Each LMIP Briefing is an evidence-based contribution to informing the development of a skills planning mechanism for South Africa. Briefings showcase our cutting edge research and aim to highlight key trends and potential implications from LMIP research projects.

LMIP Briefing 10

Public attitudes to the labour market in South Africa

The role of attitudes in shaping individual behaviours and hence, labour market outcomes, has been neglected in discourses of education and skills development. For the first time in South Africa, the LMIP collected data on attitudes to employment and unemployment, using the South African Social Attitudes Survey 2013. Public attitudes to the labour market are shaped by perceived opportunities and constraints, which in turn, frame expectations and aspirations of labour market participation.

1. Education remains an important currency in the labour market

South Africans are aware of the challenges that individuals face as they try to find work. A large proportion of the respondents attributed unemployment to the quality of education. The youth were more likely to be concerned that the quality of education was a key obstacle to the job market. This suggests that the current education system might not be equipping them adequately to find suitable employment. However, there were dissenting voices from a minority of respondents who attributed failure to get work, particularly amongst the youth, to lack of motivation, work ethics, and willpower.

2. The use of social networks shows that formal structures for job seeking are not efficient

There was widespread dissatisfaction with government support for those at risk of being permanently excluded from the labour market, that is, ‘drop outs’, or those who lack formal credentials. The older segment of the population, who were more likely to be low skilled, felt excluded from interventions of job creation and skills development. They indicated that the skills they possess are no longer appreciated and rewarded in the labour market. A common barrier faced by rural residents was a lack of information on job opportunities. This explained the complete reliance on informal methods, including the use of social networks as a platform to seek employment. The methods of job seeking used by different sub-groupings, particularly the poorly educated segments of our communities, need to be taken into consideration. Particular attention should be paid to mechanisms to access Public Employment Services and to create more platforms that break down literacy and language barriers.

3. Unemployed youth hold a very positive outlook about prospects of finding employment

The level of optimism about finding employment was closely related to the level of education completed, with the least educated being the most pessimistic. The youth were more likely to have a positive outlook about finding employment, but these tended to drastically diminish during their mid-20s, a critical age of self-assessment. This positive finding places a burden on the state to realise those dreams and expectations.

4. There are layers of disadvantage, which calls for selective and targeted policies that will benefit the most vulnerable

This project represents the first ever initiative to try to understand diverse public perceptions of prospects in the labour market. The public has, hitherto, been assumed to be passive. Yet the behaviour and beliefs of groups differing by age, race, education and gender, determine how, and if at all, they go about searching for work or engage in further education. Skills planners need to remain cognisant of these perceptions and behaviours, particularly of the most vulnerable, as they have a bearing on efficacy of labour market and education and training interventions.

The focus of LMIP research on Employability and Curriculum Responsiveness in the Post-School System is to understand how different sectors interact with public and private training providers to shape the employability of graduates. A range of cases have been examined, but here we focus on one case, the sugar industry. The industry is highly organised along the entire value-chain from crop through to processing, and manages its own skills development at each stage and at different levels.

A key feature of this system is that research into industry skills needs, dissemination and training are all part of a single entity and housed on a single campus, so that the trainers, scientists and extension officers are all interacting on a regular basis and there is significant sharing of infrastructure and resources. For example, scientists can be directly involved in teaching about new disease control techniques by popping out of their laboratories and participating in a class down the corridor. Qualifications and courses offered by the research institute are constantly adjusted depending on needs and new developments. There is no interest or incentive to align the qualifications with the National Qualifications Framework because they are highly regarded across the industry, locally and globally.

While it is not easy to replicate the degree of organisational coordination of the sugar industry in all sectors, there are emergent policy considerations, particularly in the context of the formal transfer of agricultural colleges to the DHET. These are:

- Retaining and encouraging a strong link between the work of extension officers and the trainers/lecturers in the college is a critical mechanism for ensuring that colleges remain directly connected to the needs of farmers.

- Where agricultural colleges are located on research farms, there needs to be careful thought about how to maintain the synergies that are possible with the presence of the researchers on or near college grounds.

- College staff should retain strong linkages with DAFF staff and farmers in order to realise the potential responsiveness that the sugar industry is able to demonstrate in their model. 

- For the wider TVET system, the research suggests that focused institutions have a greater chance of developing close and sustainable relations with industry than large multi-purpose colleges. Colleges or campuses should specialise and focus on a key local sector/s.

Formal recognition of qualifications carries little weight if industry or the profession/occupation does not recognise the value of the qualification. Recognition and trust in qualifications may be more important for individual mobility than their status within the bureaucracy, and this could be prioritised when new programmes are developed