A central challenge for the implementation of a skills planning mechanism lies within the capabilities of key actors at different levels of the system. Firms and skills planners need to have an enhanced understanding of the capabilities of PSET organisations, to inform and influence their core education and training activities. And in turn, universities, TVET colleges, and other public and private providers need an enhanced understanding of how they can respond to the changing technological capabilities and skills needs of firms, in relation particularly to professional, occupational and skills-oriented programmes, and to their role in producing the ‘right’ graduates for the workplace and the national economy.
We thus conducted three case studies of sectoral systems of innovation as a means to identify what is possible on a wider scale: astronomy and the SKA, automotive component manufacturers in the Eastern Cape, and sugarcane growers and millers in KwaZulu-Natal. Here, we draw out high-level implications for the post-school sector, based on the central conclusion that:
Skills planning requires a sound understanding of the will, competencies and interactive capabilities of universities and colleges to respond to firm demand
1. In order to achieve their role in preparing young people for the labour market more effectively, universities and colleges’ interaction with firms, government agencies, professional bodies and other actors can have many benefits. For example, linkages with professional bodies, industry associations, firms or government agencies may lead to funding for bursaries, or chairs in new fields, or more employment opportunities for graduates. Linkages may assist universities and colleges to achieve their strategic goals, and to contribute to national economic and social development goals. However, the evidence suggests that many academics and lecturers actively oppose any initiatives that they perceive as imposing a narrow instrumental approach to training.
Recommendation: To lay the basis for a shift to an inclusive economic demand-led model of skills planning, an advocacy process to effect a change in thinking may be required. Universities and colleges, their leaders, managers, academics and lecturers, need to be convinced of the value of interaction and networking with firms, government agencies and other organisations.
2. Firms and employers are only willing to work with universities and colleges that produce quality graduates able to perform in the workplace. They choose to link with the university or college that they perceive to have the strongest expertise in the fields related to their enterprise, and they are reluctant to collaborate with those that are seen to produce poor quality graduates.
Recommendation: Developing these academic ‘’competences’’ in core programmes, curriculum and pedagogy is a necessary – but not sufficient - condition for responding to demand.
3. Colleges and universities also need expertise, structures and interface mechanisms that can support linkages with firms, government agencies and intermediary organisations, that is, to develop ‘’interactive capabilities’’. The leadership of a university and college plays an important role in terms of the policy and direction they provide, as do academics and lecturers that can provide innovative and well-grounded courses.
Recommendation: Strengthening universities and colleges’ interactive capabilities should be a fundamental focus for leadership within post-school organisations and for DHET across the post-school system.
4. There are many external interface mechanisms that are historically and currently very effective. The system of cooperative learning pioneered in the technikons and developed in the universities of technology can be extended to other contexts to promote different forms of work-integrated learning. Public-private partnerships, advisory bodies on which local industry and communities serve, and research centres may provide interface structures that support collaboration with key sectors in the local environment, and draw in academics in other fields as needed. Testing centres may lead to collaboration with private providers and agreements with firms to place students. Careers advisory and placement centres play key roles linking graduates to firms, in networks with industry associations and professional bodies. .
Recommendation: Such structures and interface mechanisms should be extended and grown in more colleges and universities, drawing on good-practice as a guide, so that responsiveness can be deepened.
5. We live in a world in which technology and work are changing rapidly, which means that the qualifications and skills required are changing. The ability to continually sense changes in the environment, adapt to the demand for new skills, and coordinate change across the university or college is critical. Where universities and colleges have developed these ‘’dynamic interactive capabilities’’, they are able to operate in more proactive and strategic ways, in line with their own core missions and goals, rather than reacting in an ad hoc way to firm demand, or to policy requirements.
Recommendation: Developing dynamic interactive capabilities of individual lecturers, academics, departments, centres and leadership will mean that universities or colleges can respond more appropriately to changing skills demand.