Our Projects

Through case studies from South Africa and Uganda, this project looks at a range of contexts in which skills development takes place within complex skills and work ecosystems. These include massive infrastructure projects, both urban and rural; green skills initiatives alongside continued developments in extractives; and small community projects, including in post-conflict contexts, addressing both subsistence and entrepreneurship. By operating at both theoretical and applied levels across multiple cases, this research will contribute both to academic and professional knowledge of how VET in Africa works and how it can be improved to contribute to the needs of the most intersectionally marginalised, national development and the global SDG agenda. You can find more details about our case sites below.

Case Study 1: Hoima, Western Uganda

In 2007 it was confirmed that Uganda had sizeable and commercially exploitable oil and gas reserves. Work is underway to construct a refinery and a pipeline to link the field in Western Uganda to the Tanzanian coast. This development has the potential to transform economic growth and formal sector employment. The 2008 National Oil and Gas Policy (MoE 2008) stresses the need to maximise national employment and in 2015 the Ministry of Energy launched a National Workforce Skills Development Strategy and Plan (MoE 2015). In response to this and similar developments in neighbouring countries, the British, German and Norwegian governments (with international oil company co-funding) have initiated the SOGA programme to support the maximisation of local employment, particularly for marginalised youth and women, through skills development (SOGA 2015). However, oil and gas projects remain highly contentious (Di Muzio 2015; Andreasson 2017). We are also mindful of the work of local communities and NGOs that seeks to overcome the potential negative social and environmental impacts. This case context will be the basis for our review of attempts to link local skills and employment into a major oil and gas project.

Hoima, Uganda: January case 2020 update 

In Uganda two particular cases have been set for consideration; namely, Gulu and Hoima. Whereas the former case seeks to discover how vocational education and training can help to recover livelihoods in Gulu after twenty years of violent insecurity, the Hoima case is viewing the challenges to vocational education which have risen out of the social expectations and excitement, that relate to the discovery of oil and gas in the region. The research, therefore, deploys the participatory action research methodology to look for solutions, which will inform the various stakeholders on the issues concerning youth and skills development, employability and sustainable livelihoods in Hoima and the Bunyoro Kingdom.

In March and October 2019 Professor George Ladah Openjuru led a team of researchers from Uganda and the UK to Hoima district where eight VET institutions were visited as research samples. The staff and trainees at the institutions were introduced to the research project, explaining the goal and objectives of the research project.  Important themes that emerged during these visits was that vocational education and training is not a sub-system to the mainstream system of formal education, which oftentimes places theory above practice or hands-on. Therefore, students should be given the opportunity to choose the course they want to advance, deleting the opinion of ‘diverting off the mainstream education into the subgrade of technical training’.

Since these introductory visitswe have started the task of mapping relevant institutions and individual opinion leaders, whose stories will be collected as data for the research project. A round table (RT) event was successfully held on January 7th 2020. This included stakeholders from local VET institutions, local government and an international NGOs.  We had fruitful conversations about standardizing infrastructure and courses so that trainees may conveniently fit into the competitive arena of employment. Members at the event also agreed that local governments should be influenced to support private vocational institutions because there is provision for that in their annual budgets.

We are also continuing efforts to define the term ‘reducing inequality’ in relation to ‘inclusion’ in Hoima. One has to consider the roles and benefits thereof for all stakeholders. Retired people, for instance, will have empirical knowledge about the skills, and can share their experiences with youth trainees in Hoima, and support the establishment of employment opportunities, companies, etc. where the graduate trainees might readily find employment.

In the next phase of the project we will be conducting individual interviews with stakeholders, and it is planned that the entire region of Bunyoro will be represented.

Case Study 2: Gulu, Northern Uganda

We will look at a very different set of initiatives in Northern Uganda, in a post-conflict setting infamous for the use of child soldiers (Angucia, Zeelen, De Jong 2010). The region faces extremely high youth unemployment, low economic development and weak institutions (Tukundane, Zeelen 2015). In response, a coalition of organisations have come together to try to rebuild communities and develop economies, drawing on notions of an entrepreneurship ecosystem (Isenberg 2011), skills for sustainable livelihoods and youth entrepreneurship around agriculture and agri-processing (Blaak, Openjuru, Zeelen 2013; cf. De Jaeghere 2017). This case will focus on youth-entrepreneurship, community development and skills for development in a post-conflict setting.

Gulu case update, January 2020

Our research has identified a number of key partners and advisors to work with as we seek out viable pathways for decent work and sustainable livelihoods in vocational education and training.  Thus far we have held several informal site visits and consultations, conducted 10 interviews, and a focus group. In October we also hosted an international week-long workshop in Participatory Action Research to hone our research skills and engage a broader community to think about VET in Gulu.  The goals of the initial round of data collection have been centred on mapping key stakeholders with a focus on power, influence and relationships.  

The stories we are hearing through this process paint a picture of considerable complexity. In the midst of a rapidly changing and unpredictable world, VET must be flexible and adaptable to meet current needs while adjusting to and predicting the future needs of the community. There are many developmental initiatives planned by the world bank, the Chinese and Japanese governments, and multinational companies that have built infrastructures like roads, schools, bridges, the new Gulu airport, an inland port and an industrial town as Gulu prepares to be declared a city in a few months time. There are skilling programs sponsored by the government, NGOs and private companies but still, the unemployment level of youth is high and the success rate of trained youth translating their skills to decent livelihoods is low.  On another note most of the interviewees when asked jobs for the future, most said agricultural modernisation and mechanisation need to be explored more because most of the factors of production like land, labour are in abundance but the skills set to harness and capital is the major issue and if agriculture is fully exploited then inequality will be highly reduced.

To meet these challenges VET can develop capable and caring community leaders by encouraging soft skills like critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity.  Successful VET needs to also take into account the transitional difficulties of youth, many of whom grew up in internally displaced people’s camps, have been pushed out of school and have difficult life circumstances, especially women. Students need to learn to believe in themselves and take pride in what they do and who they are. 

We will explore these paradoxes together with the community in our research.

Gulu town aerial view

Signature Tv Filmz (YouTube, 2017)

Case Study 3: Durban Port, South Africa

Exploring impact of national strategic economic projects on the Durban-regional VET systems

Although South Africa has a long history of formal sector employment and formal VET (Wedekind 2018b), the current economic context is one in which few young people make successful transitions to formal employment (McGrath, Powell 2018). One policy response to this, the National Development Plan (NPC 2012), has been to focus on large-scale infrastructure projects that seek to strengthen the economic capacity of specific locations in order to stimulate further development (EDD/DHET 2014). Skills and capacity development are articulated as being central to these strategies in the official documentation. However, these projects have proved challenging in terms of coordinating stakeholders and generating significant employment benefits (Rogerson 2001).

Understanding local skills system impacts in Durban Port

Through a specific analysis of the character of local skills system impacts, of the Strategic Infrastructure Projects, Operation Phakisa and the Special Economic Zones, focusing on two specific cases – the Durban-region maritime economy and the Dube TradePort SEZs greenhouse agricultural production (known as Dube Agrizone) – the project has made considerable progress in exploring how features of national policy interact with the skills system at a local context. A wide range of semi-structured interviews have started to generate insights into both the dynamics of national policy and as well as how local actors interact with these policy processes. For example the SIP programme – in the form of the SIP2 Durban Gauteng Corridor – sought to encourage skills production linked to construction type project work orchestrated mainly by parastatals, whilst the Oceans Economy Phakisa has focused more on wider skills demand that can be unlocked through better institutional collaboration. In terms of the national SEZ programme, emergent practices around skills have remained very modest in a context of the Dube TradePort seeking other actors to take a lead in a field where it acknowledges it has only limited capacity. Actors in the local skills linked institutions note that there is substantial flux in the way in which skills demand is expressed and the bulk of the public-skills system finds it challenging to respond to this rapid change. Further work needs to be done in understanding specific dynamics around some occupational categories and how they have been handled in this context. Progressive moves by the large parastatals to increase the number of women in certain previously male-dominated occupations are an example of positive changes around occupational dynamics.

 Case Study 4: Eastern Cape, South Africa

South Africa has also seen a relatively large number of initiatives around the green economy and climate change mitigation. Our fourth case study will examine the development of inclusive sustainable development (referred to as rural green skills projects) in the Eastern Cape that bring together subsistence farmers, women, CBOs, farmers’ associations, NGOs, Local Economic Development Organisations and public VET and HE institutions around smallholder farming, water harvesting, sustainable agriculture, sustainable energy, natural resources management and micro/small enterprise development in areas where few jobs or livelihoods for youth or smallholder farmers (mainly women) are available (Lotz-Sisitka et al. 2017). The interest here is in exploring how public post-school institutions are working in multi-stakeholder partnerships to re-orientate curricula, research and programmes towards rural development concerns and emergent inclusive sustainable development opportunities offered by local economic development and provincial strategies for addressing the above issues.

 Eastern Cape, South Africa: January case 2020 update

In light of institutional constraints, histories of exclusion and high inequality, there is a need for inclusive approaches which leverage resources within formal learning institutions without expecting these institutions to be the primary providers of VET in rural areas. In order to effectively support vocational learning across the large informal sector and include the 90% of African youth who do not make it any form of post-school training, VET 4.0 will need to distribute the VET function across a much wider network of stakeholders at various scales.

Road leading into the Keiskammahoek Catchment that feeds Alice

A series of Net-Map interviews have been conducted with a cross-section of stakeholders within the Imvotho Bubomi Learning Network – part of the Amanzi For Food programme. A number of emerging insights based on this momentary snap-shop of a single, ever-changing, web of relationships. These suggest that through improving the flow of existing knowledge and the exchange of new experiences across regions and scales, course-activated learning networks can help bring new content into college curriculums, deepen relationships between farmers and extension services, and build local networks of concern and collaboration. This enhances the ability of local actors to transgress normative patterns of association in order to collaborate and learn with one another in new ways. In addition, the continuation of the drought which has crippled farming efforts in the area has high-lighted more than ever, the need to strengthen climate resilience among small-holder farmers in the region.

The small research group has mourned the loss of Dr ‘Pesanyani who was central to the Amanzi For Food programme for many years. His knowledge and quiet leadership will be missed by all within the Amanzi For Food community.