The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Innovation convened virtually for an engagement with the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and the National Youth Development Agency on the Presidential Youth Employment Initiative (PYEI) The meeting commenced with the DSI responding to questions carried forward from the meeting held on Wednesday, 31 May 2023.
The Committee welcomed the various initiatives to empower young people with skills to enter the job market. But the short-term nature of the programmes and the slow rate at which graduates transition into long-term employment in some of the programmes were cause for concern. Investing six months in an internship programme might be meaningless if opportunities for sustainable jobs are not created to absorb the young people who participate in the skills development programmes. The Department acknowledged the shortcomings of the programmes but advised that the initiatives are meant as stepping stones and not intended to create long-term jobs. Job creation is being limited by the structural challenges in the economy that needs fixing to accommodate the high level of unskilled young people.
The Committee deemed it important for the Department to work closely with entities and agencies to find synergies in an attempt to break the silos and avoid duplication in the various initiatives and programmes. The proposal was well received and as a starting point, the Department undertook to present a report on the progression of young people from learning to earning. The information would be shared with the NYDA to enable a more strategic approach to addressing the challenges of youth unemployment.
The Chairperson felt it was important to invite Members from the Portfolio Committee on Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, and the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) to identify synergies between the work of the Department, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and NYDA with the goal to break the silos and avoid duplication.
The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities was unable to attend the meeting and had submitted an apology. The NYDA would be granted an opportunity to reflect on the presentations from their perspective.
DSI Responses to questions carried forward
Dr Phil Mjwara, DG, DSI, said he needed to leave early. Mr Daan du Toit, would be leading the responses to the questions.
Mr Daan du Toit, DDG: International Cooperation and Resources, DSI, said the questions have been grouped in order to efficiently respond within the allocated time.
Ms Gugulethu Zwane, DDG: Institutional Planning and Support, DSI, responded to the questions about human resource management and vacancies. She stated that the Department has an older workforce. Better planning was needed to achieve recruitment targets and staff retention. The plan is to start earlier with engagements prior to retirement. The process from placing the advertisement to the screening of candidates is delayed internally due to difficulty in getting committees together for interviews. The solution is to treat each application as a specific project with a start and end date. A bigger panel of four to five members is proposed to speed up the process. An area of concern is the non-competitive salaries offered by the government. The Department can only motivate a bigger package up to the available notches. Another internal problem is that seasoned officials opt not to be promoted. They find that the responsibilities compared to the remuneration were not worth the promotion to the new level. People leave for different reasons, e.g. for career growth, retirement or death. Three staff members had died in the past year. Reasons given in exit interviews include better opportunities and salaries. The DSI is a highly specialised department and needs to attract people with the required skills. Most people leave for organisations outside the government. Issues of not getting along with supervisors and incompatibility between staff and management contributed to resignations. Department-wide interventions were launched to resolve problems of relations and working together. The need for addressing soft skills arose during the Covid-19 period.
Mr Robert Shaku, CFO, DSI, addressed the question of financial resources and the profile of beneficiaries of DSI programmes. He disagreed that the percentages attributed to procurement spending on beneficiaries had been duplicated. The Department supports businesses from women of all categories including young and older women as well as men and white women. Women are also included in the category for blacks and even in the SMME categories. On aggregate, the procurement spend would not reach 100% because women are widely represented in all categories.
Dr Rebecca Maserumule, Chief Director: Hydrogen and Energy, DSI, responded to the questions about energy resources and innovation funding. The Department has four flagship programmes that have been in place for longer than ten years. The programmes are analysed and reviewed to develop a baseline for tracking the progression of graduate students in energy in terms of the categories, i.e. blacks, women and the hosting universities. The Department has a good baseline of the number of students produced and where they go once graduated. In 2020, the Department started a programme of seeking work opportunities for unemployed graduates because the industry indicated that more artisans and technicians were needed. In partnership with the private sector, the Department started training 20 artisans and technicians but the target was missed because the number had not increased in the last financial year. The Department was working with an implementing agency that was not able to meet the target. To avoid missing the target of integrated learning for artisans and technicians in future, the Department would be working closely with the energy SETA to accommodate the students on the database. The delay in implementing the programme was due to the loss in human capacity at the CPUT which lost two of the key members including a senior software engineer to the Space Industry. The challenges of remuneration are also present in the Space Sector. The industry offers more competitive salaries. The Department would be working with the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) for guidance on the human resource structures in the sector. From a funding perspective, the Department access funds through the Space Infrastructure Hub but the funds are not yet available. To support innovation in energy aerospace and drone technologies, the DSI focuses mainly on the commercialisation of innovation in publicly financed independent power producers (IIPs) and technologies in the SMME sector. The Innovation Fund for funding SMMEs in the high-tech sector is playing a crucial role in providing inclusive economic growth. The DSI is one of the few funders of SMMEs in the tech space, e.g. Hypernova Space Technologies, who won an award from the Department of Trade Industry and Competition in 2022. Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the mining sector is being used to develop an application in 4iR technology to use smart sensors in mining. The DSI is funding a black female-owned company in the hydrogen space in the local manufacturing of hydrogen based on Hydrogen South Africa Intellectual Property. In line with the Decadal Plan, there is a need to modernise the agricultural sector. In cooperation with the CSIR and SANSA, the DSI is rolling out an agriculture programme with specific expertise using drone technology, big data analysis and AI to produce a better yield of agricultural production. The DSI was fulfilling its role to ensure growth and economic development through technology.
Mr Imraan Patel, DDG: Research and Development Support, DSI, addressed the questions related to the SKA project, astronomy and science in education. The HSRC is using its capacity and capability to enhance the SKA project, specifically in terms of benefitting local economic development. The DSI would continue to draw on the support of the HSRC to extract value from innovation. He drew attention to the detailed presentation to the Committee on 3 March 2023 about support to the Department of Basic Education (DBE) by the DSI. He was aware of the new Members who were not part of the meeting at the time and encouraged them to access the presentation. He proceeded to highlight some of the key points of the presentation. The two departments, together with the DHET established an implementation framework for the DBEs national science and maths literacy framework. He was recently introduced to the terminology of second-sight testing, which the DSI is supporting because the resources required for first-sight learning are not always available. The DBE-led interdepartmental forum on early childhood development (ECD), specifically in the role to expose children to science at a young age. This work was still in the conception stages due to the move from Social Development to Basic Education. The Research Chairs Programme is assisting with evidence-based programmes to support STEM education. The Department is assisting the DBE to introduce coding in schools through a partnership programme in computing in training and education. The DSI has collaboration agreements with provincial departments where each province identified about 100 schools that would benefit directly from science promotion programmes. Career guidance presentations used to be distributed to schools but it was found to no longer be sustainable. STEM career information is produced and available in paper and electronic formats. Under the leadership of the Deputy Minister, the DSI held discussions to enhance career guidance as part of the future of skills education. The tourism strategy was developed by drawing on the capacity of the Department of Tourism, e.g. to manage bed and breakfast businesses in Sutherland. The strategy is to be formally signed off by the Minister and approved by Cabinet. The reproductive health study has been completed and would be released in the next few weeks. The HSRC is actively engaged in targeting persons living with disabilities. Some programmes are more difficult than others to achieve targets that are linked to existing programmes. A key concern is the lack of funding for research infrastructure as a long-term programme. Investments are normally for periods longer than five years. The DSI is ensuring that projects are not sacrificed and that the momentum is not lost due to slower spending.
Dr Mmboneni Muofhe, DDG: Socio-Economic Innovation Partnerships, DSI, reported that the challenges of the transfer of money to support DSI programmes had been resolved late in the financial year. National Treasury appeared to have had capacity problems. The transfer was done in March 2023. The late transfer had an impact on some of the projects who had to lay off staff. Even though the implementing agencies used their own funds, it was not possible to continue digging into their reserves. The situation had a damaging effect on the relationship between the Department and implementing agencies. On the issue of research and development (R&D) tax incentives, he explained that in terms of section 11(d), of the Income Tax Act, National Treasury is responsible for and is leading the process. The extension of R&D incentives was announced during the Budget Speech in which provision is made for amendments emanating from recommendations of the World Bank review. A six-month grace period is granted to allow smaller enterprises to benefit from the incentives. The Department, in collaboration with the Department of Tourism, launched projects under the Tourism Programme targeting young people with ideas to launch tech-based start-ups. In the pilot project, twenty initiatives to the value of R5.2 million were supported. The Department invested R6 million in entrepreneurial initiatives including digital tools enabling young people in rural areas to promote local tourism and easy access to entertainment, and technology for video creations to provide potential tourists with access to spaces before visiting the sites. A number of young people graduated in June 2022 as part of Youth Day celebrations and on 11 May 2023, they participated at the Tourism Indaba in Durban. He remarked that the Department was not involved in assisting with the water crisis in Hammanskraal. The process to get involved starts when the Department is invited by the municipality and COGTA based on an understanding of the challenge. At this stage, the source of the cholera has not been confirmed.
The Chairperson thanked the Department for the responses. Members were requested to indicate via the Secretariat if follow-up is required. In the spirit of cooperative governance and removing the silos, the NYDA and the DWYPD were invited in an attempt to facilitate collaboration between departments. The meeting with the DPWI and DHET was interesting. The parties identified infrastructure shortages and found consensus on the repurposing of infrastructure. The Committee want to bring entities and departments together to achieve common objectives.
Mr Patel explained the two parts of the initiative, i.e. firstly the PYEI which is an HSRC project and secondly the Internship Programme, with the HSRC as implementing agency of the DSI. The Internship Programme was previously administered by the National Research Foundation (NRF).
Dr Muofhe stated that the PYEI was implemented over a two-year period, i.e. 2020/21 and 2021/22, to empower graduates with experiential training to complete their studies. During this period, the following four programmes were implemented:
Experiential Training Programme at R18 million;
Health Promotion Agents at R43 million;
Enviro Champs Programme at R30 million; and
Water Graduate Employment Programme at R46 million.
National Treasury invested R134 million and the Water Research Commission contributed R4 million to the Water Graduate Employment Programme.
The DDG, Mr Patel, said the challenge is to provide opportunities for people who do not have matric. The Department was engaging National Treasury to scale up the model to target more people and attract the private sector, e.g. to clean up the rivers in KwaZulu-Natal. The Department is continually looking for opportunities to partner with other stakeholders. The PYEI provided once-off targeted funding over the two-year period.
Prof Sarah Mosoetsa, CEO, HSRC, welcomed the opportunity to deal with the issues of young people with her colleagues from the NYDA. The objectives of the internship programme include capacity building to ensure that graduates have the required skills for the labour market, graduate readiness to provide work experience to graduates and graduate support given the challenges of youth unemployment. She called on Members to support the programme which started in 2005. The HSRC had learnt many lessons and reported on many successes since it inherited the programme.
Ms Shirin Motala, Director: Impact and Research Development Support, reported that the HSRC was able to recruit 18 participants with disabilities in the 2022/23 financial year thereby achieving an outcome of 4% which exceeded the 2% target. The number of participants in the internship programme grew exponentially due to improved access and additional resources.
The Chairperson called on the NYDA board members for their reflections on the presentations.
Mr Thulisa Ndlela, Board Member, NYDA, said it was important to have regular meetings to achieve synergies for meaningful impact. In response to the reluctance of staff to move to management positions, he suggested that the Department could have a mentorship programme to groom young people for leadership positions. Many young people need the opportunity to enhance their leadership skills in the public sector. Given that the internship programme is limited to two years, he said it was important to impart as much knowledge within the two years from people who would soon retire. He urged departments to involve young people in technical work and not to limit their work experience to basic administrative functions.
Ms Lebogang Mulaisi, Board Member, NYDA, said it was important for departments to work closely with the NYDA. The annual performance plans and key performance indicators were not sufficient for an understanding of what the agencies are capable to do. Hence the NYDA is seeking engagement on a broader level for an accurate picture of youth development in terms of its coordinating role empowered by the Act. The meeting was helping in taking the matter forward. The NYDA suggested that the hiring age be limited to 35 years but this was not possible due to the oversupply of young people looking for jobs. She welcomed the opportunity to remove the silos but cautioned that the time was not enough to identify synergies.
Ms Asanda Luwaca, Board Chairperson, NYDA, appreciated the opportunity to collaborate on the issue of youth employment. The NYDA was collaborating with the DSI through the National Youth Science Programme in an effort to expand the NYDA footprint. The NYDA was working with various partners including IBM and Microsoft on a digital programme and trainee skills programme respectively. The idea is to link the market the skills and employment opportunities. The NYDA is exploring digital skills development in institutions of higher learning in cooperation with Adopt-IT. Opportunities for young people in rural areas are being explored through discussions with MTN and DSD TECNO Mobile to make ICT accessible to young girls, and with the MTN Foundation for a digital innovation hub to provide rural youth with access to digital technology with a special focus on support for learners with disabilities. NYDA was at an advanced stage of piloting an innovation hub in Empangeni in KwaZulu-Natal, to be launched in the second half of 2023. Once the detail is finalised, an invitation would be extended to the Committee to participate in the launch. The NYDA was engaging the Minister of the DWYPD to present awards to 40 young people. The criteria to select 40 young people younger than 40 would be shared with the Committee to nominate young people for the awards.
Mr Waseem Carrim, CEO, NYDA, said the PYEI was announced by the President in the 2020 State of the Nation Address as an initiative to address the structural youth unemployment crisis. The objective is to place young people into earning opportunities. The target for the pilot phase was to place 4 500 young people. To date, more than 45 000 young people have secured paid service opportunities through the National Youth
Service (NYS) programme. The budget for the 2023/24 financial year is sufficient to accommodate 20 000 participants in the NYS programme. A potential partnership with the SANDF is being explored, specifically on the medical service aspect of the Defence Force. The NYDA is considering upscaling the program to beyond 50 000 participants but funding remains constrained.
The Chairperson asked how the HSRC would ensure access at the basic education level and support at the higher education level to prepare young people for employment so that the National System of Innovation (NSI) could reflect a more inclusive form of innovation. The DSI referred to the Experiential Training Programme (ETP) at universities. She was hoping that the programme would be extended to TVET colleges to ensure integrated learning and opportunities that are inclusive and impactful. She welcomed the work of the Water Graduate Employment Programme and the investments from the Water Research Commission (WRC). She wanted to know what becomes of the DSI involvement in the programme, similar to the situation of the Enviro Champs Programme with the CSIR as the implementing agency. She welcomed the formation of the Community of Practice forum to meet the target in terms of participation by persons living with disabilities.
Ms J Mananiso (ANC) was pleased that the meeting coincided with the celebration of youth month. She asked if the NYDA had conducted an audit of entities and municipalities to establish whether there is a uniform approach to youth development. She enquired about the number of memorandums of understanding (MOUs) that were signed on the various programmes. She noted the figures were low in terms of the DSI in-take of youth and persons living with disabilities. She requested a breakdown of the initiatives to trace if the programmes were addressing the demand for scares skills. She asked the DSI to provide a spreadsheet of all partners that the Department has been collaborating with. A designated programme was needed for people in rural areas. She felt that marginalised people in rural areas are being left behind due to not having online access to the Presidential Initiatives. More could be achieved if everyone works together.
Mr K Pillay (ANC) referenced the more than 8 000 applicants who all qualified but only 2 000 host institutions were participating in the programme. He wanted to know if the remaining 6 000 applicants needed to reapply in the next cycle and if more host institutions were needed. He asked what is being done to reduce the gap.
Dr W Boshoff (FF+) was concerned about senior positions that are left vacant because the additional remuneration does not correlate with the responsibilities and workload for the next level. He asked if the situation was also applicable to other departments in the civil service. He was in principle not against people who opt not to get promoted but it is a problem if senior positions cannot be filled due to compensation perceptions. In science, compensation is not only in monetary remuneration but also in the recognition of publishing articles and the status of more responsibilities. The sciences and innovation ecosystem should have adequate supply and demand. He wanted to know from the HSRC if young graduates do not subscribe to other forms of compensation. He asked the DSI and NYDA to comment on their understanding of what constitutes cooperation in science and innovation.
Ms D Sibiya (ANC) asked which programmes are required to support graduates to be innovative and entrepreneurial to meaningfully participate in the economy and if such skills should not be included in the programmes. He enquired about the view of the Department on entry-level jobs requiring IT skills.
Ms N Chirwa (EFF) noted a lack of communication on a broader level in terms of the meaning of innovation and creating sustainable jobs. The programmes were great for activism but lack the probability of creating sustainable jobs. People get stuck in programmes for six months and are equipped with skills that are not offered by the market. She asked how many sustainable jobs were created through the Water Graduate Employment, Enviro Champs, and Health Promotion Agents Programmes. R46 million was spent to empower people on the Water Graduate Employment Programme but after three months, no jobs had been created. She asked if the R30 million spent on the Enviro Champs Champions programme have been reaping rewards. She sought clarity on the role of the Health Promotion Agents in communities and asked how many agents have been absorbed into the National Department of Health (NDoH). The NDoH has a similar programme and has never reported on the collaboration of the R40 million Health Promotion Agents Programmes with the DSI. She was concerned that no sustainable jobs are being created to absorb the young people who join these programmes. It was not worthwhile to invest six months in an internship programme without the possibility of a sustainable job afterwards. She requested a written response from the NYDA about the number of lives that had been changed on a long-term basis after participating in their programmes. She suggested that other countries such as South Korea should be consulted about achieving effective youth development in a short space of time. Young people are desperate to be part of six-month programmes which do not result in changing the status quo on a permanent basis or on a larger scale. Agencies should have a more lasting impact. For example, a focus on improving public transport could be life-changing for young people, communities and the country. The situation was getting worse instead of getting better.
The Chairperson requested a breakdown of the number of graduates who benefitted from the Water Graduate Employment Programme. She asked if the intervention in terms of the Community of Practice led to the increase in the number of persons living with disabilities participating in the internship programme. She wanted to know how this achievement could be sustained. The matter of people not being interested in senior positions due to remuneration was an ongoing concern. She suggested that young people should be considered as resources to fill the posts. She was hoping that the impact of the programmes would help to achieve the objectives of the Decadal Plan so that investment in human capacity could find space in government. She enquired about the capacity that is required to address the water challenges and the capacity that the DSI could offer to assist in resolving the water crisis. The solutions and tools that are documented in the plans of the department should be used effectively to impact the lives of citizens. She implored the Department to engage stakeholders to achieve a more meaningful impact.
Mr Carrim said planning for youth development is guided by an integrated youth development strategy which is aligned with the national development plan. The NYDA supports metros, districts and municipalities through the District Development Model. MOUs have been signed with more than 500 organisations but that is only the first step to operationalise youth development work. The NYDA, together with the Department of Labour, has a deep network of offices and centres to support young people online and in-person. The NYDA has a specialised programme for the placement of unemployed graduates in institutions of higher learning. Young people are assisted to establish their own enterprises, e.g. the Gauteng Innovation Centre was established to commercialise innovations of young people. The NYDA is relentlessly focusing on transitioning graduates to permanent jobs but the interventions are limited due to the structural factors in the economy that are holding back job creation. It was important not to reduce youth development to the unemployment rate. The government has done well to ensure universal access to education. South Africa has the highest number of youth volunteers worldwide. Eradicating unemployment requires ongoing activism and support. The comments are noted and would be used to enhance the programmes.
The Chairperson agreed that youth development must be viewed in a broader context. The holistic aspect of development should not be disregarded. She implored the Department to support the NYDA with the commercialisation of innovations by young people.
Prof Mosoetsa observed that most of the questions were dealing with the broader structural realities of the country. The Decadal Plan seeks to address concerns about retention and outlines concerted efforts to meet the vision and specified targets. It was necessary to confront the reality around resources and funding to absorb more unemployed youth. It was important for departments to participate in the programmes and employ more interns. The HSRC is engaging the private sector to take on more interns. The duration of the internship programme is 24 months. She agreed that it was still limited and that more needed to be done considering the structural challenges.
Mr Stewart Ngandu, Senior Research Manager: Inclusive Economic Development, HSRC, confirmed that the Community of Practice assisted in achieving the targets in relation to persons living with disabilities. The programme was assessed through research to understand why people did not succeed. The exercise was helpful in meeting the target. The different types of disability and the extent to which they affect participation in terms of visibility and mobility require different tools for placement. The information is being documented to develop guidelines on how to incorporate persons living with disabilities in general programmes. Structural challenges impact retention and the sustainability of employment. South Korea and China are fully digital which allows them to employ large numbers of people. The situation cannot be compared in terms of the diversity in output because South Africa’s basket of output remains stagnant and therefore employment remains at the same level. From his own experience he could attest to the success of the transition programme because, during his time at the NRF, he mentored some of the interns who have been successfully employed. Although retention was taking place, institutions cannot keep up with placing young people. The transition employment rate is between 60 and 80% of young people who are successfully employed while others are participating in the programmes.
Prof Mosoetsa undertook to provide more specific data on retention in writing.
Mr Patel acknowledged the concerns about the transitioning of graduates to employment in some of the programmes except for the Enviro Champs Programme. The ETP has very high retention rates because it allows people to move easily into technical jobs. The PYEI is seen as a stepping stone to address the structural challenge of the high level of unskilled young people while fixing the economy, which remains a challenge post-Covid-19. The role of the DSI and water-related programmes evolved from the opportunity during the Covid-19 crisis. At the time, the DSI worked closely with the WRC and the Department of Water and Sanitation to share experiences. The DSI worked similarly with the HSRC on outreach programmes such as the Health Promotion Agents during Covid-19 on measures, other than pharmaceuticals, to educate the public. More work needs to be done to address the mismatch in the labour market. About accommodating the 6 000 qualified graduates, he said receiving institutions do not have the capacity to take on large numbers. He undertook to share responses about statistics on all programmes and on retention rates in the Water Graduate Employment Programme in writing.
Dr Muofhe agreed that the many initiatives would have to be coordinated, e.g. working directly with the youth to commercialise innovations. The DSI is of the view that all entry-level jobs require some level of IT skills such as the basic skills to type and operate an Excel spreadsheet. The initiatives are meant to equip graduates with experience for their first jobs and are not meant to create full-time jobs. The R40 million spent on the Health Promotion Agents was to pay a monthly stipend of R6 000 to beneficiaries who participated in the programme. He drew attention to the PYEI presentation which reflected the tracking of the various initiatives. The DSI has a dedicated tracking mechanism and would in future provide a clear indication of what happened to the participants. While the numbers are not big, the areas of employment are critical, e.g. 500 graduates were trained in the water sector which would have a great impact if the graduates were to be deployed where needed. The uptake at municipalities was not happening due to financial challenges.
The Chairperson appreciated the engagement and noted the commitment to submit further detail in writing. She requested the DSI to provide a breakdown of the monitoring and tracking system indicating where young people are placed and the registry of the movement of participants. The follow-up document should be shared with the NYDA to allow them to be more strategic in terms of the target market and the industries that they work with. Sharing the information strengthens the Committee to be a voice of the NYDA and DSI in order to be more impactful in addressing the challenges and achieving the objectives.
The Chairperson announced that both meetings in the following week would be in-person, i.e. a visit to the Northlink TVET College on Wednesday 7 June 2023 and a visit to iThemba LABS on Friday, 9 June 2023.
The meeting was adjourned.
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