The centralising of functions within the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) will help to address the challenges within the diluted entities.
However, Sean Jones, MD of the Artisan Training Institute (ATI), says the management and allocation of funds would be critical to guarantee the SETAs sustainability beyond 2020.
Reform of the SETAs has been on the cards since 2015 in a bid to implement the National Skills Development Strategy (NSDS). Former education minister Blade Nzimande has been a vocal critic of the management and administration of the SETAs, followed by many attempts by the Department of Higher Education and Training to restructure them.
In August, the Department again called for public comment on the long-proposed ‘new landscape’ of the SETAs. In the call Minister Naledi Pandor gave stakeholders 21 days to respond with comment.
In December 2016, the SETAs were re-established for two years from 2018 to 2020. Published in the Government Gazette, Pandor’s most recent proposal stipulates four guiding principles for the new life of the SETAs post 2020.
One, that skills development strategies should be aligned with national priorities and an industrial policy framework. Two, that the SETAs should comprehensively cover all economic sectors. Three, that the financial sustainability and operational viability of the SETAs are pivotal. And four, that specific SETA functions are grouped together (the proposal suggests that the current 21 SETAs would be clustered in 15 groups).
Various spheres of society have expressed concerns about the third principle, specifically where it relates to the effectiveness of the SETAs and its spending of the skills development levy.
According to Jones, merely reducing SETA numbers will not necessarily result in improved performance. Performance of these bodies should be linked to job creation in the sectors they serve. In addition, industry should measure SETA performance based on the levels of engagement and professionalism of these bodies.
“The sustainability of the SETAs relies heavily on funding allocations. Centralised funding will not redress youth unemployment, especially if industry isn’t benefitting from the efforts they put into training,” he says.
Earlier this year, former minister, Hlengiwe Buhle Mkhize’s proposed changes to the Skills Development Act referring to a new policy to restore the SETAs. Consulting with the National Skills Authority (NSA), the sector had time to respond to this proposal until 31 January 2018.
As part of the amendments, the Department highlighted the removal of the regional SETA offices to create one central office. This will translate into shared operational resources such as HR and information technology.
“A tighter, more streamlined alignment of the SETAs is a key step in strengthening them,” says Jones. “This proposal will be able to predict scare skills more easily, but only if industry is properly consulted; and that’s been a concern for private sector training providers in the past,” says Jones.
According to Jones, the Department must delve deep into the consultative process and engage training providers and employers across different industry bodies, including small and medium enterprises, as the needs are very different.
“Consultation is critical. It drives straight into the creation of jobs. If you’re misaligning your focus on skills development, it affects the ability of youth to be absorbed into gainful employment,” he concludes.