Workplace experience important- Nzimande

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pretoria - Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande has reiterated the need for students to spend a period of time in the workplace to gain practical training in order for them to attain their qualifications.

Nzimande said that due to the limitations of the department in this area, there are a number of young people who have completed their academic programmes at institutions of learning, but because they could not get work place training are unable to attain their qualifications.

"It is a huge wastage of resources to let them invest in 2-3 years of training, only to be denied one year of workplace training, this is also inefficient, especially for a country that have skills shortages. We therefore want to close this gap and for us to do this we need industry to play a significant role in skills development initiatives," Nzimande said.

Nzimande was speaking on Tuesday during a round table discussion with industry representatives on skills development and US Undersecretary of State Judith McHale.

Dubbed 'Building a 21st Century Workforce', the meeting follows a conversation between Nzimande and McHale in Washington DC, earlier this year, when they discussed ways that educators and local academic institutions could better prepare students to enter the workforce.

Nzimande noted that during the meeting in Washington, they had learned that there is a very close working relationship and partnership between community colleges and local employers,

"While we accept the differences and the differences in resource endowments between the two countries, it was clear that there is a lot that we can learn as we build our post-school landscape, expand opportunities in education and training, and also ensure that we have a skilled and capable workforce that contributes to an inclusive growth path.

"It was as part of this recognition that we thought, one of the things that we could action immediately is build partnerships between community colleges, FET colleges and employers (and SETAs)," he said, adding that the department has agreed to find willing partners from both SA and USA to pilot the initiative.

McHale announced that under the expanded initiative, the US government will be seeking additional ways to link community colleges across the US with Further Education centres in South Africa.

"Using online conferencing platforms and other connective technologies, we will bring together administrators in the US and South Africa so that they can share their experiences and best ideas.

"In addition we will create opportunities for community college administrators and faculty from the United States to visit South African centers under the Fulbright Senior Specialist Program, this will allow them to share their knowledge in person and take ideas from South Africa back to American schools," explained McHale.

Highlighting the need for constant innovation and reinvention to remain relevant and up to date, McHale challenged governments and private sector enterprises to think differently and take risks on new ideas.

She said they must be willing to throw out entrenched ways of doing business in favour of trying a fresh approach and acknowledged that this is not always easy and hence the importance of partnerships.

"The United States and South Africa both need to explore the means through which education between the secondary and university or varsity levels can give our young people skills that can help them find real, long term employment and that help meet our nations' changing economic needs in the 21st century," she said.
She added that as much as young South Africans and young Americans need good jobs, business and industry need good workers.