South Africa recently celebrated the 5th anniversary of the National Development Plan (NDP), the country’s long-term development plan drafted by the National Planning Commission.

This blueprint road map is crucial if we are to unlock the potential of every South African, from the urban centers to the suburbs to the rural villages.

In assessing South Africa’s current and future economic prospects Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba said that “we must implement the NDP and the 9-point plan. It is in our own hands to improve confidence in our country; business and investor confidence will follow”.

“Let us pull our weight and walk the talk, together as a nation.”

The cornerstone underpinning the vision of the National Development Plan which aims to create millions of jobs by 2030 is this: ‘The single most important investment any country can make is in its people.’

We have a decent track record of creating jobs over the past 23 years.

South Africa has come a long way since 1994 in upskilling its labour force – in 1994 there were 1.8 million skilled workers; 4.2 million semi-skilled workers and 2.9 million low-skilled workers. These are significant successes by any development country standards.

By 2014, 20 years later, the number of skilled workers increased to 3.8 million (a 108 percent increase); the number of semi-skilled workers increased to 7 million (66 percent) and the number of low-skilled workers to 4.3 million (an increase of 49 percent).

Skilled workers are classified as managers, professionals, technicians; semi-skilled as clerks, sales and service personnel, skilled agriculture personnel, craft personnel and machine operators; while low-skilled workers are classed as elementary and domestic workers.

Since 1994, the number of skilled professionals increased from 21 percent to 25 percent, while the number of semi-skilled professionals were down one percent to 46 percent and the low-skilled category of workers decreased by three percent to 29 percent.

Significantly, the number of workers in the labour force in terms of demographic which showed the highest growth was black Africans, at 95 percent.

The proportion of black African workers in the work force has also increased between 1994 and 2014 – from 63 percent to 73 percent.

The numbers across population groups show that the proportion of black African, so called Coloured and Indian workers within the skilled workforce increased.

While these figures make for encouraging reading, though much more needs to be done to turnaround the unemployment rate. The global economic outlook since 2014 has made our challengers and plans more complex. The words of out outgoing South African, Statistician-General, Mr Pali Lehohla is a stark reminder to us all, that employment and poverty amongst the vulnerable remains our number one priority as government and the ANC “The children are in poverty, and I think that is a very important point to understand. Children are in the majority for those people who are poor. I think that is a key challenge. If your children are poor, they are less likely to go to school. Even if they are in school, they perform badly,”

Slow economic growth since the 2008 recession supports the NDPs findings that a ‘broad programme of reform needs to be implemented, with skills development as one of its key features.’

South Africa has set itself the goals of eradicating poverty, reducing inequality and growing the economy by an average of 5.4 percent and drastically reducing joblessness to 6 percent by 2030.

Challenges remain and one of them is in the education system.

The school and post-school system needs to be better designed to meet the skills and development needs of a fast-paced world led by innovation.

The NDP is therefore unambiguous in its stated goals for education in South Africa: ‘(to) ensure that skilled, technical, professional and managerial posts better reflect the country’s racial, gender and disability make-up.’

The 2016 World Economic Forum held in Davos, explored the theme of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and presented challenges and opportunities for the country’s long-range economic planning.

The use of technology and innovation has to looked at and implemented to deal with inequality, poverty and joblessness.

So while the NDP remained the blueprint for dealing with economic growth, the impact and speed at which technologies were moving would possibly force a rethink of how the NDP needed to be implemented in terms of equipping South Africans to be able to participate in the economy.

The knowledge economy does require new ways of thinking, teaching, learning, working and living. Therefore capacity building is crucial and developing South Africa’s human resource capacity is an integral part of government policies top address inequalities and to further grow the economy.

There are around 180 000 people employed in the ICT sector, with around 15 000 or so software developers. There are also nearly 8 000 companies in the ICT sector in South Africa, with most employing 50 people or fewer.

Education, training and innovation have been targeted by the government as key priorities leading up to 2030, all with a view of eliminating poverty, reducing inequality and to help the economic growth of the country.

For example, the future classroom will need educators to be equipped with the necessary ICT skills so that they are able to use e-education platforms.

Learners will benefit from an e-teaching and learning environment which will stand them in good stead in the technology-driven marketplace of the 21st Century.

The government’s focus is on developing capacity and skills amongst South Africans and in, especially the 15 to 34 year old age group, which, at 70.9 percent, accounts for the highest portion of unemployed South Africans.

The NDP aims to push through processes that will create an e-literate society by 2030 which it sees as a catalyst for raising employment through faster economic growth; improving the quality of education, skills development and innovation and building the capacity of the state to play a developmental and transformative role.

Greater access to technology will open greater possibilities for all South Africans. And with more South Africans accessing smartphone technology, online access is set increase which will be a catalyst for growth on all fronts.

But to promote growth through innovation and technology, a co-ordinated roadmap is needed and a fully integrated and co-ordinated framework is needed, one which is aligned to the key priorities of the NDP and the national skills plan which will set South Africa on a meaningful path to skilling millions more.

Jessie Duarte is the Deputy Secretary General of the ANC 

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