“Investing in education and the right skills have become vital elements to a country’s economic growth, development and competitiveness in a global setting”.
This was according to South Africa’s Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation and Chairperson of the National Planning Commission, Jeff Radebe, who on Tuesday was appointed to the Stewardship Board of the World Economic Forum (WEF) System Initiative on the Future of Education, Gender and Work (EGW).
According to SA government statement, at a WEF workshop entitled “Shaping the Future of Education and Skills”, Radebe said: “We are all eminently aware that competing in today’s globally interconnected, and almost, daily shifting, economy is a complex affair. Our countries not only need advanced education, both technical and vocational, it needs dynamic, fast-paced and ever-evolving skills, and also, a flexible workforce that can adjust to these rapid shifts in demand.”
He added: “The world is changing at an incredible pace. Last year at WEF we underscored the fact that the world is undergoing a Fourth Industrial Revolution. The jobs that have driven rapid economic development in the past, from agriculture to light manufacturing, are disappearing and the jobs of the future will be ever more technology-intensive, requiring a higher-skilled workforce.
“To access these jobs, people will need skills to be able to analyze, adapt, problem solve, manage and work in an increasingly connected way,” he said. “There is, therefore, no more time to lose and this discussion comes at a very opportune moment.”
Radebe said most countries today were competing in a knowledge-based global market, where the key differentiators were skills, expertise, know-how and the ability to deliver excellent services speedily, with agility and efficiently. “In other words, and for every country, economic competitiveness increasingly depends on the quality of our education systems.”
Radebe said it was important to learn from other countries which approaches had worked, including to begin in the first few years of life with literacy and soft skill development modules in schools.
“In most African countries, large numbers of school-goers drop out early; and large parts of the workforce have little knowledge and few skills that would make them more employable. Early childhood interventions can make a huge difference.
“Introducing modules focused on literacy and soft skills as part of basic and secondary education and training programs can also help break the vicious circle of the unskilled being trapped in jobs that require fewer skills, and establish accessible pathways for acquiring skills,” Radebe said.
He continued by saying that government had a critical role to play, mainly in regulation, standard setting, Monitoring and Evaluation, and the financing of skills development.
“M&E plays an important role in the design and delivery of skills programmes. I cannot stress this enough. Always evaluate programmes, and feed these lessons back to policymakers so that they can make informed decisions about improving the design and implementation of programmes.”
He further cited bringing stakeholders on board as an important voice at the table at policy level, and to raising the productivity of the informal sector as important elements. “We need to find mechanisms to unlock and open up a stronger informal sector, and ensure that we enhance their productivity through skills development (that) will lead to faster economic growth.”
“In such an acutely dynamic fast-paced world, education systems must be oriented towards producing skills and young people who have both strong foundational skills, as well as specific skills for jobs. What, therefore, should be the basis of a more informed and urgent public narrative on education and skills be?
“We know that the demand for job-specific skills has been growing around the world. Globally, corporates suggest that the quality and supply of skilled labor is a major binding constraint to growth. Employers around the world are also suddenly demanding that new hires have both technical and ‘soft’ skills that should have been acquired earlier on in their educational foundational phases. Thus, we are required to rethink, more purposefully and deliberately, the inter, and intra-dynamics and relationships between education and skills and jobs.”
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