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Opening remarks by Deputy President David Mabuza at the hybrid meeting of the Human Resource Development Council at Sedibeng TVET College, Vereeniging

Ministers,
 
Deputy Ministers,
 
Premiers,
 
MECs in attendance,
 
Deputy Chairpersons, Mr. Ntshalintshali and Ms. Mayekiso, Members of the Human Resource Development Council,
 
The principal of Sedibeng TVET College, Dr. George Mothapo, and the leadership of the College in attendance,
 
Ladies and Gentlemen
  
We are pleased to have all of you at this Human Resource Development Council meeting at Sedibeng TVET College in Vereeniging.
  
This is the first time we are physically meeting since the lifting of the COVID-19 restrictions and of the new term of this council.
 
It is humbling to see the level of commitment by Council members towards making the work of this body a success, more especially in the current turbulent economic times, as we collectively seek innovative solutions to skills development for the economy and future of work. 
  
This meeting is important in charting a way forward as our country is on a path of recovery from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, nearly 150,000 children in South Africa were orphaned as a result of COVID-19 associated deaths.
 
The devastating effects of the pandemic disrupted economic activities and their value chains, leading to the closure of many businesses, thereby resulting in massive job losses and the loss of livelihoods.
 
More specifically, COVID-19 brought to the surface the harsh realities of the need to change, and adapt to new ways of doing business, including the adoption of virtual technological platforms, and digitalisation of business processes and interactions. 
  
Suddenly, the global society was confronted with the task of delivering knowledge and skills sets in a short time in order for nations to survive.
 
Vaccine shortages, inadequate hospital equipment and supplies, limited logistics and distribution capabilities, and skills shortages in critical areas necessitated and spurred urgent interventions at global and domestic levels.
  
Across all key sectors of the economy and social endeavour, there was a need to adapt to new demands in terms of additional personnel and skills, research and vaccines development, digital connectivity, as well as the introduction of alternative platforms to deliver education, health and public services in general.
 
Equally, this evolving nature of doing business has set in motion the shifting content of skills and capabilities needed to build, and grow  a sustain modern economy.
  
It requires a quick paradigm shift and reorientation to realign the content of our curriculum offerings and skills development programmes so that we can respond to the demands of industry and the economy.
 
Within the overall context of the evolving Fourth Industrial Revolution, our National Digital and Future Skills Strategy provides a critical framework for inclusive partnerships between industry, labour, higher education institutions and society to imagine and build a new set of skills and capabilities for our country.
 
From the foundations of basic education to tertiary levels, key resources and infrastructure must be provided to accelerate the provision of relevant and appropriate skills.
 
Our focus as Council should be rooted on strategies that will see an increase in productivity and the realisation of skills that are necessary for our country to become a knowledge and skills-based economy.
 
That is why we are encouraged by what we have seen on this campus, where the world of old knowledge collides with new cutting-edge research and technology in disciplines like Mechatronics, and where this institution is at the forefront of its introduction for our skills revolution.
 
This combination of mechanical engineering, electronics and computer systems will definitely go a long way in developing the skills that we require as country in our effort of re-industrialisation toward growing our economy.
 
We applaud the leadership of this College, the principal for such innovation, and we hope it will inspire other institutions to follow suit in looking at other similar initiatives to expand and diversify our skills base.
 
We are also encouraged by partnerships that this College has entered into with industry players to ensure that it aligns and tailors its training and skills offering to industry needs. 

As the Council, we need to ensure that all our TVET colleges have strategic partnerships with industry players across all economic sectors.
 
This will enable experiential learning, placement, entrepreneurship development and employment opportunities for all our students that are produced in the TVET College system.
 
 
COVID-19 challenges: Economic Stagnation and Unemployment
 
We must address the socio-economic challenges we are facing in order to ensure sustainable livelihoods and social cohesion.
 
Stats SA says the country’s unemployment rate stood at 33.9 percent in the second quarter of the year, with almost 12.3 million of our people who jobless.
 
Most concerning is that 35.7 percent of youth between the ages of 15 and 24 are classified as not being in employment, education, or training.
  
The story that these statistics depict is very concerning as we note that 39.3 percent of black women are unemployed and therefore vulnerable.
 
In part, our ability to reverse rising levels of unemployment and poverty depends on our progress in delivering training and skills development programmes that will address the challenges of the moment.
 
Apart from those in the schooling and training system, the reality is that we have an unsustainably high number of young people who are unemployed. Something drastic needs to happen.
 
Therefore, as the Council, we need to put measures in place to ensure that those who have lost employment and learning opportunities are able to bounce back through a package of skills development interventions that will create viable options in life.
 
What the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us is that certain jobs may not come back as we know them. Therefore, we need to work with industry to design targeted skills programmes that will facilitate the absorption of youth into entrepreneurship and employment.
 
Many a time, we keep deliberating on our challenges, and we also make undertakings to change course, but very little is done to implement all the good resolutions that we take to change the situation.
 
You will remember that we had a Council Summit and took a number of resolutions to change our fortunes.
 
This meeting should reflect on the progress we have made, bearing in mind the dire state of the economy and hardships that are an outcome of unemployment, poverty, and inequality.

 
Interventions to rebuild our economy and job creation
 
To this end, as we finalise our programme of action today, we should:
 
Reflect on whether the work of this Council will produce skills that are appropriate for citizens to thrive in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution;
 
Reflect on how the Council develops targeted and progressive delivery of key outcomes that can be measured over the term of the  existence of this Council;
 
Instead of trying to do everything, we should reflect on how we prioritise and select a portfolio of interrelated national ‘high impact’ interventions or projects to deliver tangible results for our country;
 
More critically, we need to be clear about how we mobilise requisite financial resources from government and the private sector to jointly drive these initiatives; and
How do we ensure that the HRDC strategy responds to the current job seekers and those pursuing entrepreneurship?
 
Therefore, the programme of action should lead to the realisation of a better environment for learning and training. With proper education and training, we can move forward as a country.
 

Improving schooling throughput
 
Equally so, we can move our country forward if we urgently intervene to address the challenges that are facing the basic education sector. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen an unfortunate increase in school dropouts.
 
The fact that approximately 750 000 students did not return to school due to the pandemic should be of great concern to all of us as a Council. These increasing dropout rates, compound the already high number of young people that are not in education, employment, and training.
 
Furthermore, COVID-19 has highlighted the issue of the digital divide in our society. While other schools in affluent areas were able to continue learning during COVID-19, those who have no access to ICT have been disadvantaged, thus lagging behind, hence our call for the mobilisation of requisite resources from the government and private sector to jointly drive these initiatives.
 
In line with the vision of our National Digital and Future Skills Strategy, let us ensure that the South African community becomes digitally adaptive, to ensure digital inclusivity for future generations.
 
This will be possible if we establish an education and skills development ecosystem that provides South Africans with the required skills to create and participate in the digital economy.
 
We must bridge the digital inequality gap in our country, especially amongst unskilled and low-income citizens, among whom women and girl children represent the majority.
 
If we are to win the war against poverty, we must find ways to keep our children in school so that they can gain the necessary knowledge and skills to be active participants in the economy.
 
The Council must continue to reverberate a message that says, "Education is the only way that we are going to transform our society." It unlocks doors to greener pastures and locks the doors to crime, substance abuse, and many ailments that are negatively affecting our communities.
 
With the time that we have remaining for our term as members of this Council, let us recognise our collective responsibility as partners to work more diligently towards the realisation of the goals as outlined in the strategy, and we are not going to fail our people.
 
I thank you