Enhancing Employability

At the height of the 21st century, advances in technology have produced an ever-changing and dynamic labour market. Given this, the concept of lifetime employment in one chosen job – once considered an ideal career path – is implausible. In recent years, there has been a crucial shift from lifetime employment to lifetime employability. Where employment is concerned with the skills required to maintain one’s current occupation, employability refers to possessing a set of core skill groups that are transferable from job-to-job and from industry-to-industry across one’s lifetime. In its most recent meeting, the Post-school Access Community of Practice turned its focus on the subject of employability as it relates to Technical Vocational Education and Training Colleges (TVET) and Work Integrated Learning (WIL) programmes.

At the CoP meeting, held on 11 October, Professor Volker Wedekind – the Research Chair in Vocational Education and Pedagogy at Wits – drew on research undertaken for the Labour Market Intelligence Partnership (LMIP) project around the theme of ‘re-conceptualising the post school system’, focussing in particular on the TVET curriculum and issues of responsiveness and employability. Prof Wedekind noted that the concept of employability has many dimensions. It includes a complex mix of qualifications, technical and generic skills, and personal attributes. The notion of employability – in contrast to that of employment – places greater focus on the individual, reflects changes in the economy, and considers flexibility and movement in the labour market. For these reasons employability is critical, not just to a person’s initial foray into the working world, but also to that person’s ability to progress along a career path with the requisite skills and adaptability that the world-of-work demands.

The Wits Research Chair also considered criticisms of the public TVET system, such as those addressing curricula, teaching approaches and the currency of TVET qualification. He also recognised the issues raised by the gap between the types of TVET graduates produced and the needs of employers. A responsible and responsive TVET system and curriculum has to take into account the needs of employers, students and broader society in a number of different ways and on a number of different levels. Prof Wedekind remarked that some of these aspects extend well beyond the immediate interests and priorities of employers. Key issues include:

Economic and/or policy responsiveness, i.e. engaging with real labour market needs and broader policy initiatives in that space, including preparing learners to learn beyond the needs of their first job, adapt to new technology and proceed within that employment.

Socio-cultural responsiveness, such as environmental awareness.

Disciplinary responsiveness, including flagging projected developments before industry mainstreams them.

Learning responsiveness, i.e. engaging with the needs of learners and providing programmes to support young people as they move towards adulthood.

A highlight of the presentation centered on a case study on training within the sugar industry and the lessons derived from the study for public TVET colleges. The sugar industry has developed a highly coordinated skills system – internal to the industry – that incorporates exhaustive scientific and technological research. The system comprises collaborative relationships with universities which draw in students from a wide range of disciplines and focused training programmes to orient them to specific industry dynamics. At the technical and lower level, training is provided by a private TVET college which follows the formal curriculum, but – crucially – strengthens it with additional material that directly addresses specific industry needs, and which is kept current by a well-integrated and networked feedback system.  This has resulted in highly credible and transferable qualifications at this level, and highly employable graduates.

The presentation contained a wealth of nuanced information and this summary only scratches the surface. Click here to see Prof Wedekind’s presentation in its entirety.