Ashlee McLachlan

Urban-Econ Development Economists and Urban-Econ:NIKELA

South Africa as a developmental state needs a skilled, motivated and capable public service sector – one that upholds standards of excellence in service delivery and ethical conduct.

Skills programmes offered by the Public Service Sector Education and Training Authority (PSETA) are effective and innovative learning initiatives that have been purposefully designed to promote these standards and have a lasting impact on the public sector.

The post-school education and training system (PSET), which encompasses skills development organisations, is central to catalysing and bolstering skills development in South Africa.

Various national policies and plans, including the National Development Plan 2030 (NDP), National Skills Development Plan, National Professionalisation Framework 2023, and the Medium-Term Strategic Framework, call for the integration of PSET institutions in development initiatives as a means of tackling education shortfalls, unemployment, and poverty.

The PSET institutions include the PSETA, one of the 21 SETAs, which ensures that skills need experienced by national and provincial government departments, parliaments, legislatures, and other public entities are met so as to realise the “capable and developmental state” envisaged by the NDP.

The PSETA’s mandate is to focus on transversal skills needs- skills that can be applied to a myriad of work settings- given the multi-sectoral nature of government departments.

One of the ways in which PSETA addresses skilling requirements within the public service sector is by providing skills programmes. Skills programmes are designed to be short (approximately five days), targeted interventions, that are intended to address a skills or knowledge gap.

These programmes are credit bearing and are typically offered to public service officials at accredited Skills Development Providers (SDP). SDPs ensure that the relevant training is done and is applicable to the public service sector context.

As opposed to longer programmes, skills programmes enable public service sector officials to close immediate skills gaps and to acquire skills that will enable them to remain relevant in the sector over the long term, all without having to be absent from work for extensive periods.

In so doing, the programmes constitute a response to the Public Service Act (No. 103 of 1994), which urges government departments to train public service officials continuously in the effort to capacitate the public service sector.

PSETA has an obligation to ensure that the skills programmes are delivering on objectives.

In this context, it commissioned Urban-Econ Development Economists and Urban-Econ:NIKELA to conduct an impact assessment study aimed at measuring the effects of the programmes on employed public service officials. The following skills programmes were reviewed:

  • Service Delivery (General Clerk Public Service) NQF level 4
  • Service Delivery (Senior Government Official) NQF level 6
  • Change Management (General Manager Public Service) NQF level 6.
  • Ethics (Senior Government Official) NQF level 6
  • Ethics and Conflict Management in the Public Service NQF level 5

The study has revealed that PSETA’s skills programmes have a marked impact on the skills, work ethic, and behaviour of beneficiaries.

The relevance of skills programmes was an important assessment criterion for this study, which sought to determine whether the programmes were accurately targeting the skills needs of the public sector.

The study surveyed 326 skills programme beneficiaries, of which 87% indicated that the courses had addressed skills gaps they were experiencing.

The skills taught during the programmes included those that pertain to improved service delivery, ethical conduct, change management, and conflict resolution.

Nearly all the beneficiaries (98%) indicated that they had found the programmes to be relevant to the public service sector overall, enabling them to refresh their knowledge of the Public Service Code of Conduct and the Batho Pele principles.

The Public service sector is woven into most aspects of life in South Africa, both social and economic.

To ensure that PSETA programmes are applicable to the full spectrum of government workers, courses incorporate a focus on the transversal skills required across departments.

Such skills include those relating to communication, management, and problem solving. Encouragingly, a significant share of beneficiaries (86%) reported that their transversal skills improved as a result of the PSETA skills programmes.

These findings represent the positive impact that skills programmes can have on the skills of the public service sector.

PSETA’s mandate on providing skills interventions for transversal skills is seen to be fulfilled through these programmes. These positive findings reaffirm the importance of PSETA’s role in skilling the public service sector.

Employers and SDPs interviewed for the study said that the programmes had had a significant impact on the professional disposition of participants.

Beneficiaries were perceived to have exited the programmes with a new perspective on how to approach work in the public service sector.

Specifically, the programmes were seen to have reminded them of the importance of high-quality customer service and upholding ethical principles in all facets of their work.

Employers and SDPs viewed these improvements as contributing to the professionalisation of the sector.

This understanding was echoed by beneficiaries, many of whom indicated that the programmes should be made widely available to public service officials in the push for greater professionalism through improved quality service delivery skills.

In addition, an emphasis was placed on the positive impact these programmes can have on the broader public.

Considering the above, impact assessment studies of this nature are crucial for identifying the influence of training interventions, to critically assess their relevance, and to determine whether the mandate of the PSETA is being upheld.

A key takeaway of the impact assessment study, therefore, is that the skills development work being undertaken by the PSETA is valuable and worthy of continued funding.

Further investment in the skills programmes will serve to enhance service delivery and build a workforce that can be proud of its place in the broader society.