The greening of SA’s economy can create 460 000 new jobs, says the Department of Higher Education and Training’s (DHET) Green Paper on post-school education and training.
Many of these jobs would be at an intermediate skills level. There therefore exists considerable potential to generate mid-level green skills through FET colleges that could be geographically focused around employment opportunities such as national parks and ecotourism lodges, and in provinces where organic farming or indigenous landscaping are growing rapidly.
The National Environmental Skills Planning (NESP) Forum, representing a range of public and private organisations, institutions and government departments focused on environmental management and education, recently commented on the Green Paper:
“While largely agreeing with the comprehensive analysis of issues affecting universities, colleges and students, the NESP Forum has summarised the views of many in the environmental sector when we call for measures to better align environmental study pathways, provide more adequate financial support and training guidelines for the experiential training year; and address provisioning for both students and staff in higher education,” stated Thomas Mathiba, Director of Sector Education and Training, Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and NESP Forum Chairperson.
Areas that the NESP Forum felt were not adequately addressed in the Green Paper include:
Not easy for students leaving colleges
“Articulation between Further Education and Training (FET), Higher Education and Training (HET) and the workplace seems to be of particular concern for the environmental sector. Students exiting FET colleges cannot easily enter into higher degrees, even when they have ample capacity to do so. Environmental education institutions therefore welcome the intention to address articulation issues, and we are willing to contribute our sectoral insights to any efforts undertaken in this regard, ” said Dr Maria Kanjere, Southern African Wildlife College.
For FET colleges in both urban and rural contexts to be effective, two important exit channels must be available to FET students i.e. articulation into higher education and entry into employment.
Experiential learning leads to employable graduates
The experiential training component of higher education studies requires strengthening, as it is one of the differentiating factors between higher education institutions or departments that produce quality, employable graduates, and those which fail to do so. Departments require adequate resourcing and academic staff need sufficient incentives to undertake fieldwork.
Ashwell Glasson, Project Manager for Internships and Training, NCC Environmental Services stated, “we see immense benefit in ‘real-world’ exposure and learning from the world of environmental and biodiversity work for students undertaking their experiential learning blocks. In the ideal scenario, making the link between the formal academic curriculum and transfer of learning to daily work in environmental projects concretises their learning. Higher education institutions need to better prepare workplace or experiential learning partners by informing them of where the experiential learning emphasis needs to be placed, whilst the workplace organisation needs to acknowledge that it has a responsibility to provide an enabling learning environment for those learners.”
Capacity building not adequately addressed
Environmental protection and the sustainability of natural resource use are in our national interest, but few individual employers have the capacity to plan accordingly. There is a dire lack of human capital development (HCD) expertise in South Africa – our capacity to build capacity. This is currently not adequately addressed in the Green Paper’s vision and objectives.
Prof Heila Lotz-Sisitka of the Rhodes University Environmental Learning Research Centre, advised that “there is a particular need for high level specialists who combine an understanding of a sector, in this case, environment, with an understanding of HCD or skills development.”
Skills interventions need more research
The NESP Forum endorses the objective of the Green Paper to ensure that sector intelligence on supply and demand is informed by better quality and more adequate data, and that skills interventions are monitored and evaluated, with the support of a far greater body of research. It is however vital that this body of research include both quantitative studies into patterns, trends and causal factors, as well as qualitative research to create better understanding of these trends. This requires the commitment to better systems and the development of a new cadre of researchers with the necessary academic background.
The NESP Forum thanked DHET for the opportunity to comment and wished the Department well in finalising the Green Paper and developing the White Paper. The recommendations can only be actualised if we work together. The NESP Forum therefore offers its support in informing the measures to ensure that the skills required to sustain livelihoods and drive South Africa’s green economy are in place at the right time and are of the highest quality.