent for the SETAs to address in their SLAs with the DHET with specified targets and timeframes. Each SETA will submit a final SLA in the context of its SLA framework.

I have signed a performance agreement with the president, as is the case with other ministers. I cannot achieve the goals of this performance agreement unless the SETAs are brought on board. The Boards and EXCO of SETAs will be held accountable for the delivery of the SLAs. The SLA indicators are not only focused on numerical targets, but will also include qualitative targets.

We will be improving the performance management system to encourage, foster and promote the continuous improvement of the SETAs. We want to ensure the work of the SETAs is focused on the most pressing priorities in supporting the decent work agenda, economic growth and human development in South Africa. We will be setting up a performance monitoring and evaluation system for the SETAs that will be more than just a compliance-chasing exercise of meeting numerical targets. It will monitor the progress that the SETAs are making to deliver according to their mandates. Just as I have had to sign a performance agreement with the president, it is my intention to have each of you sign a similar agreement with myself.

There is an expectation that, as a collective, the Department and the SETAs should deliver sector specific skills interventions that help achieve the goals of the NSDS III, address employer demand and deliver concrete results and make a decisive impact on our agenda for a skills revolution in our country. Recently, I held a very successful meeting with some 67 CEOs (in some cases, their representatives) of big private companies and state-owned enterprises. They committed to working with us especially in the training of young people, particularly as artisans. With R8 billion in the SETA system, supported by the National Skills Fund, there is no reason why we cannot make a decisive impact on skills development in our country.

As the Executive Authority I prefer not to have an arm’s length relationship with the SETAs. These are critical institutions and my department will exercise its support and oversight role. I would like all of us to work towards the common goal of improving skills development in this country, and I am confident that we can achieve this if we are all committed to working together. We should find better ways to communicate and work together.

Let me also say I will not hesitate to act in instances where there are inefficiencies. One bad institution taints all of us. I will not sit back and allow one bad apple to rot the entire bag. Challenging my decision in order to protect the self interest of a few, at the expense of especially the millions of young black people and workers, will only strengthen this resolve.

I therefore expect that when you enter into the new phase on 1 April 2011, you will make several fundamental changes to your leadership, governance and strategy in order to meet the objectives of the NSDS III and maintain high standards.

The vision I have is of SETAs bringing about cooperation between employers and their workforces, represented by their unions. Expanding the training opportunities and skills levels of our workforce is a national challenge to which every employer has to rise; it is the SETAs’ job to bring that about.

We have an historical opportunity to mend the bridge that was broken between the education system and the training system. We must rebuild a unified and coherent education and training system. We must end this terrible practice of ‘short-termism’ – one day and two day courses do not address the qualifications and skills crisis that we are facing in this country. We must work together to achieve a highly skilled and highly qualified workforce. This requires longer term, sustainable programmes. We must not tolerate shabby, low-quality, useless training interventions that do not do anyone any good, but just make money for the provider. We must have a zero tolerance for bad training, training that leaves people no better qualified than they were before.

And we must treat the economic development strategy of this country seriously. We now have the emergence of sector economic development plans. The SETAs must make a difference. The SETAs must engage with these plans. The SETAs must be seen as credible partners in making things happen. If we can get a coherent, agreed national skills development strategy, agreed between all the stakeholders, and if we could turn every SETA into a well functioning, efficient, service delivery structure, and we can transform the NSF so that we have funds available not just for the formal sector but also for the emergent sector, for the poor and unemployed, we will come out of this review process more unified and stronger than we have ever been. And the SETAs will have a deserved reputation for making a difference to this country.

I wish you all a merry Christmas and happy new year. Drive carefully and stay safe during the holidays and come back invigorated to take up this challenge!

Thank you.

Issued by: Department of Higher Education and Training
7 Dec 2010

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29 thoughts on “Minister Nzimande introduces ‘drastic changes’ to the way Setas operate

  • Brian Moores-Pitt

    Hi Glenda,

    Thanks for your contribution.  Actually one IS trying to focus on solutions.  Its just that I don’t believe the Minister has really grasped the essence of it.  In fact, because he continues to face in the opposite direction, is he capable of doing so?  I see no reason to build a false platform of optimism on that foundation.  Frankly, I am not convinced that either he or his government are right for the job.   But since they have it at this time, we all have to start again from there.

    What is quite interesting is how quickly a number of potential solutions have been generated through this forum.  But that is not new.  Practitioners have been debating these issues for as long as I can remember.  We have always had optimists, pessimists and a range in between.  Clear thinkers, muddled thinkers and also a range in between.  But to what end?   Can we honestly say that adequate progress has been made in the 17-year timeframe to date or that it will do so on the strength of the current ticket.  Consider how far and fast the Chinese, the Indians, the Brazillians, the Russians, the Chillians etc are moving and where they will be relative to us 10 years from now.   Consider also the level of rising discontent (arguably not unlike the Chinese experience) in our own country.  Can we really afford another misfire!!   I think we need to be shouting from the rooftops that Rome is already burning rather than engaging in repeated academic debate with the new Minister responsible or mildly accepting failed structures and systems.   If we do we will also be to blame.

    But there is some potentially good news.  The World (even the Communist World) has discovered what works and what doesn’t to develop nations and economies.  This knowledge is no longer esoteric or in the realm of only the best and brightest.  In fact, over the past few decades it has moved from the intuitive to the experiential and now borders on precision in some places.   Much of it is enlightening too.  For example, we know from the Chinese that our continuing preoccupation with democracy is not actually necessary for massive economic development.  That seems to be another political construct and waste of rations.

    One thing we do need desperately for our government to spearhead is a climate of entrepreneurship and serious SMME development.  Personally I cannot see that image on the back of the new Ministers head or in any of his rhetoric.  I have never seen it in the SETA movement either.  I have seen the opposite though and am still shaking my own head in the hope that my distorted vision and hearing will clear in time.

    Hope you all have a happy Xmas and may 2011 be the start of real innovation and improvement. 🙂


  • Colin Dovey

    THE SUCCESSFUL SINGAPORE EXPERIENCE for their “labour” force:  (Now going for 20 years!!!)

    Several independent studies conducted to find out the reason for non-participation by workers in training included:

    · lack of need; lack of competence in English;  lack of time for training; lack of support from employers and peers.

    Earning survival wages, these older workers were compelled to do overtime or take second jobs. There is little time or energy left over for learning new skills which might allow them to live better on one job. Many also do shift work, rotating between night and day every other week or month.

    Having dropped out of school early, their grasp of English remains scrappy or non-existent. Over half the workers aged between 40 and 50 are il-literate in English. So taking courses, the bulk of them in English, is an exercise in futility. There is also the psychological barrier or fear of going back to the classroom to learn. These reasons, by and large, were often raised by these older workers for not participating in training.

    The study:

    Several initiatives for worker training had been mapped out, which included:

    · development of a national certification system for trade skills; provision of transferable skills training; building up an extensive training infra-structure; pilot schemes to telecast educational programmes over television; setting up an agency to conduct studies, and to provide information on the supply and demand of skills to help training providers, employers and workers to adjust to the rapidly changing industrial and occupational structure of the economy; setting up a network of training information centers to provide information and advice on training easily accessible to workers; and promotion of a respect for skills.

    Aside from government´s proactive support for worker training, such as in the areas of legislation and funding, other key players include the employer, the trade unions and lately the community self-help group.

    The community self-help groups act mainly as facilitators, that is to encourage as many eligible members as possible of their respective community to enroll for the relevant training programmes. They play a role too in identifying emerging training needs and niches peculiar to their community. Another possible area of contribution is in the development and implementation of train-ing programmes with a greater appeal to their respective community, such as the medium of instruction. Aside from joint promotions, community self-help groups also provide an avenue where successful workers are shown as role models. In addition, financial support, such as partially paying the course fees, and incentives are provided for those who successfully complete a training programme.


    Efforts at promoting a training culture in Singapore could not successfully be carried out solely by the government. The employers and the trade unions also play their part. The addition of the community self-help groups lends further support to this national effort.

    BN? Go there – forget about Cuba and Myanmar 🙂 – and here is the way to go:


  • Ashwell Glasson

    Here are my thoughts on what I think he should do. Dr Nzimande is going to address his predescessors’ mistake and obvious inability to affect meaningful change within the SETA landscape by doing it incrementally and not risk a massive shift instantaneously.To fix the SETA’s, one actually has to address everything. This is the obvious downside of a highly integrated or ‘joined-up’ education and training system. Casual observers do not always detect that some ‘SETA’ issues are actually issues emanating within the NSA/NSF and historically SAQA and the Department of Labour. Many SETA’s have performed well in some facets, whilst others have been mediocre and others downright dismal. Actually constraining skills development and human capital development in various sectors.

    Back on to the point though, as previously reported by others, the state of the SETA system is still not firm enough and service delivery focused. We need to separate the causal issues and factors that may be triggering this. Perhaps we should consider that there are issues of poor institutional design, poor leadership and of course downright abuses of governance and financial mis-management within the SETA landscape and along with the usual spectre of para-statal type problems experienced in South Africa.

    The issues of poor leadership, governance and mis-management are not unique to the SETA system and certainly not unique to the public sector, finally they are not unique to South Africa either. So although DHET might takes its time in addressing some of the challenges I am going to expand upon my current concerns.

    We need to go back to basics and concentrate on the core roles of an occupational skills development system, which really needs to focus on the following:

    1. Skills promotion through constant sector analysis (supply and demand), forecasting and thematic focus.
    2. True qualification articulation and portability between the three frameworks matched to people and sector performance requirements.
    3. Consolidating the application of RPL for a whole range of different purposes including the historical imperative of addressing ‘unrecognised’ workplace learning in a formal fashion.
    4. Providing multiple routes to access and apply for National Skills Fund (NSF) for aligned projects.
    5. Quality assurance of provision and learning.

    The biggest issue lies in the design of the SETA at a individual level. Well intentioned, but not well implemented. Having the skills development department, responsible for skills forecasting and levies management, plus learnership management as the imperative tool for addressing skills-shortages as well as the Education Quality Assurance department located in one institution is just not a good idea. You have the skills forecaster/grant distributor sitting with the politically motivated learnership manager and the ETQA manager who holds the keys to the ‘supply’ chain through accredited training provision.

    In essence, you have player, coach and referee all active in the same insitution, with mixed agendas and temptations. A fertile field for all sort of potential problems, that many SETA CEO’s have to manage on a daily basis and hopefully not succumb to.

    Skills forecasting and needs analysis should be based upon a standardised framework or template driven approach. The original work commissioned by GTZ on behalf of DoL was seminal, but too much of a guideline and not a clearly defined template with key indicators required at a detail level. This research and evaluation approach should be grounded in a system that pulls the total skills forecasting system into an integrated view of the national, provincial, sectoral and perhaps even local needs. It should move to a labour market driven approach, from a supply and education approach, which traditionally has struggled to quantify its impact to the market and policy-makers. The Skills Forecasting system should be live and dynamic not just a five-yearly exercise, but rather an ongoing participative mechanism for addressing the various sectoral and national issues.

    In essence a ETQA manager is under continous pressure from his learnership manager colleague to push through certain accreditation applications and possibly overlook certain compliance issues. So the quality assurance role of learning and learning provision, sits at second fiddle. Now you can see why there have been so few internal studies, impact research, tracer studies or research evaluations of accredited training provision by ETQA departments at a sector level. You cannot well have your own ETQA department conducting research into the quality of learnership provision, when you have to report on the success of learnerships to the DHET on a quarterly basis. Especially when there have been challenges, which most of us know have been the norm. Another key reason why the ETQA concept should be removed entirely from the SETA’s as an area of responsibility and placed within the future QCTO along with the resources required. This will alleviate current backlogs of accreditation, monitoring and evaluation work and also allow for a more transparent and ethical approach to quality assurance of training and education.This will also allow quicker turn-around times for applications and most importantly standardisation of accreditation processes, which are still highly diverse and disparate between the various SETA’s. It will also avoid the need for interseta MoU’s everytime a provider wishes to have a learning programme appoved by a SETA other than its primary SETA that it is accredited with. The current system takes too much time and even the public multi-purpose FET colleges face the same hurdles with the SETAs’ as we do. Efficiencies can be gained quickly through this kind of approach. With it residing at the QCTO, it will also allow DHET to streamline and obtain a clear view of the training provision landscape in one database, bringing single-purpose providers into the same competitive space as multi-purpose private and public training providers.

    The same goes for the grant/levy processes, where the learnership manager continues to place pressure on the levy/grant team to make more grants available for learnerships, potentially at the expense of other needs determined by the registered levey-payers. More than anything, learnerships as the tool of choice even influences the development of the primary skills forecast and promotions too, the Sector Skills Plan. Locking the sector into a five-year picture, from which there may be very little escape, once it has been gazetted and adopted in the DHET/SETA service level agreement. Learnerships should still form the core of the provision tool for skills development, but the learnership department should be changed to the learning Provision department. A department that focuses on promoting and providing provision-specific grants for certain types of qualifications tools that best match providing quality skills for specific sectors, occupations and occupational pathways according to industry and transformation imperatives. Whether it is an artisan or trade qualification, or say a skills programme, perhaps a graduate bursary for a specialised engineering masters degree. This could be done on a ratio basis, but determined by the skills forecasting and sectoral consultation. Some of which will result in short term interventions and others more structural in nature. Examples include providing grants for NQF level 6 qualifications for specific occupations for transformation purposes, such as BTech degrees for National Diploma graduates in scarce and critical skill areas.

    Things that seem to slip through the cracks a bit, are what I term thematic education and training issues of national importance (TETNI). These are cross-sectoral in nature, often dependent on the mandate and role of various government departments and strategies. This would include the impact of HIV/Aids, climate change, etc. Here the National Skills Authority and the National Skills Fund need to play a strategic role, providing catalyst grants and policy direction to address these macro-issues that threaten the potentially bright future that South Africa has. The need for a dedicated range of skills funding pipelines and windows for strategic long-term grants and thematic grants is growing critical, obviously this would need resources and expertise, as the previous DoL team that reviewed requests and project submissions under the previous minister of labours leadership were too slow and lacked project evaluation expertise. Which frustrated various provincial governments, SETA management and the sectors alike.

    The legacy influence of the Department of Labour perspective on the universities contribution to the skills debate needs to be broken, as it really has also limited the universities roles (especially the Universities of technology and the Comprehensive Universities) in provision for skills needs.

    The imperative behind the occupational or workplace experietial component is one of the greatest principles of a robust education and training system and we know that our labour market has shed more jobs in recent years than our social-protection system can cope with, as evidenced by an ever-growing militant youth rightly demanding support and opportunities to participate in the South African economy.That is my rather lengthy input on what I think we could do to improve the system somewhat.

  • Glenda Wendy Shuttleworth

    Hi Des, Frank, Colin, Johannes, Brian, and others…. so we looking for a solution?  Firstly I like that attitude rather than blame and saying nothing will work.  Thank you for your participation on this topic.

    I am only human, and it is Friday but let’s try,…..


    Well a start is too change the seta site visits to more focused on why the training is happening, …. ROI for the company, … measurer actual performance of learners in the work place (I have a real time, down to sms, seta performance management tracking and improvement system that can link to any training and OFO’s) (we are currently talking to some Seta’s who will hopefully give it to providers to help them)


    Is actual behaviour changing on a long term basis and is it been transferred effectively into the work place.  I.e. are the persons KPA’s changed by the training and has it helped the company’s competitive edge?  This is measurable as we all know.  So don’t only look at bums on seats but look at labour turnover, profits and loss (and what changed these), market share of the company, …. Not only did the bums sit on the right seats.


    Also the Seta’s themselves must be measured and set to perform at high standards or lose their jobs.  Our whole industry must step it up a notch or two every now and again. 


    Unions can be brought into whole picture and shown actual results and statistics and costs.

    “If everything seems under control you’re just not going fast enough – Mario Andretti”  change is scary!  Change is hard! Change is needed!


    Colin told us how he has seen this balance working in Singapore!  As Colin sais “The balance that needs to be achieved is currently being successfully demonstrated in Singapore where the IS the balance between UNIONS, service providers, educators and the government”


    I am open to all of your ideas but just think we need to focus on a solution and not only blame. Balance is the way to go.  Colin please tell us more about Singapore?

  • Colin Dovey

    Glenda – I love your positivity. We must not forget though, that the Minister is an avowed Communist, who will promote collectivism, and State control. Private enterprise is not his wont. The balance that needs to be achieved is currently being successfully demonstrated in Singapore where the IS the balance between UNIONS, service providers, educators and the government. It is well documented, IT WORKS, and they do not need to re-invent the wheel, or some Cuban idea.

  • Des Squire

    I really love the thinking expressed by Frank, Glenda, Colin and others. My question would be how? All the ideas expressed sound great in principle but if you were to offfer advice to any of the SETA CEO’s or to the Minister himself please give an indication as to how these changes should take place? We are all very good (myself included) at telling others what we believe should be done but i am eagerly awaiting someone, on this site in particular, saying how should and can be done. What are the actual approprite and applicable solutions to what we see as the problems? Let’s try out our solutions by seeing them in action.  

  • Frank Smit

    Hi Glenda. Yes of course the unions should be working with the companies in the interests of the economy, but have you seen that happening here with all the strikes? Not likely. The unions also have no interest in the unemployed who are not represented by them and who are competition for their jobs.

  • Frank Smit

    Glenda I like your positive comments, but for me this is like that great Outcomes Based education plan. Great in theory but implemented centralistically by a government that has proved generally incapable of local implementation and service delivery. It is great to hear about accountability all of a sudden – but where has this basic management principle been hiding for the last 10 years?


    Just so we know what this is about, Blade talks of the benefits to the “workers”, not the benefits to industry or the competitiveness of the nation. He says “the vision I have is of SETAs bringing about cooperation between employers and their workforces representeed by their unions”……! How are the unions going to make us more competitive and what do they have to do with education and learning??

    I have no doubt that there are patches of good in the SETAs system. But the question I always ask is if you want to find a good book on Strategy or Sales or Project Management, and you go to Exclusive books, do you go to the SA Business Books section only (ie the “approved books”), or do you look for the best book available no matter where it comes from? In fact do you go Exclusive Books at all or to Amazon? Nobody in their right minds would search “Setas” on google for this information. 

    By definition the SETA system, with its insistence on only local accreditation of material and only local providers, excludes a huge amount of great international learning which is readily available but does not comply or match these parficular standards. It matches other standards (like the international PMI standards for Project Management for example) and may be excellent material supported by people with excellent degreed qualifications and experience, but to be eligible for subsidies or grants, it has to be locally accredited and delivered by accredited organizations with accredited assessors and moderators…

    If you add to that the minister’s position that qualifications are the only way to do this (he is clearly against short courses), then we add another level of interferance and bureucracy into the mix. If, as George says somewhere below, some SETA’s are already insisting that suppliers have to be providing full qualifications in order to remain registered as training operations, then a large number of very innovative smaller providers will be unable to carry on and will be lost to the industry, just as all those brilliant teachers were lost when they took the package.


    What Blade wants is even more central control and regulation operating in the interests of the workers. That by definition is anathema to an efficient system operating in the interests of the economy which provides the employment to the workers.

  • Glenda Wendy Shuttleworth

    I have been a seta verifier for various SETA’s and even trained some of the seta’s staff. I feel that seta’s have made a big change and a good impact on the training and development industry. They moved the measurement from ‘number of bums on seats’, to the competence level achieved. I feel this was a huge improvement. But, still further improvement is needed to make the “applied competence” sustainable and a new habit.
    The minister also said “There is no point processing mandatory grant payments on receipt of WSPs and ATRs, without assessing whether the quality and distribution of training opportunities included therein results in benefits to the workers.”
    I agree, the training should not only benefit the employees, but also make the company more competitive in the long term as well as benefiting our country as a whole.
    I am glad to see that the minster and his department have signed a performance agreement with the President. People perform to what you measure, and like providers, so should our government and our seta’s be measured. In measuring their performance it should not only be on numerical targets (people trained or numbers competent), but will also include qualitative targets (actual changes in companies and industries performance, in a sustainable way in the work force on a day to day basis).
    Seta’s should be more than a check list and should consistently be about actual, transferable and sustainable change that matters to our economy, our ROI on training and our country. We have an amazing country and as a verifier, a self development trainer and author, and most importantly, as a South African who loves our county, I want to see a major turnaround. This turnaround must lead to greater ROI, better focused companies, job creation, better customer service and focus, and eventually to a more competitive country and reduced crime. The seta’s job should be to measure this actual change in behaviour over a long term. The setas should insist on longer term, sustainable change in the actual work performance and on actual work place issues that matter.
    The minster also said “We must have a zero tolerance for bad training, training that leaves people no better qualified than they were before.” I agree, but would like to suggest we take it even further: Seta’s should insist on changes in employee’s workplace performance where it matters to the company’s bottom line and to our country as a whole! Let’s make it work together instead of trying to blame others and the past! Let’s at least try to keep the passion and desire for people development and our country alive and developing, and make it work!

  • Brian Moores-Pitt

    Good political speech Blade! Just what we expected from one whose judgement has always been obscured by exclusively centralist perspectives. Should help to defer the problem long enough to see you through the next election though. Then go out and try to make a silk purse from a sows ear! If that doesn’t work then scrap the entire system, as in school education, and if the country is still intact by then, retire with a golden handshake and hand over to someone else to start again. On the other hand, if through some amazing twist of fate your vision cleared, you might recognise just how badly you and the rest of this country needs the private sector – warts and all. Yet, rather than free it up, you continue to bite the foot that stomps your grapes. Flawed government policy and self-serving bureaucrats in the SETA movement has inhibited meaningful progress in skills development for the past ten years. Take a look at the new growth nations around the world and identify the key drivers of their progress. Their approach appears roughly opposite to yours. But then we should expect that from one schooled in obsolete political philosophy. Nothing inspirational coming out of that source!

  • Des Squire

    The minister is appointing another ministerial task team to investigate the ability of the SETAS to implement NSDS III. This should have ben done ten years ago – not now – if they do not already have this ability then who do they exist?
    What about all the private providers who are offering qualifications but are not registered with Umalusi – and this with the knowledge of SETA CEO’s. What shocks me most is that these institutions are being funded by the SETAS yet the qualifications being offered are not legal as the provider is not registered.
    Yes, some of the the SETAs have become a law unto themselves but now all that is going to happen is that the Minsiter will prescribe what happens and the SETAs will be blamed when it fails. Performance agreements sound good in principle but there must be some form of performance management.
    The skills devlopment levy is now about to become another tax as anticipate at the outset – it will now be used to fund the FET Colleges. (BUSA need to do something about this now)
    The minister “will not hesitate to take action against inefficient SETAS” in the future – But he condones the inefficiencies of the past and indicates his acceptance of such behaviour in doing so.
    The Minister states that “Expanding the training opportunities and skills levels of our workforce is a national challenge to which every employer has to rise” – employers have always done so and continue to do so but the Government cannot carry on “flogging a dead horse”. what companies were willing to do in the past and what they might now be willing to do has been destroyed by the prescriptive attitude of government and the ongoing calls for more and more support. Enough is enough to my way of thinking. I would like to be more positive on this issue but feel this is a futile effort once again.

  • Colin Dovey

    Donavon – I know where I see BN sitting in Jhb, at a well know hotel, smoking Churchill cigars, beneath a portrait of Churchill…….The Mount Nelson in CT is another. make your own mind up as to whether he has got the interests of the workers at heart.

  • Catherine Martin

    I have worked with and in one of the SETAs in the past 10 years, and am so disillusioned that I’m re-training to do something other than consulting in the skills development business. I think we need to be fair to the Minister. He ahs addressed some of the key probblems faced by SETAs, i.e:
    1. Shaky configuration between the learning and employment departments in the past , with DoL having no idea what it was supposed to do with Skills Development. At least Blade feels accountable.
    2. The governance issue: The board of the SETA I worked with was populated with industrial relations experts and gullible, self-important nobodies, where political affiliation mattered more than getting the job done. So yes, smack them with consequences and they’ll scuttle off.
    3. The financial systems of the SETA I know are scary. Dictate reports, emphasise mid-year reviews.
    4. SSPs: Some SETAs don’t know what those are. In one case Chambers, who were tasked with developing the sub-sector plans for the SETA to verify and consolidate, were dissolved. Quality of WSPs and ATRs: industry has pushed its luck and gotten away with it (and laughs at SETAs behind their backs).
    5. Qualifications: (Other than artisan qualifications, which are sorely needed).. sorry, Minister, qualifications are not going to put bread on the table. Turn our workers into world-class employees through visionary leadership, just-in-time training and goal-focused incentives. Design good role profiles and career paths, and promote people based on merit. We can talk qualifications when the country can afford them.
    6. Training costs: Some private providers are milking SETA funding and holding a gun to industry’s heads…and transferring no skills. Because of poor vision & low skills, SETAs cannot improve the situation.
    7. SETAs and public providers: Universities think they’re one step above everyone, FET Colleges are happy to grovel in the proverbial…let’s face it, if you get hand-outs from the state, where’s the incentive to produce? Some may be crooked, but at least private providers understand business.

    In order to move ahead, the Minister must not only focus on long-term structures and systems, but he must also ensure that there are sufficient numbers of go-getters on the ground, ready to tackle the skills problem with vigour. He’s unlikely to get that from state employees, I’m afraid. He needs the private sector, so best befriend them now. Fire the incompetent SETA executives (and there are a few!), simplify, standardise and cluster appropriately the quality management system; extend the 3-year life of just about everything so that we can see results; and annihilate anyone who does not perform against pre-agreed performance criteria. Now, that’s really putting your w…. on the line, Blade.

  • Khoete Gilbert

    There is a hope! we are here to help our country to be the best on skill development, Minister u got our surport this time around, i think even service provider must sign performence agreement, we serouisly need a skill in this country….

  • Fabian Carey

    I would need to chew a while longer on the Ministers speech in order to analyse where he is going and where it comes from. I can however boldly say this: It does not matter how brilliant a plan he has, if those tasked with implementing it are there for the wrong reason, it will not work. We are speaking of a sector that deals with the education and skill development of the nation. it goes without say that every person employed in this sector should be properly qualified and themselves have the skill and passion to carry out their mandate. From CEO to fieldworker, an audit should be done to determine capacity. If the intended purpose of SETAS is to be realised we must engage the right people. I would at some time like to engage the Minister on the issue of using NGO’s as service providers. ( Fabian)

  • Mzukisi Moyikwa

    To me, it makes sense to get SETAs to account on why they still have so few training providers. Some SETAs deleberately make it so difficult to get accreditation because they use other training providers as evaluators who should ensure that there are fewer providers entering the system.

  • George Fourie

    Dont take to much note. In 2 years time there will most properly a new minister with a new set of excuses why the plan did not work. This whole strategy is politically planned (The more you control, the more money you make). We can shout day and night it wont make a difference. It will get more difficult to be a private training provider. Why do you think the SETA’s drag their feet to be of any assistance. Pathetic bunch of incompetent ………………….. (Apology for being so negative, but i have just been informed by the HWSETA that my full accreditation will not be renewed unless i only present skills programs as from April 2011.)

  • Colin Dovey

    Perhaps, at the risk of pushing my point too much, just consider this about Singapore:

    Against a backdrop of full employment and a robust economy undergoing restructuring at a rapid pace, one of the more fundamental challenges facing Singapore is how to remain competitive. All these are happening amidst a worklife that stretches beyond 55 years and the growing demand for a highly skilled labour force. Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew was quoted to have said that “technology is changing so fast that if we don´t get the workers up to mark, they may be out of jobs because they cannot work the new machines that may come in. I´m doing it in my 70s.”

  • Michael Ludeke

    The Minister is maybe missing one very important point here, it is common knowledge that public education entities e.g. higher education is extremely reluctant to be an active player in the skills development arena. There is very few (if any) universities that practice RPL according to legislation and as far as the alignment of modules, programmes, subjects etc. i.t.o unit standards goes it is once again higher education that has missed the bus by not wanting to get on it in the first place. That is one of the main reasons why SETA’s use private providers because private providers know they have to comply in order to get the business.
    Yes there still are fly by night providers that is only in it for the money and who seek out every loop hole in order to get accreditation, but that is why quality audits is not a once of exercise, but rather an ongoing event that ensures that the beneficiery (the learner) receives the quality as prescribed by the accreditation guidelines.
    If quality of education is of such a high standard in public edution entities, why is it that the module, diploma or degree obtained from one varsity is not always accepted by another varsity?? Maybe the Minister should focus on that since higher education is his portfolio’s main concern.

    Imagine a situation where school leavers and people looking to further their education, goes to a SETA in order to get the relevant guidence and then be enrolled for a qualification. Why do I say that… Well the SETA’s are supposed to be aligned to an economic sector, so I would go to the SETA for a spesific sector, and enquire on scarce skills, employment oppertunities in the sector expected renumeration, and even demographics I mean al this information should come from the collated WSP’s and SSP. This gives me as a prospective learner a better idea of what I can do and how I will be absorbed by the economy. In addition to that I will be able to select a provider of education and training not based on the name of the university but select the time and provider that suits me best for that specific period.

    My point is SETA’s can play the most important role in this country’s workforce development, the basic requirements remain that you require dedicated people in the positions with passion for the role they fullfil, you need the mandate to have purpose and the drive will come from the people so desperately needing a proporly integrated education system.

  • Frank Smit

    This is a typical centralist, unionist type approach which is not surprising given where it comes from. Put more power at the center and things will work better! Hardly. Although is it working now?
    For the workers, where the SETA’s emphasis clearly lies, promoting qualifications makes more sense than promoting and funding short courses. I would agree with him there.

  • Mzukisi Moyikwa

    I have a sense that the minister has done a thorough research on the performance of various SETA’s. It makes more sense to have chairpersons of SETAs independent. Currently the chairpersons are stakeholders who have vested interest. As a small training provider, i find this speech posing a challenge, especially when considering that the Minister is not in favour of short courses. On the other side the requirements for being accredited as provider of qualifications are quite stringent. I wonder if the Minister has considdered the fact that some institutions of higher learning do not have the capacity to provide training against the requirements of ETQA’s. Thus, the insistence on using the such institutions may also pose a challenge. I would advise the minister to establish unit within his department that looks at training provider development. That would help cut cost of training, reduce monopoly in training, ensure quality of training delivery, maximise the outputs as there will be more training providers to deliver.

  • Colin Dovey

    Trouble is, Governments assume they can run these types of entities better than anybody else, and like all other parastatals, all the running they do, is to run them down, and then into the ground.