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Challenges to Agency in Workplaces and Implications for VET: Mechatronics Artisans in the Automotive Sector in South Africa

  • Angelique WildschutEmail author
  • Glenda Kruss
Living reference work entry

Abstract

Vocational education and training (VET) is challenged to respond to a shifting work milieu, globally. In South Africa after apartheid, the current goal is to train more artisans to address growing inequality, high youth unemployment, critical shortages, and continued blockages to the production of quality intermediate-level skills, significant challenges within the national context. A particular concern is the need to train and retain more black and women artisans (Wildschut et al. 2015) to shift past patterns of discriminatory access and success. This makes recent critiques of a productivist approach to vocational education and training (VET) particularly significant in the South African context.

One response has been to draw on the capability approach of Sen (Inequality reexamined. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1992) and Nussbaum (Creating capabilities. The human development approach. The Bellknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA/London, 2011) to argue for an approach to education and training that builds broad capabilities and human well-being, not only the skills immediately required for the workplace, and that this should be done in a way that is driven by social justice, equality, and human development concerns (see Section 2 of this volume). The capability approach rightfully shifts emphasis toward the role VET plays for individuals and communities. However, our research highlights that systemic, sectoral, firm, and occupational conditions shape the possibilities for individuals to truly enact capabilities within workplaces in significant ways. We cannot ignore the implications of these changing conditions if we aim to transform the development of VET skills and capabilities in a holistic manner.

The argument is built through reflecting on the case of intermediate-level skilling in the mechatronics function area in the automotive sector in South Africa, as an emerging economy. The growing use of technology in intermediate-level work requires different and higher-level knowledge, skills, and attributes than has been traditional for intermediate-level occupations. But boundaries in the workplace are maintained in such a way as to disadvantage the enactment of new capabilities especially for those from disadvantaged and poor backgrounds, women, and blacks. At the same time, the South African automotive sector is strongly governed by global production chains, which also tend to constrain the types of VET required from those employed in the sector.

The analysis raises a critical question for the global debate on the future of VET: with a multiplicity of factors that impact on both the development and enactment of intermediate-level skills and capabilities in workplaces, how can VET systems more effectively enable the development of holistic individual capabilities that support empowerment and agency?

Keywords

Capabilities Functionings VET Intermediate skills Occupational boundaries Workplace Culture Artisans 

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS)Cape TownSouth Africa
  2. 2.University of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa
  3. 3.Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)Cape TownSouth Africa

Section editors and affiliations

  • Margarita Pavlova
    • 1
  • Salim Akoojee
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.The Education University of Hong KongHong KongChina
  2. 2.University of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa
  3. 3.University of NottinghamNottinghamUK

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