New brand for FETs? Nationally, most definitely! 8

I would like to respond to Des Squire’s thought-provoking comments. 

Firstly, I do not think that yet another vocational institution needs to be introduced to an already totally confused public.  I agree that South Africans are title- and status-behep and that to be able to tell people that they were at a university of any kind, vocational or not, would most probably thrill the person to bits, but universities are really for academics and vocational learning should take place elsewhere, like at an FET college, private or public, or even at a University of Technology, depending on the type of skill required.

Secondly, I believe that FET could do with new branding, but nationally and that all the regional colleges should support the national brand.  After all, there are 50 FET colleges nationally but they need to share ONE brand so that you at least know what an FET college is.   In the Western Cape, the provincial brand is excellent.  The six colleges work together in a Marketing and Corporate Communications Forum (the first regional forum in the country, established in the early 1990s), which meets regularly and has a shared budget and which tackles joint campaigns like an Open Day , newspaper ads etc.  Their aim is to create and maintain a recognisable and positive brand, but there is no national brand despite numerous attempts to have one.  Other provinces have also followed suit, but once again, there should still be a national brand sending out the same strong, recognisable message and binding all 50 colleges together into one sector:  the pubic FET sector.

I am busy organising an FET leadership symposium at Stellenbosch University and would like national participation.  For this, I need a good database of all 50 FET college.  In my efforts to compile such a list, I have been amazed, for instance, at how different the email addresses are.  It is a complete hodgepodge of @feta, @whatever the college name is, or even,, etc.   All universities are @with the university initials like ufs, ju, sun, nmmu, uwc etc. followed by  All the same pattern.  As simple as that and the institution is instantly reconisable.

Finally, the worst is that most colleges nationally do not realise the importance that the frontline person in an organisation plays in the branding exercise, namely the receptionist.  It is your first contact with the college and is actually the face of the college and forms your first impression.  Phones rang constantly without being answered (especially after 15:00) or else answered in the most unprofessional way by someone who has hardly mastered English and the caller has to repeat “I’m sorry I can’t understand you” to the point of embarrassment and the person answering seldom has the right information such as even the name of the CEO (!!!) or an email address.  The person also thinks nothing of breathing heavily and nasally into the mouthpiece while making a desperate search either for someone who might know (this was not offered but usually requested by me) or a piece of paper that could inform her or even puts you through to a totally wrong extension where that poor innocent has to sort out the problem (and you, the caller have to repeat your enquiry for the umpteenth time).  These people are obviously not trained and many are “standing in” while the actual incumbent is “out to lunch, so please phone again later, say after 14:00”, which you may as well do tomorrow morning as 14:00 is often not 14:00.  It all made such a bad impression and I was left thinking that it is small wonder that people think public FETs are useless and incapable of running a decent organisation!  Harsh words indeed!  But I was thoroughly disillusioned!  Branding is not only visual – it needs to support the entire organisational culture or else it is simply window dressing!

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8 thoughts on “New brand for FETs? Nationally, most definitely!

  • Steve Short

    Hmmmm.  The Business Day article that I just read ( quotes Minister Blade Nzimande as saying “THE billions of rand allocated to sector education and training authorities (Setas) must be diverted from private training providers to further education and training (FET) colleges”. 


    To my mind the Minister’s statement is a far more important issue than branding of the FETC’s. While some contribute significantly, the performance of others has been woeful.  It is widely accepted that their pass-rate has been poor and there are rumours concerning poor skills evidenced by many FETC graduates.  Branding will simply gloss over the toxic problems that exist within the entire FETC system.


    We all know that “fly-by-night” private providers have done much to harm the image of this sector – many have benefited from SETA grants and/or work from government agencies via shady tender processes.  However, there are many more private providers who are doing outstanding work.  Will this be the death knell of private providers, or will sanity prevail?


    Alas, even the most well intended strategy is doomed to fail if government decides to do this on its own.  “Cadre deployments” alone will certainly not provide the skills pool required to feed the needs of the economy.  Neither will any amount of spin doctoring or branding.  Bluntly put, one can’t stop a leaky old ship sinking by slapping a few new coats of paint on it.

  • Irene James

    Fantastic, Catherine! It is essential for folk who care about worthwhile training and education to express these truths.  We have watched the pathetic demise of the public FET colleges for far too long, and, as Private FET Colleges, just smiled knowingly when Blade Nzimande threw his weight behind this lame duck, and left the accredited Priavte Colleges out in the cold. No amount of support from Education Ministers for these Public Colleges will make the difference – they can throw as much money and effort as they like at the sinking ships – they will still drown and take a whole lot of young hopefulls down with them. Which is so sad and unnecessary.

    Unfortunately, when the FET public colleges were rationalised and “re-invented”, they painted the shabby buildings, changed names and erected new signage, but kept the dead wood staff (with exception, of course !  There are a couple of devoted long suffering individuals still in the system). A couple of wasted years down the line, everyone should be made to reapply for his or her job.   Then they should do proper needs analyses on those who will be re-appointed to determine the gaps in performance (including simple essential skills such as reception customer liaison) and thereby start building the credible reputations of the public FET Colleges. An organisation is only as good as the performance of its staff/employees. This may mean that they focus on the staff’s strengths (alias Marcus Buckinham) and gradually improve their weaknesses – if they are essential for further development.   If not, continue focussing on the staff member’s strengths (for example if they are wonderful facilitators and hopeless administrators, hire some administrators to leave the facilitator to get on and do what he/she is best at – facilitating.)  Alternatively source good staff with the competencies to “fill the gaps”. There are excellent private registered FET Colleges that could be approached for help.  (And don’t tell them that they must do it for nothing – it takes hard work and years of dedication to build a reputable brand that Corporates return to year after year.  Why should they share their expertise for nothing? After all, the Private Provider is not subsidised as the Public ones are, and time is money!) MAYBE ALL PUBLIC FET COLLEGES SHOULD BE PRIVATE COLLEGES! That would teach them the value of delivering a good product and being accountable!  

    We have recently seen how “competent” some of our Education leaders are.They should stop being in denial, and take some lessons from the Western Cape and countries such as Germany (with their dual system).  We are all tired of the politically loaded empty promises. Let’s get on with the job of educating our poor youth before they riot – again.

  • cindypayle

    I agree Peet, the poor management of FET colleges should first be addressed before we try to make it attractive to youth, in fact the appeal is likely to grow once the administration is improved. Also If we try to improve the ‘image’ of FET colleges aren’t we just confirming that image, not substance, is important?

    i think we need to teach young people to think critically about their education and careers, rather than try to sell them an idea. Wouldn’t the money be better spent by employing informed career advisors who can create awareness about skills shortages and potential growth sectors in the country, councillors who can help young people make informed decisions about what to study and where they need to study to become qualified. lets move away from external motivators and look at ways of empowering our youth.

  • Patrick Fish

    Hi Catherine,

    Good to hear this conversation starting.I’ve been banging this drum for a couple of years. If government set aside 10% of the annual cost of failure at university via drop-outs and put it into a marketing campaign for the colleges, we could solve the inverted pyramid in 5-7 years. And have students going to tertiary institutions where they could succeed and become productive citizens. 

    I did a short presentation for MACE in 2009 that gives the bare bones of my argument. I was way ahead of the times apparently!  Available here:

  • Kosheek Maharaj

    Good day

    I share your sentiments, FET as a brand needs to be explained to the Parents of Sa Learners, Why would a parent send his kid to an FET. What has the Dept of Higher Education done to Educate the Parent on the offferings of an FET. Parents are aware of the offerings of University and now that Billions are going to be spent on FET from the Skills Levy and the Minister wants to make FET a BUZZ  Word in Sa and Post School Education.

    The big thing is that We all want our kids to pass matric and then go into to Post School Education. When you enter into a FET does a learner start from a level higher than Gr 12 or does he revert back to Gr 10.

    If he reverts back to Gr 10 then he will continue to do N courses, my understanding is that they want to re intoduce N courses at FET, N4 = Gr 12.

    So if a learner leaves sschool at Gr 9 Will he be acept at a FET fro Gr 10, and is the FET Qualification = to a Matric/

    These are basic questions which need to be communicated, the green paper on Post School Education has nto done jusctice to this Message to SA parents and more especilaly majority of our parenst are PDA (previously disadvantaged) and are un educated in rural SA.

    How do we make a learner choose between an FET and University. We also need to know Sa learners and parents want Sa Learners to have a University DEGREE,

    is an FET = to a DEGREE, is it recognised if we leave the Country to work as an Expat for a International Company in this Global Economy.


    How do we find answers?

    Kosheek-My Sa Career Guide