With a clean audit and meeting 100% of its goals, CHIETA has a great story to tell

Chieta is trying to get more young people involved in the sector. File Picture

Chieta is trying to get more young people involved in the sector. File Picture

Published Feb 21, 2024


By Edwin Naidu

The ongoing funding and corruption allegations over the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) may cast doubts over a smooth start to the 2024 academic year. In addition, other raging controversies over educational institutions facing challenges continue to hog the headlines.

In recent times, reports have emerged over the spat between Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, and the University of South Africa (Unisa), governance challenges at the University of Cape Town, and flashpoints at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Durban University of Technology over funding.

While one would not like to claim the tainted Sector Education Training Authority, Tintswalo narrative in the education sector, there are bright spots in the country’s education sector that seem to have been missed in the hullabaloo of news.

While one does not wish to be dismissive of Tintswalo, which may be a figment of the imagination of the presidential speech writers or an Artificial intelligence creation, there are real stories of youth benefiting from initiatives on the ground that will have the desired impact on society.

The Chemical Industries Education and Training Authority (CHIETA) has bucked the trend by operating out of the box. You would have thought they would have limited themselves to the chemical sector. Still, their mandate is skills development, so it is refreshing that they’ve gone beyond the narrow confines of the industry to launch Smart Skills Centres in Saldanha Bay, Gqeberha and Babanango. More than 6,000 youth from the communities have used the centres.

While the centres come in different sizes, depending on the communities they serve, they all feature several pods in which virtual reality and augmented reality technologies can be used, with other pods providing laptops for surfing the internet, doing training or even job interviews. Connectivity and data are also provided.

Getting people, especially women and girls, familiar with and confident in using technology is part of making them work-ready. At these centres, rural youth are taught digital skills, and they can keep up-to-date with artificial intelligence developments and get the latest in robotics and artificial intelligence.

The following smart centre will be launched in the Highveld Industrial Park in Mpumalanga, on the former Highveld Steel and Vanadium factory site.

The CHIETA wants to establish similar centres in all nine provinces.

Although their research shows that data analysis is the number one skill petroleum companies seek, CHIETA remains duty-bound to do what it can to deepen the pool of data analytics talent for the benefit of its stakeholders. But it is also broadening how it interprets its remit, ensuring that it can positively impact the country’s high youth unemployment challenge.

Another project that stands out is the AlgoAtWork Robotics Academy in Richards Bay, in which children are taught essential skills for an AI-driven workplace in the future. Numerous bursaries flow into learning support and programmes for retrenched employees, with 96 individuals on the programme, some beneficiaries successfully starting their businesses.

One of their groundbreaking initiatives is What About the Boys, a gender-based violence (GBV) initiative in partnership with Primestars and several corporations, teaching 20,000 young boys about dealing with masculinity and learning about entrepreneurship.

What stands out about the work of CHIETA is that they have a good story to tell, with actual beneficiaries.

“We’ve got a good story to tell,” remarked Yershen Pillay, the chief executive officer of CHIETA, which received a clean audit, met 100% of its targets and grew levy income year-on-year from R592 million to R621m.

With a mission of “innovating for impact”, Pillay presented the CHIETA 2022/2023 Integrated Annual Report at its Annual General Meeting on December 1 in Sandton, saying that CHIETA was determined to continue making a difference and continue working on the hydrogen economy for which it has gained a growing reputation as a leader in the green economy.

“That we have performed so well is due to the highly motivated team at CHIETA, led by outstanding executives and guided by an engaged and committed board and its various committees,” said Pillay, adding that the country’s chemical sector contributes massively to the economy.

During International Day of Women and Girls in Science at the weekend, CHIETA could take comfort from the fact that they’re putting resources behind dozens of young girls – at least 217 last year – with positive results to boot.

The Eastern Cape Department of Education recognised hard-working matriculant Liyabona Ncanywa as one of the province’s top achievers in the National Senior Certificate Examinations. CHIETA assisted her with tuition and school fees through its Science, technology, engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fund, which supports 1,000 learners nationwide.

Through its various programmes, including the upcoming Discretionary Grant Funding Windows and working with corporations, CHIETA provides potential opportunities for 615 internships, 1,085 learnerships, 1,395 skills programmes, and 1,285 TVET students for Work Integrated Learning.

Such investment in skills development is vindicated when learners like Liyabona show evidence that investment in our youth bears fruit. It certainly encourages others to do more to ensure that the goals of the United Nations become a reality for women and girls worldwide. In 2016, the UN declared February 11 International Day of Women and Girls in Science to encourage more girls and women to take jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM subjects).

But can they take their place without support?

A report entitled “Secondary Education in Africa: Preparing Youth for the Future of Work – A Gender Brief”, sponsored by the Mastercard Foundation in 2020, looked at young people’s preparedness for work, specifically girls and young women, and was aimed at forward-looking solutions that meaningfully contribute to the acceleration of the continent’s economic transformation. The report focuses on what needs to be done for more African girls and young women to acquire the necessary skills, knowledge, and competencies to be engaged, productive, and employed citizens.

While secondary education is needed to give young women and girls the opportunity to gain the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in work and entrepreneurship, this cannot be over-emphasised. Women comprise more than 50% of the continent’s 1.3 billion inhabitants. African women should, therefore, contribute to the global workforce equally.

South Africa’s Department of Science and Innovation and the National Research Foundation (NRF) have done much to create opportunities for women in science. But this comes against a backdrop of heavy funding cuts. However, they have made sure that previously disadvantaged groups – black South Africans, particularly those from low-income households – benefit through bursaries and fellowships. About 86% of all postgraduate funding goes to black South Africans, at least 55% for women. Eventually, these efforts will bear fruit, as women and girls are already beginning to lead in the STEM fields.

Future days to observe the International Day of Women and Girls in Science will spotlight authentic stories, like that of Eastern Cape top achiever Liyabona Ncanywa.

*Naidu is a communications professional and an education editor.

**The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL