Over the past few years the global economy experienced a shift from the traditional industries of production and manufacturing to service based industries. This led to the service industry becoming the largest source of employment and precipitating changes in employment. The implications for young unemployed people are that in areas where jobs are growing, higher qualifications and skills are required. But can our young people match this? Are they equipped for this emerging social reality? Are they currently in a career or vocational learning pathway that will make them more employable in the future?
According to the UK- based Work Foundation’s 2013 report these trends are likely to continue and good qualifications are now more than ever essential. In South Africa preference for a university education is still very strong, yet apprenticeships are just as important a vehicle for getting into work. Apprenticeships are seen as an indispensable mechanism to address youth unemployment.
It is true that in South Africa there is a recognition of how important apprenticeships are. For instance government has set a target of 50 000 new artisans by 2014 whilst the output is about 5600 artisans per annum. Although large intakes of apprentices by more employers are desirable, it is not always the case. Employers are constrained by the state of the economy and are also sometimes unaware of the benefits that apprenticeships brings to business.
The relationship between skills shortages and low economic growth has been established long ago and it is still frequently alluded to. Yet, despite our best efforts unemployment levels continue to rise and economic growth rates are continuously revised downwards. The Adcorp Employment Index 2014 reports a decline in permanent work and job losses in key economic drivers like the manufacturing sector. Economic volatility could partially be the reason for changes in the workforce as companies seek flexibility.
The benefits of apprenticeships are unknown to young people and employers. Young people don’t see it as a means to employment. Apprenticeships are paid positions and is a solution to unemployment problems. It is also critical for a skilled workforce which is indispensable for economic growth. The Work Foundation report also claims that recruiting young people through an apprenticeship is good for staff retention which has positive effects on productivity and reduces recruitment costs. Financial benefits for employers are also possible in the form of reduced tax liability.
There is provision for allowances to employers who sign an apprenticeship agreement with employees. Subject to certain conditions, these annual allowances can range from R30 000 to R50 000 for an employee with a disability. Employers can thus claim these amounts as a tax deduction.
Given the advantages of apprenticeships in general, it is imperative that government, business and training providers collaborate to harness these benefits. But, not all training providers are equipped to offer apprenticeships. Apart from the requisite accreditation, training providers should also have strong links with industry and be acknowledged as an experienced apprenticeship training institution. Overall, the system has its weaknesses too and the following steps are thus crucial:
• Encourage employer involvement so that the apprenticeship system can be responsive to their needs.
• Expand and strengthen the work experience opportunities for those who cannot access apprenticeships yet.
• Create more awareness and share information by publicising apprenticeships among employers.
• Develop and distribute a database of training providers who are accredited to offer apprenticeships.
• Encourage schools to promote apprenticeships as a valuable vocational pathway for young people.
• Reward employers who provide apprenticeships.
• Expand the government funding model