Skills Development and TVET Policies in South Africa: The Human Capabilities Approach

  • Siphelo NgcwanguEmail author
Reference work entry


Human development in various forms is central to addressing South Africa’s socioeconomic challenges and building an inclusive society. In the earlier phases of the democratic era in South Africa, TVET and skills development policies have been shaped by a reliance on human capital theory assumptions which present the relationship of education, skills, and the labor market in a linear way. This was in the context of macroeconomic policies that were geared toward prioritizing the interests of global capital in addressing developmental goals. Skills development and TVET policies are still largely geared toward driving competitiveness, growing the economy, and meeting the skills needs of capitalist employers. What we see is a growing paradox in the whole skills issue, whereby a so-called surplus labor of unemployed people exists, many of whom have different kinds of skills but are regularly told that they are “unemployable” as their skills cannot be deployed within the current economic configuration. Developmental objectives such as reducing unemployment and increasing access to the labor market have also not made the desired impact. This chapter shows that the capabilities perspective can enrich the discourse of skills development and TVET in South Africa by inserting an approach of human freedom and social justice, which is often overlooked in policy analysis given the dominance of human capital theory assumptions about the relationship between skills and development. This chapter problematizes the binaries of productivism and developmentalism that have come to shape TVET and skills development discourses by arguing for a better understanding of the conceptual questions that shape our approach to these questions. It does so by engaging with different approaches to Amartya Sen’s work which derive from a broad range of theoretical traditions. The chapter concludes with a discussion of four limitations of the capabilities approach: (1) influence of the changing character of work; (2) under theorization of power; (3) instrumentalist representation of the notion of functionings; and (4) lack of attention to ways in which VET can reproduce class inequalities.


Capability approach Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) reforms Education and work Inequalities Work restructuring 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sociology DepartmentUniversity of JohannesburgJohannesburgSouth Africa

Section editors and affiliations

  • Lesley Powell
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of EducationNelson Mandela Metropolitan UniversityPort ElizabethSouth Africa

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