By Nomsa Dlamini
The inaugural Eswatini Fundzela Indaba 2023 which was successfully hosted in Ezulwini on Wednesday highlighted a set of skills that are in high demand in the country for the next five years.
Data science, skills in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field, accounting software, agriculture and agro-processing, manufacturing and ICT. These are the professional skills and experience that are in high demand in the next three to five years.
They are intrinsically linked to ongoing national efforts to transform the country into a knowledge economy, driven by the quality of skills, knowledge and expertise of the country to be innovative, competitive, and industrious.
The Indaba was organised by the Eswatini Higher Education Council (ESHEC), a statutory regulatory and coordinating body for higher education in Eswatini.
The theme was: Re-shaping our education for industry relevance: the participation of industry and professional bodies in skills development.
About 50 participants from a cross-section of the education and skills development value chain attended the Indaba, which was held at the Royal Villas.
Addressing the gathering, ESHEC CEO Dr Loretta Mkhonta, said the Government recognised the critical role of human capital in promoting social and economic development and had a number of programmes in place to fulfil that agenda. She listed the National Development Strategy, Education Sector Policy, Eswatini Strategic Roadmap 2019-2022, and the Eswatini National Skills Audit Report 2021, as some of the instruments that converge to provide the roadmap towards enhancing skills and establishing a skilled, diverse, and relevant workforce for economic progress, poverty reduction, and sustainable livelihoods.
Dr. Mkhonta noted a cocktail of challenges working against the country’s efforts in planning and development of human resources.
The main challenges are a high unemployment rate with youth unemployment at 58.2% and a disparity between available skills and those required by the job market.
“There is also the low absorption of graduates into the workforce, under-utilisation of skills, and a general unpreparedness of the workforce to meet the demands of the rapidly evolving job market,” she said.
“This is a critical situation, given that the country’s potential to recover, grow, and sustain its economy heavily relies on its citizens possessing the appropriate skills for the labour market and employers being able to access and utilise those skills.”
She cited a 2021 Graduate Tracer Survey which revealed that only 45.9% of tertiary school graduates were able to secure employment owing to a lack of relevant experience and the mismatch between their qualifications and industry needs.
“Employers across various occupational domains often encounter difficulties in finding the right skilled workers and professionals, mainly because the skills and qualifications that the graduates possess do not align with the needs of the industry, both locally and globally,” Dr. Mkhonta said.
Dr Mkhonta threw down the gauntlet on all emaSwati to come together to find forward-looking solutions to leverage higher education in creating an educated and skilled nation with relevant graduates and skills aligned to the industry and the job market.
“Yindzaba yetfu sonkhe.”
“The first call of action is for ESHEC, higher education institutions, industry, and professional bodies to come together and find a sustainable solution, hence this symposium.”
“With your support, ESHEC can be better equipped to articulate, define and ensure the acquisition of the relevant skills and also provide valuable insights that would help enable the country to narrow the identified gaps and mismatches, now and in the future. By doing so, as ESHEC, we would have fulfilled not only our mandate as stipulated in the Higher Education Act on which we were established but also contributed to steering the economy in the right direction.”
Dr. Mkhonta added that ESHEC was on the verge of conducting a study on skills development and anticipation in Eswatini, with an extensive and comprehensive consultation with public and private sector players.
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“ESHEC believes it is imperative not just to have a solid understanding of the skills that will be required now and in the future, as reported by the Skills Audit Report of 2021, but also to have current and up-to-date information, key statistics, and quantifiable data on current skill surpluses and deficiencies, future needs, and the disparities that exist between higher education and industry requirements.”
Dr Mkhonta added that the valuable database could serve as a basis for and inform critical and emerging skills development initiatives.
“The data could also enhance the accreditations, registrations and quality assurance processes of ESHEC. As Edward Deming famously stated, “Without the actual numbers, all we have [as a country] is an opinion. Indeed, the limited evidence that we currently have on labour-market needs and disparities only allows ESHEC and all of us to form a rough yet unreliable picture of the relevance of programs and qualifications offered by higher education institutions.”