Master Skills Plan and legislation in post-school education and training: DHET briefing; with Minister

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

07 September 2022
Chairperson: Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Committee met with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) on a virtual platform to receive a briefing on the Master Skills Plan (MSP) and the associated legislation. The MSP was still in its early stages, so the Department could present details only about what it would entail, incorporate, where it would be implemented, and by whom. The presentation did not outline the cost, the risks associated with the Plan, or the timeframes.

Though Members were generally excited about the MSP, there were some concerns around aspects of centralisation and the legislation. However, the Department clarified that it would be virtually impossible to centralise the MSP, as it would be an overarching plan for the country which could be used by different sectors, industries, employers and Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs). These stakeholders would consult the MSP when developing their sectoral skills plans down to individual workplaces.

The Minister committed to having the first iteration of the MSP by end of this financial year, after which it would be submitted to Cabinet for consideration. Subsequently, it would go for public comments. Due to the delays associated with developing national plans, the Department expressed no confidence in completing this Plan under this sixth parliamentary administration.

The presentation did not provide much detail, other than the purpose of the concept, the main features of which were the policy mandate; problem statements; the purpose of the Plan; research questions; principles of the MSP; the approach to its development; and structures to guide and steer the development processes.

The Plan was expected to provide a well-coordinated and focused mechanism to address the imbalances of skills supply and demand in South Africa. Together with its associated processes and structures, it was expected to bring about coherence, rationalisation and improved efficiency to the skills planning and delivery system in the country, and clarify institutional arrangements that provide clear leadership and responsibility for key elements of the skills system. It was expected to serve as an anchor for good practice and a pledge of political and collective will and commitment, and would build on existing national skills plans. Its development processes would direct how the skills planning regime in South Africa could be better coordinated.

Members asked about the completion timelines of the Plan; the inclusion of hydrogen economy skills; whether prior skills targets had been met by the Department and the SETAs; the risks associated with the Plan; if all 21 SETAs had aligned their annual performance plans' targets with the MSP; the monitoring and evaluation of the Plan; whether it would be centralised; and the involvement of different stakeholders and departments in its development. 

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed everyone and said the consolidated Master Skills Plan (MSP) had created a lot of excitement given the current unemployment situation, and government's investment in education. This Plan could result in a more consolidated approach to education as a government and the country. Would the MSP assist the nation in better shaping the curricula in the education sector to address the country's skills shortage? The Committee would appreciate an update on how the Plan would respond to the need for skills.

Minister’s overview

Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, said the objective of the Plan was to bring together a lot of existing plans that had an impact on the strategy to provide skills in the country. Skills were also referred to in the National Skills Development Plan, which was required by the Skills Development Act and guided the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) on what needed to be done. There were also enrolment targets and plans for universities and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges, which play a very significant role in skills planning. Now there was the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP), and the Department had conducted extensive work on the skills implications of the ERRP and what needed to be done. There was also the Industrial Master Plan, led by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC). Other realities impacted the skills plan, such as the output from the Department of Basic Education (DBE) on skills planning fundamentally. The Plan was fed by the number of students coming from basic education.

Given all of this, if the Plan for the fifth administration was to focus on priority skills, amongst other skills, they should try to consolidate these plans into one Master Skills Plan. The Plan may also be updated as things change in the country and in the world at large. For instance, the Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) had iterations because things changed. The Department was planning to produce the first iteration of the MSP by the end of this financial year and then present it to the Cabinet for adoption.

The purpose was to have one country, one plan. There were challenges, as it had not been an easy process in dynamic and ever-changing circumstances.

One of the key issues the Plan would have to incorporate and embed in it was the relationship between former training institutions and workplaces. This was the single biggest weakness the sector still had in South Africa. Recently, the Department invited the Committee to the TVET Industry Summit to bring industries together with TVET colleges. There was vocational education without that partnership. Graduates require work exposure to be competitive, empowered and eligible for employment in industries. Today, they would outline the process of developing this Plan– it was still in its early stages. As part of developing the MSP, an international benchmark would have to be established.

The Committee was welcome to make comments on this Plan.

There were two pieces of legislation the Department was dealing with. One was the Central Application System (CAS), which had to be legislated to bring it forth. This was one of the commitments the government had. The second piece of legislation was the National Qualifications Framework (NQF), to align the system. However, given the amount of work that still needed to be done and the time it took to finalise legislation, they may not have this legislation passed in the Sixth Parliament. There had already been consultations on the draft bill. He could not guarantee that the work would be completed under this administration.

Department's briefing on the Master Skills Plan

Dr Nkosinathi Sishi, Director-General, Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), said that when it came to this Plan, the policy mandate for the work was derived from a few pieces of legislation that directed them to improve systems for skills planning and shape the production of skills. Therefore, this provided the context and the broad framework for this work. The White Paper on post-school education and training (PSET) stated that better inter-governmental coordination would be required to support policy alignment and implement a differentiated system. This empowered the Department to work with other departments.

The presentation covered the purpose of the concept; the policy mandate; problem statements; the purpose of the MSP; research questions; the principles of the MSP; the approach to the development of the MSP and structures to guide and steer the MSP development processes.

The purpose of the MSP was outlined as follows:

One country, one skills development plan;
Provide a well-coordinated and focused mechanism to address the imbalances of skills supply and demand in South Africa;
The plan, together with its associated processes and structures, was expected to bring about coherence, rationalisation and improved efficiency of the skills planning and delivery system in the country;
It would clarify institutional arrangements that provide clear leadership and responsibility for key elements of the skills system;
It was expected to serve as an anchor for good practice and a pledge of political and collective will and commitment; and would build on existing national skills plans (such as the Human Resource Development Strategy of South Africa (HRDSSA), the National Skills Development Plan (NSDP) and the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP) skills strategy). Its development processes would direct how the skills planning regime in South Africa could be better coordinated.


The Chairperson said it would be important to include the private sector and industries in the process. Their conversation at the TVET Summit had alluded to this, and the numbers were not good for the industries to come forth and make these contributions. There was still a long way to go. This stakeholder was important to consult, and the Committee was aware of the resistance and the slow pace. Perhaps it required them to have a collective voice as different stakeholders to encourage the private sector to come on board.

Had the dates for phase one and phase two been decided upon? Phase one was mainly about consultations and a review of documents, while the second phase would involve the development of the countrywide MSP as a completion of the socio-economic impact assessment. It would also be important for the Plan to consider conversations around artificial intelligence (AI), particularly in strengthening digital and e-government. These conversations had been held with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) and the South African Revenue Service (SARS), and there was a need for that interface to happen much more quickly to ensure that young South Africans did not have to perpetually prove their indigence. Strides had been made in the NSFAS system, but it was not where the Committee wanted it to be. This conversation could not be held in isolation though, hence the coordination of the Department and inclusiveness of various stakeholders in the economy.

The lack of energy sustainability and the hydrogen economy must also be clearly addressed in the Plan.

There was a huge crisis regarding public servants and how government policies translated from elected leadership down to the cashiers at Home Affairs, for example. The policies were clear, but the experiences of the citizens on the ground were problematic, creating importance or urgency to look at skills to strengthen the Batho Pele principles of the government. The relationship between the Committee and the National School of Government was important. Within the Plan, should one consider the relevant skills that must be provided to public servants to bring to light the policies of the country?

Referring to the interface between the MSP and the curriculum, she said the time lapse from when a skills shortage was identified to the actual change in the curriculum and what was taught in the classroom, was too long.

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) also echoed the same sentiments about how slow the pace was to conclude certain matters. It was important to conclude this process speedily. She recommended that there should be a spreadsheet that identified what the gaps were and the best solutions to resolve the challenges. This presentation ought to have been in a template format so that it was clear what the problems, gaps and solutions were. They also needed timeframes for oversight and accountability.

What were the risks that may inhibit the proper implementation of the Plan and how were these risks going to be mitigated? Had all 21 SETAs aligned their annual performance plans to address these challenges in the various sectors of the economy? If not, a list of those SETAs must be provided to the Committee. What were the budgetary implications for the MSP? How would the implementation of the MSP be monitored? This was one of the processes that should ensure that it addresses the supply and demand of these skills in the economy.

Ms D Sibiya (ANC) encouraged wider public consultation on the Master Skills Plan.

Ms C King (DA) was pleased with the fact that there was an MSP, but it should have come before all other plans to give policy direction and ensure that the skills development trajectory was streamlined. The main concern they should have was how to position themselves as a country in terms of specialisation and niche markets -- had the skills been determined based on that?

This was going to be a centralised model, but one wonders if an update could also be provided as the MSP was being developed. One wonders how the model would be decentralised into different industries, institutions of higher learning and businesses, to get a clear understanding of how the Department would actively involve the public-private partnerships. Was a discussion with the Department of Employment and Labour and the DBE going to be incorporated into the Plan and filtered down into schools and other areas?

Mr T Letsie (ANC) said nobody in the country should criticise this progressive initiative. Whilst noting the opening remarks, one would have expected the presentations to be short because they did not outline the bills themselves. When did the Department plan to present this proposal to Cabinet, and how long would that process take? Government had been largely criticised for the time it took to implement progressive matters, but what could be done to shorten the period and move into dealing with the bills directly, to bring this initiative to life?

The SETAs relied on their annual performance plans (APPs) to address the challenge of skills shortages. What were the budgetary implications of the MSP? Were the SETAs able to implement the MSP? If not, which SETAs may not be able to implement it? What mechanisms were going to be put in place to monitor its implementation?

Ms D Mahlatsi (ANC) said one would have hoped the presentation would provide more information about what would be done with this Plan. There was no more information, besides the bureaucratic processes. She did not get the politics of this presentation. What was the objective of this Plan really? What were they trying to achieve, and what had not been achieved in the current arrangement? What would be the difference between the current situation and the implementation of the MSP? What was the timeline to have this Plan implemented?

She had noted references to the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) in the presentation. What would be the timelines for the Plan to be in place? What was the attitude of other stakeholders about this plan? What was the involvement of trade and industry in the process? How was this Plan going to benefit people at a macro level to participate in the mainstream economy?

The Chairperson said there were situations where young people enrolled for qualifications in university programmes, and often lacked the necessary information about what students could do with their qualifications, especially those that were not very clear. This was a crisis, and the challenge was on both sides – from the employers and the institutions. She added that inserting a gender lens into the MSP would assist the country.

DHET's response

Dr Sishi said he had hoped that the presentation would have outlined the path the Committee would be taking. These questions should be taken seriously and embedded into the Plan. The cost implications had been carefully considered. This was an inter-governmental plan, so the costs would be borne by the budget already allocated to the Department for policy making under the planning branch. On issues around the inter-governmental forum that had to be established, the Department would align itself with existing structures -- for example, career guidance and how it was structured. It was an inter-governmental forum that was funded by various departments that were part of the forum, but the DHET, as the lead department, must ensure that the resources were available for monitoring and evaluation, and the further research that was required so that it could keep updating these plans and align them to new and emerging best practices and trends beyond the country.

The involvement of the departments in the economic cluster had been active. They had been involved right from the beginning, and there had been some representation from local government and the South African Local Government Association (SALGA). This was the early stage of the direction the Department was taking. It was taking the involvement and partnerships with the private sector, and other role players interested in the Plan, very seriously. On the specialisation issues, the Department focused on ensuring that the economic needs of the country were prioritised in the development of the Plan, including South Africa's role in supporting the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African continent in the implementation of Agenda 2063.

Dr Sishi said the comments made by Members had been noted. The Department was working with the Presidency, and the Minister had also established a strong collaboration between the DHET and the Ministry of Women, Youth and People with Disabilities. Some collaborative work had been completed, including the exhibitions that had recently taken place and the 16 June events.

Mr Zukile Mvalo, Deputy Director: General Skills Development, DHET, said the biggest challenge in the country was unemployment, especially for those who did not possess a matric certificate, as well as those who do. There were 7.9 million people who were unemployed in the country, and about 6.5 million of them either had grade 12 or did not. This informs the Department where the challenge was, and where there was absorption, or less absorption, in the economy.

Almost all Members had raised the issue of the youth and gender lenses that the DHET must use. He said 19 536 artisans had been produced by 31 March 2022, compared to 15 000 in the previous year. Before Covid, it was 24 000. This told them that the employers were beginning to open their places for employment and training. In April last year, the Minister increased the grant to employers hosting apprentices in the country from R165 000 to R206 000. This meant the DHET was assisting employers, and was calling on employers to open their places for training.

Out of that 19 536 artisans, 14 682 (75%) were young people, which meant the programme was targeting the youth, but was lagging with the women. Of the 19 536, 32% were women. The Department needed to encourage women to join artisanal programmes. Studies conducted by the DHET indicated that the level of absorption was above 80% for those who had completed their trade testing.

The biggest issue raised strongly was the demand-led critical skills, and these skills had been identified, through the Department's efforts, to be in the range of 105 occupations. This meant that the Department must respond to what was required by our economy through this initiative. The skills mismatch in the country was at about 32.5%, but in countries like Peru it was at about 51%, and in Turkey at 41.1%. This was an international issue – addressing the skills mismatch.

The Department met one-on-one with the SETAs in March to ensure that as part of their planning regime, they included occupations that were in high demand -- the critical skills list occupations and those identified in the skills strategy to support the ERRP. In the DHET's annual performance plans, starting from 1 April 2022, the SETAs would also be measured against those areas to ascertain whether their interventions were speaking to the demand-led skills required by the economy.

Every SETA was required to develop a sector skills plan in terms of the Skills Development Act. This Plan had been developed by a range of expertise in the sector, with all stakeholders in that sector contributing.

Minister's comments

Minister Nzimande said that the Department develops the plan, it has to pause and seek to answer the question about the risks to this MSP. The comments of the Members were helpful. As for the dates, he had asked the Department to produce the first version or iteration for the MSP by the end of this financial year, 31 March 2023. This first iteration would be taken to Cabinet. By the middle of next year, they should have an iteration of this Plan. After submission to Cabinet, the DHET hoped to go public with it.

The Department was looking at all the skills. It was already asking questions about the kind of skills or artisans that would be required for the hydrogen economy. He would also engage other Ministers about what skills they need for their operating sectors. No key sector and skills needs would be left untouched. The DHET wanted this Plan to be the go-to Plan for the skills of the country and guide sectors in terms of what skills they need to produce. It would contain critical and scarce skills, amongst others. He added that the DHET produced the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) scarce skills list. It became the DHA list because it guides it on its visas for work permits.

Skills planning and curriculum transformation were very important, so curriculum transformation was one of the Department's four priorities. The university capacity development programme had four pillars and one of those pillars was curriculum transformation. Currently, they are undergoing extensive curriculum review and revision in TVET colleges, even as part of the centres of specialisation. The DHET hoped that the MSP would be used to inform curricula in their institutions.

Monitoring would be methodological in nature, and would have to be developed as the Plan was being developed. The MSP would be applied at different levels of the sectors at the same time. The Department would like to have district skills plans, as part of the district development model (DDM). He had asked the Department to start as a pilot at the district level and let the SETAs and the Department zoom into those districts to determine the skills needs. This would be closer to a district skills plan in that district.

The Human Resources Development Council had been encouraging the formation of a provincial Human Resources Development Council. Seven of the nine provinces had their own provincial Human Resources Development Councils. The two provinces that were left were being encouraged to establish them, because these platforms were used to bring all stakeholders under one roof to discuss human resources, skills needs, and strategies in their provinces.

The MSP may not be centralised, but it would be centralised insofar as it was a plan and would provide a picture of the situation. However, it would have to be implemented at various levels, right down to individual workplaces. The MSP would live in every workplace in the country, district, municipality and region. The MSP should act or assist the locals in developing their own plans. The Department has developed various skills plans for different governmental programmes. It had a lot of sector-skills plans linked to industries and sectors, but it wanted to have an overall picture to respond to the skills needs in the country. It should indicate what the country has, does not have, and what is in its institutional systems, etc. The MSP would be a reference point for the stakeholders of the economy.

The Department had a good relationship with the National School of Government (NSG). There were joint projects and programmes the DHET and NSG had partnered on. One of the issues that had been resolved through this partnership was the recognition of prior learning. The NSG had indicated that it was in the process of registering some of its programmes with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) so that beneficiaries could receive certificates and credits.

The Chairperson thanked the delegation and the Minister for the engagement. She said there was a general level of excitement amongst the Members. The Committee would closely monitor the work of the Department on this Plan until the document was completed, and hoped it would be a guiding document for all of them.

There would be a need to follow up on discussions over the legislation. There were a few concerns there, but communication lines on this would be opened.

The meeting was adjourned.

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