Learning Equality

Article excerpt

South Africa creates the workforce of today--and tomorrow.

How often have you said to yourself, "If only I had a second chance, I'd do it differently"? Most people have wished for the chance to start over--to remake themselves--but few get that opportunity. In South Africa, however, people are getting that second chance.

Prior to 1990, apartheid created inequities that kept South Africa's black population from participating fully in business and government, and from obtaining a proper education. Neither desirable nor sustainable, apartheid fell apart by the early 1990s, ushering in a new era--one in which citizens were ready to address old grievances and equality was to become the norm in all aspects of life. Segregation was abolished, and access to jobs in business and government was made available to all South Africans. Opportunities opened up. Dreams, however, still went unrealized.

While the rejection of apartheid created many new opportunities, jobs went unfilled due to a lack of skilled workers. The legacy of apartheid created a dearth of employable people. In addition, the requisite skills began to change, reflecting the new economy and its appetite for knowledge workers.

South Africa's businesses are now faced with a frustrating paradox: Business is taking off, but there are no workers to fill positions. Global access and competition are increasing, but businesses are losing talent to outside organizations. As a final blow, HIV is raging through South Africa's population, cutting lives short and making it difficult to find healthy workers.

South Africa now faces the daunting challenge of not only creating the workforce of the future, but also the workforce of today. It must train and educate its current population while preparing its future workforce. South Africa is rising to that challenge by enacting legislation and creating programs to train its workforce while building a national framework for lifelong learning.

A combination of legislative acts has set the process in motion. The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (2000) was created to make the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1996) more effective in eradicating social and economic inequalities. In addition, the Skills Development Act (1998), the National Qualifications Framework (1995), and the Skills Development Levies Act (1999) all operate as building blocks in creating a new South African workforce.

The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act is the leveling instrument, designed to pave over previous inequalities by preventing and prohibiting unfair discrimination and harassment, and promoting equality. This is, in part, designed to help all South Africans gain access to jobs. But what happens when workers are under-skilled?

The Skills Development Act was promulgated to increase investment in education and training, right historical wrongs regarding access and opportunities to learn, and encourage employers to use their workplaces as active learning environments. To do that, an institutional and financial framework has been established that is made up of

* labor centers

* a skills-development, levy-grant scheme

* the National Skills Authority

* the National Skills Fund

* the Skills Development Planning Unit

* the Sector Education and Training Authorities.

The Skills Development Act also encourages partnerships between the public and private sectors of the economy to provide education and training in and for the workplace and to cooperate with the South African Qualifications Authority. …