SA lagging in employable skills

Educational institutions in South Africa and across the globe are lagging behind in equipping learners with the skills they will require to be employable in coming years. As a matter of priority, local institutions must immediately devise a plan of action to incorporate these essential skills - also known as global competencies - in schools and higher education institutions, an education expert warns.

“Many international businesses and thought leaders are increasingly raising the discussion around competencies students now need, so that they will be able to face the complex challenges and changes taking place in the global workspace,” says Traci Salter, Strategic Academic Development Advisor at ADvTECH, Africa’s largest private education provider.

“Developing these competencies will be of benefit to all students and are as important as the foundational skills of literacy and mathematics. They should be core in the way we learn, as well as in the way we need to interact in the world that is,” she says.

Salter says that globally, there is increasing acknowledgement of the fact that less than three years from now, in 2020, the skills necessary in previous years will have been replaced by a demand for different skills that are not being given the required attention. Addressing this discrepancy is now crucial.

“The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently revealed the results of a study into the Future of Jobs, which considered the employment, skills and workforce strategies of the future. They canvassed chief HR and strategy officials from the world’s top companies, across industries and geographies, to determine what they will require of future recruits.

“They compiled a summary list of the top ten skills identified for both 2015 and 2020 and shared their findings of what needed to be taught. While some countries have made significant strides in implementing programmes to empower their young people in this regard, others, including South Africa, are falling dangerously behind.”

Salter says that the results were an eye-opener, and that South Africa can no longer afford to ignore these fundamental findings (see infographic below) clearly identified by the WEF.

“All educational groups need to be referencing this list and asking how they are ensuring these skills are being developed and embedded within the teaching and learning taking place at their schools, colleges and universities,” she says.

Salter says that at ADvTECH, the Core Skills Continuum has been rolled out across the group’s 96 schools and packaged into five broad categories, namely: Thinking Skills, Research Skills, Communication Skills, Social Skills and Self-Management Skills. Each of these key areas have been broken down into specific focus areas and age appropriate outcomes, which are continually revisited from Grade 000 to Matric, thereby progressively developing students’ abilities and enabling them throughout their educational journey.

She adds that any perception that these global competencies are nice-to-haves, given South Africa’s existing challenges in education, is simply naive. Additionally, implementation, while calling for commitment and an investment in staff training, time and energy, does not require vast additional funding.

“All schools, higher education institutions and universities, whether public or private, must take note of the WEF guidelines or risk having our country’s students left behind in what is generally now being called the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” she says.

Salter further explains these core skills are not an addition to existing curricula, but a change in approach to teaching and learning.

“Core Skills are transdisciplinary skills that must be incorporated as part of all learning experiences. No matter the content or concepts being explored, there are opportunities in all of these, for different types of thinking, various forms of research, opportunities for collaborative tasks, numerous ways to communicate understandings as well as occasions for students to develop their self-management skills,” she says.

Salter says that teacher education and professional training are crucial to the successful implementation of global competence education.

“South African educational institutions should be providing specific training programmes to support teachers in acquiring a critical awareness of the essential role education can play in the unpacking and development of these fundamental global skills.

“Facing unprecedented challenges and opportunities, this generation of educators is now compelled to address these required capacities, and it is now no longer a negotiable discussion. These skills are, simply put, prerequisite global competencies, which means that no matter where in the world we are, we will all need to be competent and confident in applying them in a myriad of settings.”