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High Gear aligning TVET system with industry demand

Positioning South Africa’s public TVET college system to meet the needs of employers has been hampered by limited industry involvement in curriculum design and delivery, but that is changing thanks to a collaborative initiative that is aligning TVET courses with the automotive component manufacturing sector’s evolving needs.

Industry and colleges have often worked in silos to address skills gaps in the labour market, resulting in a mismatch between employer expectations and graduate competencies. Consequently, automotive component manufacturers have tended to prefer recruiting university graduates for in-house training, but this model is not optimal because university degrees are not always aligned with the job roles in high demand in the sector.  

Now, South Africa’s growing automotive component manufacturing industry – represented by the National Association of Automotive Component and Allied Manufacturers (NAACAM) – is partnering with the country’s TVET college network to inject practical and project-based learning into course delivery, using a model that ensures dynamic alignment as industry needs evolve. 

Implementation of this new partnership model, known as High Gear, is coordinated by IYF, working closely with the Department of Higher Education & Training (DHET) to identify existing and future TVET engineering qualifications that would benefit from High Gear’s industry involvement.    

Enabling demand-led course delivery is rejuvenating TVET qualifications that have struggled to achieve their full potential. While public TVET colleges play a critical role in preparing students for jobs in technical fields – most often with students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds – there are few examples of industry-wide partnerships with  the TVET system. This gap exists despite South Africa’s manufacturing sector and TVET colleges being full of passionate educators who want to advance young people’s futures. 

TVET engineering classrooms often have an overreliance on textbook-led training, with typical pitfalls for students who need to develop hands-on and teamwork skills to operate specialised tools and machinery. High Gear’s hypothesis is that an effective TVET system must have colleges and industry working closely together to make training more dynamic and practical, but in ways that do not place too much responsibility on any single employer’s shoulders.

Being anchored by a manufacturing association, the High Gear model fills the missing middle of industry representation in the TVET system. NAACAM coordinates and leverages its base of more than 135 manufacturing members to strategically involve employers in creating sustainable, adaptable and implementable TVET course upgrades. 

Before implementing course enhancements, IYF and NAACAM first sought to understand the competencies that automotive component manufacturers prioritise among TVET college graduates. High Gear drew on industry competency models adapted to the domestic manufacturing sector and conducted rapid employer research using those competency models. 

Interviews were conducted with 36 firms, in collaboration with the Durban Automotive Cluster in KwaZulu-Natal and the East Cape Automotive Industry Forum. The research found that employers want TVET graduates with a solid understanding of foundational Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects, along with knowledge of basic tools and engineering concepts used in production lines. Employers in the sector also put a premium on graduates with strong life skills, work readiness skills and higher-order thinking capabilities, all of which are critical for production line work that increasingly requires advanced problem-solving and teamwork.  

IYF then organised workshops with TVET colleges and industry partners in Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal to share the findings and determine opportunities for strengthening priority competencies within existing TVET courses. Workshop partners found three modalities: integration of project-based learning approaches into the delivery of existing TVET courses; industry-led career services for TVET students; and expansion of workplace exposure opportunities for both TVET educators and students. In essence, these are High Gear’s operational directives from both employers and TVET colleges. 

Using the above course alignment approaches, High Gear’s is neither increasing the complexity nor the time taken for students to complete their TVET studies. Instead, the initiative is optimising existing course delivery and building partnership models to regularly align qualifications with the industry’s evolving skill demands.

For example, High Gear has designed portable engineering demonstration kits that infuse practical training into TVET classrooms that previously focused only on theory. The demo kits have been designed to be closely connected with textbooks that lecturers are using, and aligned with modern industry requirements, which ensures there is strong educator and industry buy-in for the kits. 

Through High Gear, NAACAM will also soon be launching a free online career services platform, Yakh’iFuture, that will provide TVET students with interactive opportunities to learn how cars and their components are made and to explore career roles in industry and hear from young people working in those jobs. The site will also have custom mini-games and other TVET study resources so that students can develop priority skills in fun new ways. 

High Gear is positioned to support DHET’s defined skills strategy interventions that underpin the Economic Recovery and Reconstruction Plan. The ERRP was created to maximise opportunities for new entrants to access and succeed in the labour market, while preserving existing jobs and creating new ones.

High Gear’s role within the ERRP is to ensure that skills are not a constraint to economic recovery, reconstruction and transformation by demonstrating a partnership model that will regularly align TVET courses with current and emerging demands in the industry. Ongoing curricula alignment and lecturing upskilling through workplace exposure, both of which are built into the High Gear model, position TVET qualifications as flexible frameworks for regular and dynamic updates as industry needs evolve. 

High Gear is backed by catalytic funding from the UK Government’s Skills for Prosperity Programme, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. To sustain and scale High Gear, NAACAM is working to secure domestic funding that will ensure this remains a long-term initiative and a core service offering of the association. 

The outlook is positive and development has accelerated beyond initial plans. Already, NAACAM has reported that it can independently sustain the quarterly High Gear survey in 2022. In the Eastern Cape, the Automotive Industry Development Centre – another key industry group partner – has indicated strong interest in scaling the High Gear work-integrated learning component in the province, including expansion to additional TVET colleges. IYF is also inputting into DHET’s design of new TVET qualifications by drawing on learning and techniques developed through the High Gear initiative, greatly expanding the potential scale of the project’s TVET course upgrades.  DM


Author:  Colin Hagans, High Gear Programme Director at IYF and Carmel Marock, Singizi Consulting


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