The Biggest South African Mystery of all Time 6


Business owners and managers are painfully aware of the constraints which skills shortages are placing on their ability to grow. At the same time we are sitting on a smoldering powder keg of unemployable youth.

The solution lies in our own hands, but why aren’t we seeing this?

South Africa: a rich legacy of mysteries-

We boast the Flying Dutchmen, a Dutch trading vessel which sank just off the Cape in 1641.  It is said that whoever spots the phantom Flying Dutchman at sea will die a horrible death quite soon.

We have the tale of the vanishing hitchiker of Uniondale, said to be the ghost of a girl named Marie Charlotte Roux who was killed in a motor accident not far from Uniondale in 1968 and whose ghost still hitchhikes along the road but vanishes after being picked up.

More recently Mbuyisa Makhubu, then 17, whose iconic picture is shown carrying the body of the dead Hector Pieterson, killed by police in Soweto on 16 June 1976, with sister Antoinette weeping uncontrollably at his side- he seems to have disappeared off the face of the planet.

The biggest mystery of all however is reluctance of companies to aggressively implement training strategies at this time.

Some facts:

  • Between 1994 and 2014 the South African youth unemployment rate climbed from 39.4% to 53.0% whilst the rate of youth absorption into the economy declined from 20.1 % to 12.3% 1
  • A million jobs were lost in South Africa between Q1 2008 and Q1 20132
  • From 2006 to 2013 South Africa dropped from 35th to 53rd place in the Global Competitiveness Index rankings.3

The 2013 Global Competitiveness Report stated, “The quality of the educational system is very poor (146th), with low primary and tertiary enrolment rates. Raising educational standards and making the labour market more efficient will thus be critical” 3

The South African economy is evolving from a resource based economy needing relatively large amounts of unskilled labour into a service and manufacturing based economy needing relatively smaller numbers of skilled labour. However 59.4% of the unemployed have not completed secondary education. 1

Within the South African supply chain management environment the lack of skills is being felt acutely, “Respondents ranked the lack of relevant skills and talent as their number one strategic business constraint. This is a major shift from previous years. With the education system of South Africa under increasing scrutiny, there is a clear gap between relevant qualifications and skills that are marketable in the workplace.” 4

This is where the mystery really deepens: currently the university dropout rate between enrolment and first degree completion is 85%, whereas the successful completion rate for workbased training/ experiential learning programmes such as learnerships is 86%! In addition, 86% of those who successfully complete such programmes are able to find full time employment, meaning that employers see good economic returns from these graduates.

The message is clear: if you need skilled people in your organisation, then workbased training/ experiential learning programmes are the answer. Why aren’t we seeing this?    

In realising that South African society needs a skilled workforce in order to be transformed, Government has, through the newly introduced B-BBEE scorecard targets, placed heavy emphasis on Skills Development. At the same time this area is so incentivised through cash grants and tax incentives that fully utilising these incentives achieves the same after tax profit as acquiring an “A category” client. Why aren’t we seeing this?     

What training strategy does your company have in place?

What do you see as the factors inhibiting the enhancement of  workbased training/ experiential learning programmes in your organisation?

Could a better understanding of the incentives available for training lead to more comprehensive training in your organisation?

Are C level executives in your company equipped to implement training strategies which will enable the organisation to increase its global competitiveness?


1. Haldenwang, B 2014 20 years of democracy: Is life better or worse for the ‘average’ South African? Institute for Futures Research University of Stellenbosch

2.South Africa, SS 2013 Mid-year population estimates 2013. Pretoria: Statistics South Africa

3. World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2013-2014: 2013 World Economic Forum

4. Barloworld Logistics. (2014) 2014 supplychainforesight. The Rise and Fall of Customers and Companies


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6 thoughts on “The Biggest South African Mystery of all Time

  • Charles Dey Post author

    @ Kevin. In my view we need to focus on the fact that, as business, we have an excellent, Government funded opportunity to address our skills needs and, by doing so, steal a march on our competitors. Endless research and reports have been written on the shortcomings of the system. It is the organisation which overcomes those shortcomings with the available Government money which is going to beat its competitors.

    @Carl. If an organisation put an ad on this blog (or other free websites) for an external SDF to assist them through all the red tape surrounding access to SETA/ SARS funding, I am very sure that they would be overwhelmed by the response. This is an opportunity for each industry to do is capitalise on this time of recession is to flood the market with highly qualified, multiskilled operatives through intensive training, thus reducing the need for poaching, head hunting and totally unnecessary expenditure on placement agencies.  


  • Carl Roodnick

    I’m wondering whether the various counter-productive Seta red-tape and accreditation/moderation run-around is not frustrating potential employers and their people development endeavours.

    Small-to-medium businesses for the most part are not in the position to employ full-time Skills Development Facilitators to monitor and complete the Workplace Skills Audits together with the reams of Seta admin, reports, etc.

    Even large corporates struggle. In the “war for talent”, “head-hunting” and “poaching” has plummeted to an all-time low, with one major bank recruiting multi-skilled teller staff at the teller windows of it’s major competitor!

  • Kevin Marlow

    Hi Charles, thanks for the informative article. It would be interesting to know the drop out rate across the various Universities i.e. what are the actual numbers per University. Some Universities entrance criteria, and due to number of applications, is higher than others. The head of the University of the Orange Free State is of the view many who are accepted to University should not have been accepted in the first place due to a “watered down” grade 12. Also what does the 86% successful conversion rate of learners equate to in numbers and what is the conversion rate across the various SETA’s. My experience in retail of the conversion rate of unemployed learners being taken on in learner ships is around 50%. Learner ships address a particular skills set which is different to University graduates and what of these are these marketable.e.g. A University in my area churns out HR Graduates however the market cannot absorb them and therefore they are unemployed or find it difficult to find employment.

    The difficulty business has in acquiring the necessary skills is that many of the unemployed or those that have left formal schooling are ineducable due to the poor quality of education they have received.My experience is that business has to go through an extensive screening process to ensure potential candidates have the basic requirements in literacy and numeracy before even interviewing – these are candidates with a grade 12 certificate. Solving the mystery involves focussing on delivering a quality education (schooling) from which a good base is provided for developing the relevant skills be it through learner ships or tertiary education. In addition the Labour Legislation which may be one of the most progressive in the world is not employment friendly according to the World Economic Forum. Companies are looking at how to work smarter with fewer employees not only due to costs but due to legislation.