TVET colleges critical to seizing the development opportunities of a just transition

South Africa’s skills policies are not in line with its environmental commitments and the country needs to significantly improve its technical and vocational education and training (TVET) ecosystem to produce the skills required to develop and capitalise on the just transition.

“Environmental challenges are cross-cutting issues. They do not belong to one sector, and the transition involves multiple systems, but our skills system does not have the capacity to deal with cross-cutting skills requirements,” University of the Witswatersrand Future of Work Programme research centre director Presha Ramsarup said this week.

Part of the aim of the Future of Work Programme is to develop a mechanism to coordinate the development of green and just transition skills.

“We are working to determine how jobs will change. Employers do not understand what about a job will change. South Africa needs to develop employer, sectoral and system level tools for sector education and training authorities to identify changes in skills requirements and adapt training courses in line with the needs of industry,” she said.

For example, the centre is investigating whether domain knowledge within occupations is changing, whether the materials, tools, products and services in occupation are changing and, from this, whether the researchers can define what occupational changes will be, Ramsarup noted.

“This will help us to identify hotspot areas where jobs are starting to change. From this, occupational analysis and research will help to inform skills planning methods and models required for a just transition.”

Meanwhile, energy industry organisation the South African National Energy Association (SANEA) conducted a desktop study of more than 200 reports relating to South Africa’s skills and education systems.

“South Africa does not have an integrated view of what is needed to support the just climate transition, although many skills are common across many of the technologies, including renewables energy generation and green hydrogen for example,” said SANEA secretary-general Wendy Poulton.

The skills interventions are also not market-driven, neither are they based on value chains, she added.

“South Africa’s economy is also coal-based and the impact of the energy transition will be much bigger than for less carbon-intensive economies. From our research, we are seeing that the energy skills gap is widening amid deteriorating energy security. These are significant issues for South Africa in terms of climate change adaption and decarbonisation,” she said.

There are a few no-regret options open to the country that are common in all the modelled scenarios, namely increasing renewable energy generation and energy efficiency measures, as well as a drive to prosumerism, Poulton highlighted.

However, questions about the timing of changes in the energy market remain, including when and how green hydrogen will be introduced amid declining coal and oil use.

“Lots of skills are required no matter what scenario or pathway is taken,” she noted.

Sectoral master plans can help role-players understand what the future demand will be, said Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) hydrogen and energy chief director Dr Rebecca Maserumule.

Understanding the demand for skills is necessary to ensure that the education and training system is responsive to the needs of the labour market and reduces mismatches, concurred Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) system monitoring and labour market intelligence director Mamphoku Khuluvhe.

“We need to ensure that skills are not a constraint to growth of the economy and specific economic sectors, nor to our efforts to address climate change,” she said.

Cooperation with industries to identify sectors that will be affected by the energy and climate transition of the economy is critical, and value chains must be included to ensure all stakeholders are part of the transition, Khuluvhe said.

“We need to think about what processes need to be in place to enable people to find employment in the short-, medium- and long-term, as the economy and economic sectors transition,” she emphasised.

It is critical that the TVET system be an active part of the transition in order to match the changes in industry with changes in education and training, noted Maserumule.

A green hydrogen development document, developed in cooperation with the DHET and SANEA, showed that, if South Africa were to move to using its sunshine and wind to produce green hydrogen and use it in many sectors, it could create up to 3.2-million jobs in the economy, with the highest number of jobs being created in the green iron and steel industry, followed by the platinum group metals sector and then the power generation sector.

“TVET colleges can be a critical enabler of the hydrogen economy. For example, the green hydrogen economy can revive the iron and steel sector, but we need to develop a clear master plan and need to understand how to transition education and training to develop new skills or reskill employees,” Maserumule illustrated, based on Hydrogen Society projections.

“We need to ensure adequate and sustained funding for TVET colleges, so that students can become the green artisans and technicians that we need.

“This will require capacitating colleges, improving governance within them and the TVET system, and ensuring accountability across the national departments responsible for progress, including the DHET and DSI,” she emphasised.

Meanwhile, funding for skills development to underpin a just climate transition is a global challenge, said United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) policies and lifelong learning systems director Borhene Chakroun.

“Green funds and economic stimulus packages for green transitions, such as that extended to South Africa, typically include allocations for education and training that are less than 3% of the total funding available. Therefore, it is important to speak about how green transition resources are allocated,” he said.

Attention is being paid to funding the green economy, but less so for education and training, which has implications for greening initiatives.

Further, and importantly, Unesco research has indicated that the first 1 000 days of a child’s life are critical, and investments must include foundational education and early childhood development, Chakroun emphasised.

Universities also play an important role in the green transition, in terms of research, experimentation and innovation, as well as to irrigate and feed the broader education system with skills and educators, he added.

However, there is little articulation of what feeder jobs will allow people to transition to new jobs in a green economy, noted Ramsarup.

South Africa’s national plans and sectoral master plans must think about occupational pathways for students entering the industry and for those currently employed, thereby avoiding graduates not having the required skills for future jobs and employees not being able to move to new jobs, she advised.

*The speakers quoted in this article participated in the ‘Skills for a Just Transition Indaba’ hosted by the Presidential Climate Commission, the DHET and the Energy and Water Sector Education Training Authority on December 7.

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