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 18

Skills planning and development in the sugar farming and milling sub-sector

Skills planning and development is strongly influenced by the dynamics of sectoral and regional networks of public and private actors such as industry associations, research institutes, SETAs, local government departments, firms/farmers, and public and private universities and colleges.

In the resource-based sub-sector of sugar farming and milling, private intermediary organisations drive, fund and coordinate a ‘self-sufficient’ skills development network. The private intermediary organisations have high levels of ‘interactive capabilities’, i.e. the capacity for forming effective external linkages to, for example, promote knowledge flows and access to complementary or missing expertise. These organisations work within and alongside the public system, which funds and sets standards for education and training, and links industry, government and PSET organisations. Firms/farmers take responsibility for specialised practical training, building on the general, foundational education and training provided by PSET organisations. The inclusion of PSET organisations in these networks depends on their capabilities to produce quality foundational education and training, and their interactive capabilities. University/college-firm interaction present interactive learning opportunities to improve responsiveness to skills demand, but also, to benefit from private-sector investment in building institutional competencies.

The key findings emerging from this research are:

- Quality general, foundational education and training by public PSET organisations is a crucial component of the ‘self-sufficient’ private skills development system. This foundation is then built on and further developed by ‘sugar-specific’ education and training offered by industry associations and other private intermediary organisations. Practical training is offered by firms/farmers.

- TVET colleges are a ‘weak link’, hindering alignment in the sugar farming and milling sectoral system. Most of the TVET colleges are preoccupied with keeping up with changes in policy and changing student preferences. Meeting skills needs of industry in their local contexts is thus a secondary focus. The colleges have, however, benefitted from student placements at firms or farms, on an ad-hoc basis.

- Private intermediary organisations, with high levels of interactive capabilities, play a key role in coordinating and aligning skills demand and supply. Industry associations, research institutes, and other private intermediary organisations, facilitate linkages between firms, public intermediary organisations and public education and training providers, as the needs of the sector require. A policy environment that enables independent decision-making has been vital for building this system.

- New, ‘land reform’, farmers present demand for skills that the sector is not equipped to provide internally. New farmers tend to have little or no knowledge of how to manage a sugarcane farm. They do not have the capacity in-house to do their own training or to collaborate with public education and training organisations. They thus rely on the services of the milling companies and private intermediary organisations. 

On the basis of these findings, the LMIP recommends:

1. Government should set the regulatory and funding frameworks and take responsibility for the quality of education and training offered by public PSET organisations. The case study illustrates how critical good quality foundational degree, diploma and certificate programmes are to be complemented by sector specific training. Responsiveness in the first instance should mean high quality foundational college and university programmes.

2. Building the competencies and interactive capabilities of TVET colleges should be prioritised. TVET colleges need improved interactive capabilities to respond to skills needs of core industries in their local contexts, and to benefit from more solid interactions with firms, particularly to support work-integrated learning. Public TVET colleges could contribute to addressing the new skills needs presented by land reform farmers and co-operatives. 

3. The key role of industry associations and other private intermediary organisations in skills development systems should be recognised and supported. Private intermediary organisations act on behalf of the sector and not only in the narrow interests of an individual firm. Funding instruments that provide direct support to private intermediary organisations to address skills gaps should be introduced, to improve the sustainability of land reform farmers in the sector.

4. Coordination between private and public intermediary organisations should be promoted. Alignment between skills demand and supply is improved when the roles of private intermediary organisations are well-coordinated and complement that of the SETAs and other public intermediary organisations.