Learnerships for 1m graduates?



In his analysis of the South African economy, Dr Iraj Abedian is focussing on the need for more jobs, to promote growth and alleviate poverty.

In an exclusive interview, Abedian told The Skills Portal that he is a big supporter of learnerships as he believes they are the only practical way to modernise the economy and increase skills levels by exposing graduates to real jobs.

"In SA we have over 1 million post-matric unemployed. They have acquired degrees but their qualifications are not in line with the skills that the country needs,' explains Abedian. "We need a large scale opportunity for these million people - otherwise they are a wasted human resource.'

Abedian believes that if academic qualifications are left in the conventional framework, graduates will become less and less employable. "South Africa has not moved that much in this area - high schools and universities are generally still in the old role and their graduates are therefore ill-equipped for the economy. There is a serious skills mismatch.'

He promotes the clustering of academic and vocational training with on-the-job experience - along the lines of the learnership model. The result should be more well-rounded, marketable, individuals.

Abedian proposes that the 1 million unemployed gradates are absorbed into the private sector through a government subsidy scheme. "If we don?t do this there will be 1 million graduates roaming the streets - not contributing to the economy.'

However the Standard Bank economist recognises the biggest drawback of the current skills development initiatives. "Even if all companies are training their staff, only those with jobs will benefit."

Abedian bemoans that demise of training in the '80s and '90s. "Over the last 20 years the culture of job training was destroyed because apprenticeships were for whites only. The government?s reaction was to dump them but they have thrown the baby out with the bath water. Today business executives have no experience on mentorship, and corporate HR departments do not have the structures, attitudes or functions to facilitate this mentoring,' adds Abedian. "So even when executives are intellectually in support there are not structures in place to assist them.'

For a senior economist, attempting to assist in the development of the economy, we asked Abedian just how important he feels the skills issue is for the country. "The problem of under-provision in public and private corporations is not a lack of resources but a lack of capacity amongst staff,' he explains. "I see three major constraints on the SA economy: 1 - skills, 2 - skills and 3 - skills.'