When a young person is faced with deciding what to do after matric, it is certainly a huge, life-changing decision. Statistics show that only 10 percent of young people who do achieve a matric certificate gain a university exemption and, thus, entry into university. Even more worryingly, of those who do manage to get in to university, barely half end up with a degree.
So what lies ahead for those of you who have completed matric? Questions you are probably pondering could include what skills are in short supply in the economy, such as accounting, and does that match with what you want to do as a profession? Do you study further to acquire these skills at university or apply directly for internships and vocational on-the-job training programmes?
For those who gain university exemption, the benefits of an academic qualification at university are great. It teaches traditional skills of essay writing and research. Additionally, if you decide to live on campus, you learn to live and work with others, often far from home. But the challenges are also significant. The so-called perceived prospect of better job opportunities and a supposed higher standard of living when you have a university degree (which is not necessarily true) lead many families to make significant sacrifices in order to provide a university education. Another concern is that, despite several long years of study, learners are rarely prepared for the practicalities of the working world, requiring much coaching and on-the-job training when they do secure a job.
Competence-based (or vocational) training is an alternative for those whose marks preclude them from going to university or who wish to start working as soon as possible. This form of training is a way of teaching learners not only the critical knowledge needed in their area of speciality, but also how to apply that knowledge in a work environment. It is a practical means of learning, where you learn how to do things rather than just what to do.
Graduates ready for work
For the majority of young South Africans, the benefits of vocational training are great. Costs can be lower and yet the benefits go beyond that of a university degree – in that the graduate is work-ready. He is well placed to step into a job and add value to the company from day one. This not only provides a new employee with much-needed confidence in the initial months of his working life, but also saves the employer money by having a productive employee who does not need too much hand-holding.
While the content of competence-based training may or may not be different from traditional academic qualifications, the essential difference lies in implementation. The Association of Accounting Technicians’ (AAT SA), offers qualifications for entry to mid-level staff in the accounting profession and is a qualification that demands that a student can integrate his knowledge and skills before graduating. The measure of success is not an academic pass, but the ability to add value to the company’s financial team from the very start.
The success of competence-based training is also best described by the AAT’s achievements globally. In Botswana business has been known to prefer an AAT graduate over a university graduate and it is seen to be the entry-level qualification of choice into the accounting sector. And in the UK, 35 percent of advertisements for mid- to lower-level accounting staff require the AAT qualification as a prerequisite, with these graduates being able to command a 15 percent higher salary than a non-AAT member.
When weighing up your options, know that one route is not better or worse than another, there is a place for both types of training: competence/vocational training or the more traditional university qualification. It is, ultimately, up to you to take responsibility for your destiny, so think carefully about your own personal goals and preferred way of learning. Listen to your heart, but also back it up with research and facts. It is only then that you can truly make the choice that is right for you.
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