The vast majority of matriculants hoping to enter the job market will not be able to find jobs because they do not possess the...

The vast majority of matriculants hoping to enter the job market will not be able to find jobs because they do not possess the skills required by the economy and business. Admittedly, this is not the news a matriculant wants to hear early on in the year straight after the December holiday festivities. So if you are not registering at a tertiary institution, these are some of the hard and often painful realities you will have to confront as a senior certificate holder.

An analysis of matric results inevitably always turns to debates around the quality and integrity of the matric exam. Concerns are always raised on whether those who passed will be able to access institutions of higher education. Will they be able to access funds to further their education? These concerns are valid and justified. And the grim reality is that only a small percentage of matriculants will access higher education. This is often because of a lack o funding and failure to meet university admission criteria.

The vast majority of those who pass matric are often relegated to the long and vast unemployment queues of this country – hardly a desirable outcome for a country with an unemployment rate of around 25%. The fact that thousands have been turned away because of a lack of space further compounds the problem. Will these young learners be able to access the job market? Perhaps the right question is:  “Does our education system adequately prepare matric learners with the requisite skills needed by business to access employment opportunities?”

If unemployment statistics are any reliable barometer, the answer is a resounding NO! Let’s take the Eastern Cape which has an unemployment rate estimated around 26% as an example. Of the 64 090 learners who sat down for the matric exam 37 289 passed. A significant chunk of these learners will not be able to access higher education. Even if there was enough funding and they possessed the requisite pass, there is simply not enough capacity in our institutions of higher learning to absorb all of these learners. So what are the job prospects for the Eastern Cape class of 2010? The reality is that many will be forced to look for work to sustain their livelihoods. Moreover, over half of the 37 000 learners who wrote the matric exam in the Eastern Cape, who will not go to a tertiary institution will not get a job.

Respected Eastern Cape education specialist Dr Ken Alston offers some explanation for the inability of senior certificate holders to access the job market. Alston argues that the entire South African education system is mired in controversy which has led business to question the quality of learner and skill produced by the system. “Children who shouldn’t qualify for university get in. If the mark adjustments are true it means no child can be sure of what they scored. How do you then select a potential employee as a business if you do not know the real quality of the candidate,” asks Alston.

Alston further argues that our education system has a very strong bias towards academic rather than technical programmes. He contends that a poor academic matric doesn’t give you much leverage. “Our entire education system is under question. There is a wrong perception that a technical education is second best and people are reluctant to send their children to technical schools. Why don’t we offer learners a choice between a technical and an academic programme in a single school? Clearly the technical skills are what is needed by the economy and business,” says Alston.

The Border-Kei Chamber of Business’ Les Holbrook says most learners do not pass mathematics and science. Those who do pass do not pass at the required level. “Technical skills and knowledge is what business needs. We are not producing the matric learner needed by business. Until we address the literacy challenge and enforce mother-tongue education we will not solve the maths and science problem. We must start teaching these subjects in Xhosa,” says Holbrook.

The provincial maths and science subject performance tells the story. Although there was an improvement of 14.62% in Physical Sciences, of the 27 163 who wrote the paper, only 43.3% passed. Performance in Mathematics is disappointing. The pass rate dropped from 37.5% in 2009 to 37.3% in 2010.

Holbrook says there are also not enough qualified teachers to achieve the desired outcomes. We need matriculants with accounting and engineering skills which the system is failing to produce. “Even those who go to university will not pass their first year and universities are forced to put them through bridging programmes,” explains Holbrook.

But what type of job will those lucky enough to get one do? Port Elizabeth Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Samantha Venter is more upbeat saying although it is tough to get a job with a matric certificate, “there are always opportunities for those who are prepared to learn and start at the bottom.” However, she warns that in a competitive job market such as the Eastern Cape’s, one can look forward to semi-skilled, manual and low level clerical jobs. “They must be prepared to work as a packer or even as a sweeper and opportunities will open up. Business requires some skill depending on the subjects taken. Financial literacy is always helpful and those who passed maths literacy indicate that they are trainable in a work environment,” adds Venter.

Eastern Cape recruitment consultants do not paint a pretty picture either. East London’s Profile Personnel says business always requires people with experience and qualifications. “It will be difficult getting a job with a matric certificate without starting from the bottom. It is rare that our clients will look for matric learners,” says Profile’s Claire Godlonton. Godlonton says the agency had not placed someone straight out of matric in a long time. “Even in sales positions experience is required.”

Holbrook says we do not have the right matriculant. “There is no culture of learning and of work. Business is battling to fill posts. The unemployed don’t want blue collar jobs. Countries that have transformed their economies have a strong culture of work and learning. Our people don’t want to do menial jobs. There is no express desire to start from the bottom and work yourself up. If you ask around large employers, they will tell you they battle to fill casual posts,” he says.

News editor