Enterprising School Leavers

Enterprising School Leavers
Learning Brief

Further Education and Training Institute (FETI)


Category: Enterprising School Leavers | Alignment between training for trades and work | 19 January, 2014 - 20:00


What we do

This project aims to place 60 FET College students in the workplace through a curriculum intervention that makes students ‘work ready’. In consultation with Sectoral Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) and industry, three sub-economic sectors able to absorb employees were identified namely, Engineering, Hospitality and Wholesale, and Retail. In addition preliminary research has gathered employer views on gaps in college training that need to be addressed prior to graduates’ entry into the workplace.

Project context: Why a work-placement intervention is necessary

South Africa’s vocational sector has been in continuous policy transition since 1998 with the advent of the first FET Act. This has changed the landscape of the public colleges and 152 technical colleges were merged into 50 large FET Colleges. FET Colleges have also experienced a significant shift in the demographics of college students. They are younger and less clear about vocational career paths.

During this transitional process, the curriculum for college qualifications was severely affected. For over 40 years the FET Colleges offered NATED 191 (N1-N6) programmes as a recognised route to artisan qualifications. But in 2007, the National Certificate Vocational (NCV) was introduced at NQF levels 2-4 to replace the NATED qualifications. The results of this change were disheartening. Throughput rates for the first cohort of learners in 2009 were very low. Most of the intake learners were young, aged 16, who had left school after only completing Grade 9. Their inexperience and poor educational backgrounds led many to drop out of their training programmes.

Industry remains dubious about the effectiveness of NCV programmes to adequately prepare learners for the workforce – primarily because of the lack of practical training included within this qualification route. However in some sectors (e.g. construction) the industry has begun to acknowledge the NCV programmes as superior to the NATED qualifications.

Due to industry’s insistence, the NATED N1-N3 programmes that were in the process of phasing out were reintroduced at FET Colleges. Currently the N1-N3 programmes are quality assured by Umalusi, the quality assurance body for schools and FET Colleges. N4-N6 (NQF level 5) qualifications are quality assured by the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations, which is not yet fully operational. Partly as a result of these curriculum changes, FET College provision is viewed with suspicion by industry.

Students who have progressed to N6 need 18 months of work in a field related to their qualification in order to be awarded a diploma. Without work experience, students have an N6 theoretical qualification, which makes it difficult to find employment. While colleges attempt to assist students find appropriate work experience, the current global recession and relatively small economy impede successful placement of all students.

Our programme strategy is to help prepare students to gain employment and to help them find work so that they can obtain their diploma.

Lessons learnt

Lesson 1: Identifying marketable work skills

The key lesson learnt from this project to date has been the identification of ‘soft skills’ required for effective employment. ‘Hard’ skills, as well as proficiency in maths and communication were also stressed but we found that, overwhelmingly, industry identified softer skills as lacking in all graduates (not just FET College graduates).

Employees want soft skills such as:

  • Administrative and financial competencies
  • ICT proficiency
  • Attitudinal maturity.

Lesson 2: engage with industry

In addition, our project and recent research conducted by FETI has challenged existing perceptions that FET College provision is inferior and not adequate for industry demands. Engineering firms generally regard graduates with NATED qualifications from public FET Colleges as having sufficient knowledge to enter a workplace and be productive. Similar sentiments have also been expressed by other sub-economic sectors. Concerns from industry rested on attitudinal and administrative skills that were not directly related to students’ qualifications.

Lesson 3: consider learners’ choices for job-placement
In the case of this project, our initial thoughts were that we would target students in a three-year NCV course for job-placement intervention. This would allow them enough time to interface with employers. However, we found that the job choice of N6 students was informed more by the fact that there is industry recognition of N6 graduates as a post-Matric programme (i.e. industry demand driven decision), and less by their exposure to a wide range of employment options (i.e. personal interest choice).

Implications of these lessons for others

  • Similar programme interventions that aim to place candidates in employment need to go beyond informal or formal life-skills approaches. They must employ a collaborative approach with stakeholders (e.g. industry) to establish critical training courses, tailored to employment needs and employability.
  • Colleges need structured, targeted work-preparation /practicum requirements that candidates complete prior to graduation or job placement.
  • It is important to consider the learners’ own choice of employment placement.
  • Employment enables these graduates to obtain a diploma and therefore to pursue further studies at a university of technology. This broadens the project scope and creates a set of wider career and learning pathways for college graduates.

Future plans

Work is continuing on the development of appropriate curriculum enhancement and mentoring interventions in order that learners are prepared to enter the workplace. It is critical for this pilot intervention to succeed in order to build industry confidence in FET College provision. FETI is committed to a collaborative approach and it is likely that a public-private partnership approach to successful employment of college graduates will have long term impacts. On-going tracking of graduates in employment will be important to gauge the effectiveness of this intervention.

Further Education and Training Institute (FETI)

P.O. Box 659Cape TownRondeboschWestern CapeSouth Africa

 021 761 0603

In Short

This Learning Brief is targeted at managers of job-placement initiatives seeking to refine their programmes. It contains a list of marketable ‘soft skills’ that employees seek from FET College graduates, and it highlights the importance of engaging with FET Colleges and industry leaders to secure job opportunities for beneficiaries.

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