Understanding the skills shortage in SA?

By on January 14, 2013

Is the financial training offered by schools and universities adequate to deal with the skills shortage in SA? Natalie Zimmelman, General Manager, AAT(SA), investigates.

According to the Association of Accounting Technicians (South Africa), AAT (SA), that provides South African accounting staff and prospective accounting staff with globally recognised skills and qualifications, financial training offered by South African schools and universities follows an educational model that remains academically based, which means that our education system is aimed at creating knowledgeable individuals who generally have no idea how to apply their learning into workplace scenarios. This has resulted in many employers looking for financially skills creating a burdensome requirement for in-work experience for young job seekers or investing, at great expense, in the up-skilling of young staff.

The current South African labour market cannot supply the number of high quality, practical workers that are needed for industry to power ahead, and the current education system is not designed to prepare people for the world of work. Simply stated, we are teaching young people how to academically and theoretically ‘think’, and not necessarily ‘how to do’, which is critical to the enhancement of the South African labour force and consequently, the country’s economic engine.

With the unemployment rate among all South African 15- to 24-year-olds sitting at 51%, which is more than twice the country’s unemployment rate, a great need exists to ensure that South African youth are attractive to employers once they leave the formal schooling system, and this ‘bridge’ into employment can only be done through increasing white collar competencies amongst the youth.

The essential difference between competence-based training versus academic based training lies in implementation. In the model used by AAT (SA) a learner is only competent if they can do 100% of the job. This means that 50% is not a pass mark in its qualification. In fact, they do not use percentages at all. Either the learner can do the work and is, therefore, competent, or they have not yet learned enough to be able to integrate their knowledge and skills to achieve competence.

The effectiveness of this model can be seen in many parts of Africa. As an example, Botswana businesses have been known to prefer an AAT graduate over a university graduate. There are over 16 institutions offering the qualification and over 4 000 students in this tiny neighbouring country. It is seen to be the entry-level qualification of choice into the accounting sector and is commanding huge respect in the industry.

From a South African perspective, customised local government accounting qualifications have seen otherwise ‘hopeless’ entry level workers in local municipalities grow in confidence, coupled with equally strong growth in confidence amongst municipal councils.

With that in mind though, the success of the system in South Africa may seem minor in relation to the bigger challenge of creating employable school-leavers or graduates, yet, there are still alternatives open to those that are not top of the academic class. Bottom quartile academic pass marks do not necessarily preclude these individuals from meaningful employment in the South African economy.

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