Apprenticeships are a real education accessible to all
Formal education, or rather the total lack of it, will become the greatest legacy of the current South African government. It will be nothing to be proud of and it is a tragedy of the greatest proportions. I am a company proposing that apprenticeships be real education and vocational training a realistic part of the solution for millions of unemployed youth in Africa.
Unfortunately, as I reflect on this article, it occurs to me that it would be dangerously easy to go on a tirade against the education crisis in South Africa and place newspapers full of the smelly mix of doggy-doo and responsibility at the proper doors. But I will tread carefully.
A few weeks ago, I was approached by two young entrepreneurs looking for partners in a bold venture. They were seeking access to the business world and guidance on how to approach this foreign creature.
My immediate reaction was one of amazement at the bravery of these two boys and after spending some time with them this was quickly followed by two other reactions. First of all, the limitless vision that these enthusiastic entrepreneurs had was quite impressive and perhaps a lesson lies in this fact alone. After years in the business, some of my bolder visions have been fed up with many voices telling me to “get real,” but this is grounds for another article entirely. Suffice to say that his business plan is bold beyond the wildest I have ever known. And secondly, I was saddened by the utter naivety with which they approached business.
It reminded me of my initial encounters with business as a specialized profession, as opposed to my formal training as a lawyer. There is no question that the business degree, achieved after my first three years of college, was just as preparatory as the next three years would be for graduate law. I would venture to say that my personal education took place only after college and once I entered the “real” world to complete two years of Clerkship Articles, which was a prerequisite to fully qualify and be admitted to practice. as a lawyer. The intent of these Clerkship Articles is to provide on-the-job vocational training in an internship of sorts.
And now, back to the two optimistic boys from earlier. His resume did not list tertiary education, but I don’t think this is a limitation. In any case, readers familiar with South Africa’s secondary and tertiary education system will know that pass rates at institutions of learning are heralded to be equaled or bettered annually by grinning idiots, to some extent due to the relentless lowering of standards. . Such lowering of standards makes formal education tragically overrated locally up to about tertiary master’s level or, at the very least, graduate level with honors – staggering! Educational institutions that were once proud and internationally recognized can no longer offer any prestige.
The importance of this lies in the opportunity to encourage alternative approaches to training potential employees or employers.
How to enter the business world?
In many “developed” nations, alternative paths of education, such as apprenticeships, have been the norm for decades and, around the tenth school year (grade 10 or standard 8), pupils choose to follow the more academic path or approach of vocational training. . The benefits and drawbacks of each have also been debated for decades, but the very fact of extremely low unemployment rates in countries where vocational training is an option, relative to South Africa, says a lot about the benefits. from both. In my interactions with “products” of both pathways, it often seems that the most important issue at stake overall is the preferred learning method for each individual’s strengths. By this I mean that certain people excel in academic settings, while others thrive in a more hands-on methodology. The beauty of alternative educational pathways seems to lie in the opportunity, for those who are not academically inclined or do not come from a strong or conductive educational background, to further their education and skills.
South Africans from disadvantaged (read: poor) backgrounds face a unique challenge. It is often not appreciated that a poor European, Japanese or Canadian has access to electricity and can study their school work at night in an electrically lit room; whereas a poor South African will have to walk 15 kilometers home from school, do chores and attempt to study by candlelight in a noisy informal settlement (read: squatter camp), eight people sharing a room , on an empty stomach. because the only food they have every day is at school.
And so it seems that the historical background of the country has resulted in a tremendous value being placed on a complete academic secondary and tertiary education. Unfortunately, this raises the overwhelming prospect that too much is placed on achieving something that is beyond the reach of most young South Africans. It is out of reach, not through lack of skill or desire, but through apathy. Political will and direction is lacking to the point that no amount of historical finger pointing and avoidance of accountability can go unnoticed. The supposed solutions lie in the design of high-tech learning materials, such as touchscreen tablets loaded with Internet capabilities and study guides. This is complete nonsense in the African environment and economically unviable. My laptop at work crashes from time to time for no identifiable reason; I can’t imagine how sensitive the IT team is supposed to survive a rustic and dusty rural school, not to mention vulnerability to crime.
For reasons beyond the scope of this article, academic qualifications are the ideal for many South Africans. Trade grades and apprenticeships are very much the ugly sister at the school dance.
Two young men with a big dream asked for help and did not have the relevant academic papers that are so important in South Africa. However, his story does not deserve to end there. The limitations that young people experience in their secondary education should not be limitations in their lives. There should be nothing to stop a willing student from promoting themselves. The learning path is not limited to excellent academic records and may be available on a much broader scale. Aside from the ability of a potential investor to provide financial backing to a project, there is often the potential to inject mentorship and knowledge.
Apprenticeships offer a learning experience beyond academics and provide the platform to teach skills not typically taught in formal academic settings. Those skills include time management, interpersonal interactions in a work environment, corporate structure, responsibility, business ethics, and reporting. There is a school of thought that suggests that anyone needs 10,000 hours before becoming an expert in a certain trade or skill. Those hours are not productively achieved by sitting in class, but by applying the knowledge learned.
South Africa is a country riddled with corporate social debt and the relative immaturity of its political players often results in misguided economic policy, particularly where the entrepreneur is concerned. However, a positive result of this is the promotion of corporate social responsibility programs. As with many of these policies, the idea is great, but its implementation under legislative pressure is ill-advised. Companies spend billions of rand (hundreds of millions of pounds or dollars) on multiple programs that, on the face of it, are there to benefit poor communities and geographic regions where those companies have made their wealth. Truth be told, many of those programs don’t make sense.
corporate social responsibility
No doubt the managers and executives given this responsibility within those corporations will swallow their coffee cup in fury at the above sentence, but after cleaning up the cafe, they should admit it. They should creatively and carefully look at their CSR (corporate social responsibility) function and assess how those billions could be spent more sustainably. I am not suggesting for one moment that charities are not worthwhile causes, but the underlying sustainability of the work done by that charity is critical. Many readers will know the principle that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.
Eager businessmen expressed their frustration to me when I asked why they would approach me of all people. These two young men were eager to learn, full of ideas and enthusiasm, but dramatically restricted in the reality of their access to knowledge and experience. Regardless of their eagerness to become entrepreneurs and their open acceptance of the limits of formal education, their real problem lay simply in the fact that they had no other options. Aspiring entrepreneurs often wonder where to go and how to get to a boardroom, any boardroom, just for a chance to be heard. And in this, lay their answer as to why they approached me… I was one of the few willing to listen.
Here’s my challenge to South African CSR Expenditure and Program Managers: Spending money is easy – foster a program that your staff and executives spend time on! Spend time on youth dreams and offer apprenticeship programs.
Vocational training may be seen as less glamorous than a university degree, but it has been, and continues to be, the most effective form of training and development around the world. If South Africa makes an honest and open assessment of the dilemma in which many uneducated and unemployed youth find themselves, it should take the glory and glamor out of the social arrangement.
The goal of young South Africans should be self-improvement and job creation/achievement. One of the most useful and tangible ways to achieve this is with education through learning.