Creating a skilled workforce amidst poverty and inequality

Creating a skilled workforce amidst poverty and inequality

South Africa has a high percentage of people below the poverty line. As most of these people are unskilled or untrained in any specific work or trade, they are largely ignored by industries. The problem facing government, the private sector and other stakeholders is how to find ways of inculcating skills in an overlooked group that is undereducated, inexperienced, all too often seen as unemployable.

Each year about 3,5 million enter the workforce, with only 1,5 million ever likely to find a job. Most jobs lie in the skilled sector – whether in finance, retail, construction, education, etc. Employment in labour has declined through all sectors due to a decline in mining, agriculture and the stagnation of the economy in general over the last decade. We have lost jobs to mechanisation, computers and downsizing.

So how do we help millions of people, hungry for training, proceed to becoming an asset?

Training minds and hands

Training and/or experience are the tools that give people access to work; tertiary education and vocational training are still the most vital routes to developing a skilled workforce. Unfortunately, both these routes can be costly to state and business when the population requiring upskilling generally resides in poorer areas; entry becomes limited for those held back by social and economic barriers, as well as distance from city amenities.

Visionary policy, philanthropy and corporate engagement need to merge in lowering the barriers to technical education and vocational training. But simply training people is useless unless there are jobs for them to go to, or potential for them to set up their own businesses.

  • Setting up the opportunities: the Artisan Training Institute (ATI) is a leading privately-owned artisan training centre offering a full range of technical training. Partnering with leading South African companies, training has been offered to over 500 unemployed youths, assisting them to achieve industry apprenticeship placements.
  • Success is attributable to: strong focus on quality training and successful outcomes. There must be a need for the training, and genuine employment beyond the training. And the trainers themselves must be competent and dedicated to achieving useful outcomes for the students, supporting and enabling young people to develop their talents.
  • Building on relevant structures: South Africa is fortunate in that it already has a clearly defined institutional framework in the National Qualifications Framework and the Skills Development Act. But for funding to be obtained for uplifting the unskilled into the job market, attention must be again paid to the probability of work beyond the training. The quality of outcomes, as well as the accountability of the training providers, will have to prove value before investments will be made.


Apprenticeships are crucial to growing much needed skills – but companies are not charities and opportunities will depend on expansion driven by investment. Bringing a low-grade workforce up to a more skilled level may take a number of years. However, there are ways to invest in the upliftment of people by investing in the future. When a company invests in people’s lives, they are actually developing the future economy, and ultimately the sustained growth of the company.

  • Evaluate potential for developing low and middle-skill jobs, and what will attract workers to take up this training, which can be affected through in-house projects, as well as partnerships with colleges or investors who see the future value of this training.
  • Find programmes within government, community colleges or online universities that allow employees to learn, while continuing to work.
  • Many workers who would like to gain skills or qualifications, can’t afford to do so, therefore it makes sense for a company to secure its future by funding schools’ programmes, scholarships – or even projects in rural areas which will impart skills to even the most vulnerable.
  • An incentive would be to offer employment to those who upgrade their skills significantly, thus providing a good picture of those who are motivated and who would be worth employing on a more permanent basis.
  • Consider offering work environments as locations for students, interns, and apprentices to gain valuable on-the-job experience.
  • Upgrading skills through significant industry involvement helps to develop the necessary frameworks for standards, curriculum and quality assurance.
  • Public/Private Partnership models should enhance, support and co-ordinate a much more robust approach to quality skills education and effective training frameworks.
  • Non-technical training is equally important: soft skills, design, communications, etc.

Why the agricultural sector holds a key

There is no doubt that training facilities should be fast-tracked by government and the agricultural sector remains a good meeting point between government and business. Developing skills in this area could prevent jobseekers slipping away to the edges of cities where poverty flourishes.

Training creates hope and self-esteem even in the least educated. Raising people above the poverty line with pride and responsibility acts as a powerful incentive to continuing development. Whilst the traditional role of farm worker may be diminishing, there are many other spin-off ventures such as spas, hotels, restaurants, construction, retirement villages, cosmetics, tourism, specialised natural food products, and the beverage industries.

Through government incentives, business vision and investor trust, a future can be built where the line of poverty and inequality is broken by empowerment and skills enrichment.

Managing projects, seeing results

Casidra is the acronym for Cape Agency for Sustainable Integrated Development in Rural Areas. Casidra works to implement and manage projects specifically designed to improve the lives of people and alleviate poverty. With our mandate as Agricultural and Economic Development within a Rural and Land reform context, we see ourselves as a catalyst for growth and sustainability, maximising outcomes by ensuring that we make a difference in people’s lives through effective project management.

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