Matrics can't read, write or add - Seta CEO
by Linda Daniels
(May 2006)

School leavers and even university graduates had inadequate literacy and numeracy skills and a "disproportionate sense of entitlement" in the job market, MPs heard on Tuesday.

Participating in the first day of public hearings on youth unemployment, Ivor Blumenthal, the CEO of the services Seta, told the National Assembly's labour committee that generally "there is overall a disproportionate sense of entitlement amongst the youth..."

Blumenthal said that the sense of entitlement was often "political" and not "economically driven".

Sector Education and Training Authorities (Setas) are part of government's skills development programmes to equip the unemployed with employable skills.

However, Blumenthal did not mince words when it came to the obstacles facing Setas.

One of these, he said, was the education system. He said that no value could be placed on matric certificates and even post graduate qualifications from the country's universities.

"The material we are provided with as Setas, to be able to place in the working environment in the world of work ... is unreliable (and) it is inconsistent.

"We are spending more of our resources on retraining and re-educating particularly when it comes to literacy, numeracy and life skills in the working environment so that the place of work becomes a place of schooling rather than vocational skilling."

Blumenthal also criticised "the quality of vocational training coming out of the Further Education Training (FET)" colleges.

Shirley Steenekamp, the skills development manager of the insurance Seta, agreed with Blumenthal's view of the education system.

"In the schooling system itself something radical has to be done to address the literacy and the numeracy levels of young people coming through and matriculating and even going into university.

"The department of education ought to be engaging in a much more apparent way with the Setas as well as the department of labour to have a look at what can be the big picture solution."

However, Blumenthal's view of the youths' "disproportionate sense of entitlement" came in for vociferous questioning by some MPs who wanted him to explain what he meant.

Blumenthal said that the youth displayed a lack of respect for teachers, employers, rules and procedures and that "we bear the brunt of employer complaints about young learners who get completely out of hand".

When quizzed by MPs about the role of the corporate sector in transferring skills to the youth, Blumenthal came to the private sector's defence.

"Setas know what 140 000 human resource managers and skills development facilitators are thinking and are planning and I think it is naive to suggest that there has been absolutely no engagement with the corporate sector. And I think it is ridiculous to suggest that the corporate sector is to blame for this problem."