The school system and work readiness: What can South Africa learn from the UK?

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By CharterQuest, 04 November 2019

I have a good work and academic experience in South Africa and in the UK: the screening for the workplace in South Africa is mostly aligned with academic performance, whereas in the UK, the focus is on work readiness and ability to apply the knowledge. Could this be a major reason why youth unemployment is so high in South Africa compared to the UK?

In South Africa, many young people leaving high schools are not equipped with the skills they need to perform the jobs our modern competitive economy is creating e.g. basic customer service, marketing, office management and IT skills. These young people become discouraged when they receive low wages and often find only meaningless job opportunities in the retail sector, and employers then lose because they cannot find qualified employees.


In the UK, the government works in close partnership with employers, unions, civic groups, and other public and private sector organisations to help students develop the skills needed for the competitive job market. There are a lot of school-to-work programmes initiated and facilitated as a result of this close collaboration. I will briefly focus on two of these programmes: 

1) The Young Enterprise and
2) Apprenticeship UK

Young Enterprise is the UK’s leading charity that empowers young people to harness their personal and business skills. They inspire young people to develop aptitudes and attitudes that they cannot learn from the traditional academic curriculum. They offer a wealth of practical ways to help young people from the age of four up to twenty-five to get a taste of the world of work, and the excitement of running a business.

Apprenticeship UK on the other hand, gives students the opportunity of combining on-the-job training with studies (usually one day a week) meaning you can earn while you learn. With some apprenticeships, you can even get a degree. It usually takes between one and four years to complete an apprenticeship depending on which level you take. 

Apprenticeships in the UK are available across a wide range of industries and are offered by high quality, prestigious organisations. There is no question that South Africa has school-to-work programmes but a lot of emphasis is not placed on these programmes as in the UK. For this reason, I urge corporate South Africa to get more involved in shaping the quality of young people coming out of its education system as part of their CSI initiatives. 


In 1999, I started an initiative called Netspoon in KwaZulu Natal which operated for three years 

and eventually closed due to limited support and resources. Netspoon's mission was to ensure that every learner in the public school system was provided with computer literacy and IT training. The approach was to combine career development and counselling with "rigorous integrated academic and technical skills". 

It was imperative that we begin introducing higher order thinking skills at a much earlier stage of education for our youth and future workers. Netspoon attempted to address this need and did provide an effective example of school-to-work programme in action. 

The point here is, whether students are studying commerce or science-related subjects, informal learning is vital to their development and work competency. This does not only improve the skills they gain throughout their studies but improves their employability. With other nations systematically basing their economic strength and growth on improving the skills of their developing workers, South Africa may find itself unable to compete in the global market, unless if its educational policies change. 


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