In this festive season, let me admit that my family is enormously blessed. Both of our children have successfully completed studies at university towards professional qualifications (both up to master’s degree level, and both all of their degrees cum laude). Both managed to fund their studies (varsity fees) through academic bursaries based on their respective matric results and later on university results. They are both gifted, but also worked incredibly hard at their studies. As parents, our contribution was free board-and-lodging, payment of textbooks and equipment when needed, motorcar and fuel costs, cellphones, computers and so forth. As these things go, and compared to some other parents, their education did not cost us that much. Perhaps half a million rand over their collective 9 years of study? Even as I write this, I know that the majority of parents simply cannot afford this, and that we indeed have much to be grateful for. Having said this, nothing our children have achieved was free or because they are white.
As my wife is an academic (and has been her entire life) much of our conversation is about the standard of education in South Africa. This is not strange, as much of the national discourse is about this burning issue. Our most recent conversation, a day or two ago, focused on the purpose of education. We came up with the following set of principles:
|Level of Education||Purpose||Comments|
|School (Grade 12)||To deliver young adults with solid basic life skills||Unfortunately, this does not usually prepare the person for a job (or career) unless it is a lower level entry job
Given the evident failure of education, it also does not adequately prepare students for further education and training
|Diploma or Certificate||To deliver young adults with basic job skills||This prepares people to perform all the functions of a specific job or job type. This assumes of course that job opportunities exist or can be created. The sad reality is that these people are often ill equipped and business is loathe to employ them
|Undergraduate degree||To deliver young adults with basic career skills||This provides people with the fundamental sets of theoretical and thinking skills to pursue a career. This assumes of course that such career opportunities exist or can be created. The sad reality is that these people are often ill equipped and business is loathe to employ them, except perhaps in lower level initial jobs (see for yourself the number of graduates in call centers)
|Postgraduate degree||To deliver young adults with advanced and applied career skills||This provides people with the theoretical, thinking and applied skills to pursue a career. For the most part, these opportunities exist and are created in the formal economy. In our own business we have taken people like this as interns with great success|
I am sure our conversation can be taken apart at many levels, but for now it would be really cool if you could accept the basic reasoning. Against this background, I found the following comments by the IRR (posted on news24.com) particularly interesting.
“Ageing white workforce to impact SA labour market – report
Cape Town – The white workforce in South Africa is ageing and this has implications in areas ranging from employment equity to the shortage of skilled individuals, the SA Institute of Race Relations (IRR) said in a report on labour market trends issued on Wednesday.
In 2015 close to half (48.5%) of what the IRR refers to as “African economically active people” were aged below 35. For the white population, about two-thirds (66.6%) of economically active people were aged 35 and above.
There is also a correlation between education and employment, with the unemployment rate of people with a tertiary qualification being less than half that of people with only a primary education. The IRR regards the quality of South Africa’s schools as a central obstacle to the employment of young people.”
So, the facts seem to be:
- The number of white people in formal employment is decreasing;
- Leading to a loss of skill;
- For which an inadequate education system is not preparing the growing number of young black people; and
- Young white people are deliberately excluded from the formal economy and further development through BBBEE regulations (amazing that training spend is only recoverable if spent on black Africans!).
The tragedy is that the erosion of the quality of education has made the problem even worse in the sense that young adults become increasingly unemployable. Logically therefore increasingly, and across industries, the search is on for the automation of work. The inevitable outcome of these trends must be that levels of employment will continue to decrease, with all of its economic, social and political consequences.
In business organisations we understand that sustainable competitive advantage is a function of the requisite skill (including diversity) and the continuous development of the competence of our people. Businesses that grow and are healthy simply have great people that constantly learn. Does the same logic not apply to countries?