SETA is believing: How to get a head start in the skills race

Here’s a scary fact: more than half the matrics who leave school every year don’t have the basic skills to get a job in any sector of the economy. And even if you make it to university, as many as 7 000 South African graduates are jobless at any given time.

It’s depressing to think that you may end up being just another statistic among the country’s 4.9-million unemployed masses. But there are actually jobs out there – you just need to know where they are, how to look for them and how to get yourself trained up for them.

And this is where the SETAs come in: they aim to develop people’s skills through hands-on workplace experience.

You may have heard of the SETAs but are unsure what they’re all about. Don’t worry – you’re not alone. The SETAs are South Africa’s Sector Education and Training Authorities, and there are currently 21 of them.

Basically, there is a SETA for every sector of the economy, focusing on boosting the skills sets and abilities needed in that particular area through practical workplace training.

So, for example, there is a SETA that covers agriculture, and another one dealing with banking. There’s a SETA encompassing health and welfare, one dealing with insurance, one focusing on food and beverages, and so on.

These SETAs have to develop sector skills plans that tie in with the National Skills Development Strategy – a roadmap of the skills needed to rev up the engine of the economy.

History of the SETAs

Before 2000, there were 33 industry training boards in South Africa. They mainly covered apprenticeships. Then the government passed the Skills Development Act, which outlined the new SETA system. The aim was to develop a series of skills plans for each sector, to identify the trends, the in-demand skills and the training priorities. Each sector is made up of related and complementary economic activities.

The main difference between the old and new systems is the SETAs’ expanded focus on learnerships, internships, skills programmes and apprenticeships.

There were 23 SETAs to begin with, but they have since been juggled to better meet the needs of the economy, and today there are 21 such bodies.

They used to fall under the Department of Labour, but are now the responsibility of the Department of Higher Education and Training.

What do SETAs do?

  • They help school-leavers gain much-needed skills in their chosen field.
  • They help those already in the workplace to add to their skills.
  • They function as quality controllers, accrediting education and training providers and ensuring these institutions do their job properly.
  • They draw up sector skills plans to identify priorities for skills development in each area of the economy.
  • Thanks to the skills levies they collect, the SETAs create and fund learnerships with employers.

What is a learnership?

A learnership is similar to an apprenticeship – it combines practical on-the-job workplace training with theoretical knowledge. In other words, you learn while you earn. The main difference is that apprenticeships are associated with so-called blue-collar trades, while learnerships also prepare people for jobs in professional and service-related careers.

Learnerships are outcomes-based and are linked to a specific occupation or field of work, such as electrical engineering, hairdressing or project management. You will receive a qualification registered with the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) at the end of your learnership.

Learnerships provide easy access to learning and help young people gain a formal qualification.

How are the SETAs funded?

The SETAs collect skills development levies from employers in each sector of the economy. At the moment, companies with a payroll of R500 000 or more per year must contribute 1% of their salary payroll to the South African Revenue Service for this purpose.

The SETAs then make some of this money available within their sector for educating and training existing employees as well as school-leavers.

Are the SETAs trustworthy?

Some have been criticised for mismanagement and failure to deliver on their mandate. However, part of the recent shake-up in the SETAs included putting measures in place to improve their reputation and performance.

How can the SETAs help me?

You can contact the individual SETAs for a list of approved companies in that sector that offer free learnerships, and then apply for as many of these on-the-job training opportunities as possible. Should you be successful, you will probably be asked to sign a short-term contract with the employer.

This means that you will be able to work while developing skills at no cost to you – and may even earn an allowance. And there is a good chance that you will get a job afterwards, perhaps even at the company you interned with.

You can also visit the Employment Services of South Africa section on the Department of Labour’s website to upload your CV so that you can be matched with potential employers who are recruiting for learnerships.

How can the SETAs help me?

Agricultural Sector Education and Training Authority
Sample jobs: farm manager, agricultural engineer, conservation officer, livestock inspector, veterinarian, crop analyst

Banking Sector Education and Training Authority
Sample jobs: bank teller, investment banker, home loans officer, debt counsellor, chartered accountant, foreign exchange officer

Culture, Arts, Tourism, Hospitality and Sports Sector Education and Training Authority
Sample jobs: fitness instructor, confectionary baker, hotel manager, park ranger, marine biologist, travel consultant, tour guide, lighting technician

Construction Education and Training Authority
Sample jobs: building surveyor, site engineer, architect, town planner, structural engineer, civil engineer

Chemical Industries Education and Training Authority
Sample jobs: chemical engineer, industrial engineer, quality systems manager, geologist, environmental protection professional

Energy and Water Sector Education and Training Authority
Sample jobs: forklift operator, safety officer, water quality analyst, civil engineer, project manager, solar installer

Education, Training and Development Practices Sector Education and Training Authority
Sample jobs: maths teacher, nursery school teacher, office administrator, school principal, secretary

Financial and Accounting Services Sector Education and Training Authority
Sample jobs: stockbroker, accountant, bookkeeper, auditor, tax consultant, financial manager

Fibre Processing & Manufacturing Sector Education and Training Authority
Sample jobs: clothing machinist, patternmaker, book binder, wood machinist, illustrator, paper and pulp mill operator

Food and Beverages Manufacturing Industry Sector Education and Training Authority
Sample jobs: food technician, packaging machine operator, baker, refrigeration mechanic, winemaker, biochemist

Health and Welfare Sector Education and Training Authority
Sample jobs: social worker, registered nurse, pharmacist, doctor, dietician, occupational therapist

Insurance Sector Education and Training Authority
Sample jobs: actuary, underwriter, insurance broker, claims administrator, financial investment advisor

Local Government Sector Education and Training Authority
Sample jobs: property valuer, internal auditor, councillor, engineer, finance officer

Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training Authority
Sample jobs: crane operator, fitter, millwright, automotive motor mechanic, panelbeater, machine operator

Media, Information and Communication Technologies Sector Education and Training Authority
Sample jobs: web designer, copywriter, sound technician, advertising specialist, production coordinator, radio journalist

Mining Qualifications Authority
Sample jobs: miner, engineer, mine surveyor, analytical chemist, jewellery designer, metallurgist

Public Service Sector Education and Training Authority
Sample jobs: supply chain manager, customer service manager, labour inspector, policy advisor

Safety and Security Sector Education and Training Authority
Sample jobs: lawyer, magistrate, soldier, security officer, police officer

Services Sector Education and Training Authority
Sample jobs: social media marketer, cleaner, hairdresser, beauty therapist, estate agent

Transport Education and Training Authority
Sample jobs: truck driver, freight operator, airport attendant, export agent

Wholesale and Retail Sector Education and Training Authority
Sample jobs: retail store manager, buyer, customer service manager, warehouse manager