A lesson in post-school education systems, from Switzerland for South Africa.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) reports that South Africa has the third highest youth unemployment rate in the world -after Greece and Spain - at an alarming 24.3%.This, in comparison to Switzerland’s unemployment rate of a mere 3.2%. Here are the facts:

South Africa

  • More than 60% of unemployed people in South Africa are between the ages of 15 and 29.
  • The unemployment rate among youth aged 15 to 34 increased from 32.7% to 36.1% between 2008 and 2014.
  • While young adults make up between 52% to 64% of the working population; they account for only 42% to 49% of the employed.
  • In 2014, close to two-thirds of young people were unemployed for a year or longer, while young people accounted for 90% of those who are unemployed and have never worked before.

Switzerland

  • Only 5% of Swiss people are without formal tertiary education .
  • 2/3 of school-leavers go through apprenticeship training to receive a formal certificate after 3 or 4 years. This training almost certainly guarantees smooth transition into the labour market.
  • The remainder school-leavrs attend university institutions and only experience temporary unemployment 3-6 moths whilst actively seeking jobs after graduating.
  • The country's youth apprenticeship programme is credited with one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe.

Vocational education and training

While close to half of the youth in other European countries cannot find work , a unique training programme in Switzerland has ensured jobs for nearly all who want one. The Swiss are eliminating the knowledge and employment gap with their VPET (Vocational/Professional Education and Training) system, otherwise known as the apprenticeship model, which enables young people to enter the labour market and ensures that there are enough qualified workers and managers in the future.

Speaking to Redi Tlhabi, Professor of Economics at the University of Berne, Stefan Wolter, said the system combines classroom training with practical work experience over a three or four year long apprenticeship programme. The programme also helps critically improve the pace of the transition from school to work.

Wolter says that artisan and skills training helps learners adopt an entrepreneurial spirit. He believes that the attitude developed through this training is invaluable.

I think the advantage of having this apprenticeship training system is that young people, at a very early age, learn the realities of the economic life and of the firm. Also, they learn the trade , they learn a profession. So it’s quite common that some, at the age of 25 open their own businesses.

This is what the VPET colleges offer in Switzerland:

  • Dual-track approach to learning: Part-time classroom instruction at a VET school is combined with a part-time apprenticeship at a host company.
  • Close correlation with the labour market: VET programmes closely match the needs of the labour market, both in terms of the skills and the number of available jobs.
  • Permeability: Training begins at uppersecondary level with learners having the option of continuing through tertiary level.
  • Career prospects: The programme provides learners with specific qualifications and prepares them for highly technical and managerial positions.
  • Graduation rate: In Switzerland, over 90% of young people hold upper-secondary level qualifications. The aim is to increase this figure to 95% by 2020.
  • Funding: Ten percent of federal funding is used to promote VPET programmes in Switzerland in addition to funding from companies and private individuals.

With the current skill-based technological change and shortage in our country, a better educated and more highly skilled workforce is an urgent priority for the South African economy. Since his appointment in 2009, Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande has tirelessly pushed for the repositioning of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges in the South Africa.

Last year he announced a range of measures - including the extension of TVET (formerly FET) colleges, in a move towards international standards , as well as the establishment of a new category of community colleges to help transform South Africa's post-school system.

After the release of the 2014 matric results, first-time university enrolment is at its highest this year. But according to the department, at least one-fifth of those enrolments are young adults over the age of 24. This reflects the great admission backlog at universities, for students who remained unemployed because of scarcity of space at universities, funding issues as well as a lack of interest in exploring the TVET alternative.

The department has urged school-leavers to focus on fields of study that are less saturated and to target gaps in the job market, by opting for one of the 50 TVET colleges accessible countrywide. Their top priority is to expand whilst simultaneously improving the quality of these programmes.

Minister of Higher Education , Blade Nzimande, on repositioning TVET colleges:

Professor Stefan Wolter unpacks the success of the Swiss Vocational Education System with Redi Tlhabi:

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