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Bridging the Future Skills Gap: Top Women in Education and Skills Development talk overcoming structural barriers

Bridging the Future Skills Gap: Top Women in Education and Skills Development talk overcoming structural barriers

Written by Staff Writer

August 17, 2021

Missed the live Masterclass? You can now watch it on demand here 

You can also sign up for our Top Women membership here: https://www.topco.online/Standard-Bank-Top-Women-Membership



Last week’s Standard Bank Top Women Masterclass was a step in the right direction for addressing the structural barriers to youth entering the workplace. The episode covered strategies and instructional approaches designed to give youth access to the workplace, key insights from organisations which consider youth employment as a key business imperative, and how we can provide better access and bridge the future skills gap we’re currently experiencing. 


With 48% of South African youth facing unemployment, there is a set of key skills that are essential if doors are to open for them. So, what critical skills should employers look for in an employee? This episode of the Standard Bank Top Women Masterclass is geared towards answering this major question, and empowering the youth of our nation. The series is ideally tailored for women executives and young female entrepreneurs who are making valuable contributions to the education and skills development sector in Africa – filled with massive opportunities for future growth.


Hosted by Babalwa Mkobeni, Standard Bank Top Women Content and Brand Manager, the Masterclass included Pamela Xaba, head of Human Capital at Netstar, a subsidiary of Altron, and Babalwa Ngonyama, Executive Director & CEO of Sinayo Securities. Unfortunately, Felleng Yende – Chief Executive Officer FP&M SETA – was unable to attend the conversation, but will be having a podcast in weeks to come. 


Polls from this Masterclass indicated that 43% of attendees were interested in developing skills in Analytics, 22% in Coding – representing a strong need for digital skills. 20% of respondents also indicated an interest in developing Storytelling skills. Of all attendees, 39% indicated they had taken a free online course in the past month, whilst 28% said they had done a paid online course in the past year. This shows a growing need for more quality online learning tools and platforms in the country. 


Key takeaways from this Masterclass included:
  • Covid has affected our homes in ways we could never have imagined. As the world and SA face unprecedented challenges, we need to place education and skills development front of mind, especially with regards to the youth who represent our future – it is imperative that we move in ways that will unlock their potential. 
  • Our leaders and key organisations must adopt a “shared value” approach and pay it forward now. This mission cannot just be about money and profit.
  • Students from underrepresented and underprivileged backgrounds must be uplifted, not judged when entering the education sector and a place of work. Exclusion of these candidates must be redressed so that they gain access to the resources they need to succeed. 
  • It must be acknowledged that women face additional challenges and pressures in ‘a man’s world’ Structural barriers still exist after young women get access to a spot in the boardroom. These women need support and mentorship opportunities, and successful women leaders must create opportunities for future generations as well. 
  • Excellence must be enabled through transformation. We must strengthen and build excellence knowing that it may systematically exclude certain people. Through diversity and transformation we can achieve sustainable excellence.
  • The youth must question the ways of their predecessors and not just accept things the way that they are. This way they can find solutions to longstanding socio-economic and cultural barriers.
  • A total mindset shift is necessary now! We need to cultivate a mindset of self-motivation amongst members of our youth. 
  • Statistics show a lack of work readiness. Thus, the youth need to be equipped with tools and skills in order to deal with challenges that will arise in the workplace. This is where coaching and mentoring will play a vital role. 
  • We need to provide career education from grassroots level. This needs to be a robust and coordinated effort that will come from partnerships at all levels, and such education should become part of the institutionalised curriculum.
  • Youth Unemployment Service (YES) Initiatives need to be a key business imperative and not a side project. It should be a core part of a business strategy. This initiative must be seen as a long term investment in the future to safeguard and leave behind a good legacy. Thus, a “futuristic service” approach must be adopted. 


Pamela Xaba is the Head of Human Capital for Netstar, a subsidiary of Altron. As a human capital professional, her most recent experience comes through the automotive industry. She worked in human resources for Ford Motor Company in South Africa and the Middle East for eight years, based in Dubai and in Pretoria. She studied Banking at Technikon Witwatersrand, which has since merged with the Rand Afrikaans University to form the University of Johannesburg. It all changed on the day she went for an interview in the financial services sector, where she had applied for an internship in the private banking division, and left with a job in HR. When Pamela moved to the FMCG and automotive sectors she had her ‘ah-hah’ moment. Through mentorship and workplace coaching, Pamela developed a deeper understanding of HR, learnt to lead with empathy and finally overcame her unhealthy attitudes towards conflict.


Babalwa Ngonyama is the leading force behind Sinayo Securities – a South African, independent, majority black female-owned member of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE). In addition to leading Sinayo Securities, Babalwa is a board member of Aspen, Hollard Life, Hollard Insurance, Kagiso Tiso Holdings and Vukile Properties. She is also the audit committee chair of the latter two organisations, and a lead independent director at Implats Ltd. Babalwa was previously an audit partner at Deloitte’s Financial Institutions, Safika Holdings Group CFO and Chief Internal Auditor at Nedbank Ltd. She is also the new Chairperson of the University of Cape Town Council.


As an award-winning CEO of the Fibre Processing and Manufacturing Sector Education and Training Authority (FP&M SETA), Ms Yende has demonstrated that building a consistent, strong organisational culture is one of the most important contributions a leader can make. Since taking over as CEO in 2013, she has a clearly articulated her sense of purpose and vision in the implementation of the National Skills Development Plan of the 13 FP&M SETA sectors – Clothing, Textiles,Footwear, Leather, Pulp and Paper, Wood & Wood Products, Furniture, Forestry, Printing, Packaging, Print Media, Publishing and General Goods. A strategic and knowledgeable executive, Ms Yende works with the board and staff to shape the FP&M SETA’s performance culture to inculcate a set of values and capabilities, and continues to ensure legal compliance with relevant national legislation, including, the Public Finance Management Act and Treasury Regulations. This includes the monitoring and control of all SETA skills levy income & expenditure (SETA levy income in the region of R 500 million a year).

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