Helping plug South Africa's skills gap

About 4,000 young people have enrolled for the skills training SSACI

What makes a Swiss public-private development scheme aimed at alleviating South Africa's crippling skills shortage such a winner?

This content was published on June 1, 2007 - 12:13

swissinfo met the promoters and beneficiaries of a cooperation programme set up by the Swiss foreign ministry and Swiss firms in South Africa to find out more about its impressive success rate among young graduates.

When asked about possible flaws in the Swiss-South African Cooperation Initiative (SSACI), Angie Hart, Moses Kali and Sabelo Mngomezulu, the three students who had been invited to talk to a visiting delegation of Swiss government officials and businessmen in Pretoria last month, give a puzzled look.

They just can't think of anything negative to say about the programme.

"It was an amazing course, very hands-on and definitely the right job for me," says 23-year-old Angie from the Cape region, where she is now working as a pre-school teacher.

For Sabelo, who's training to become a dentist in rural KwaZulu Natal, the question is not really about whether he enjoys the training - it's more about commitment to his community.

"If people give us the money to go to university to study, we can then go back to do the best thing for our community. You have to face the challenge - that's what development is all about."

Gratitude

Moses Kali, 25, who studies business development skills, highlights the learning experience, describing the hugely rewarding challenge of teaching people how to improve their small businesses.

Only cynical minds would argue that the three young people expressed so much gratitude simply because their sponsors were sitting in the audience.

There are about ten million chronically unemployed young people in South Africa – a rate of about 50 per cent - and the national vocational training system has been in serious decline since the early 1990s. Public training colleges have since been improved, but it will take another five-to-eight years before they really start producing graduates, according to Ken Duncan, SSACI chief executive.

This is where the development support scheme comes in as a procurement and management agency which also provides scholarships.

"We are using public colleges and private service providers as well as non-governmental organisations to provide the training services," Duncan explains.

Private-public partnership

What makes it unique in his opinion is the partnership between the public sector – the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) – and Swiss firms in South Africa. Both sides provided the same amount of money – SFr1 million ($0.8 million) - last year to run the programme.

The impact is considerable, despite the modest investment. Of the 4,000 young people who have been enrolled over the past five years, nearly 3,200 have graduated. Three out of four have a regular income and more than 300 small businesses have been started up.

"We try to set up pilot projects that can demonstrate on a small scale what could be done on a much larger scale with public funding," says Duncan.

His team hopes to extend the programme so that 100 young small business advisors can be trained up and 2,000 new companies open their doors in the near future.

Efficiency

Terry Hime, former managing director of Schindler Lifts in South Africa, is unambiguous about Schindler's involvement. He says the company also benefits under the government's Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) policy.

The most successful initiative of its kind in South Africa is the result of several different factors.

"The enthusiasm of the project and the participants make it very successful. It is also well organised in [typical] Swiss fashion – it's very efficient and has a very good service delivery," he says.

What about possible flaws in the project?

SSACI's chief executive Duncan is aware of its limitations. "It's a small drop in the ocean," he says, but adds. "It shows what can be done."

swissinfo, Urs Geiser in Pretoria

In brief

SSACI is part of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation's (SDC) policy of helping to reduce poverty and prevent social conflict.

SSACI is a public-private development partnership between SDC and Swiss companies trading in South Africa.

SDC has been active in 13 countries in the southern Africa region since 1994 and has been involved in promoting good governance, the fight against HIV/Aids and the sustainable use of natural resources.

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The Swiss-South African Cooperation Initiative

The Swiss-South African Cooperation Initiative (SSACI) was set up by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and ten private corporations in 2001.

The private sector includes companies such as Ciba, Credit Suisse, Givaudan, Holcim, Novartis, Schindler, Sika, Swiss Re, UBS and Xstrata.

In the meantime, ABB, Bühler, Clariant, Hilti, Nestlé and Swiss International Airlines have added their names to the list of SSACI funding partners.

So far, about 4,000 young people have enrolled for training. Of these, 92% have graduated and 77% of graduates have found work within three months, according to SSACI.

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