Leveraging 4IR for VET in South Africa

The Unconference


Introducing the Unconference

One of the characteristics of an unconference is the very high involvement of the audience in the development of the event. Therefore, participants were asked during registration which issues they wanted addressed during those 2 days.

Most of the participants shared their concerns and the main issues they wanted discussed and reflected on can be clustered as follows:

  • The impact of 4iR on training

  • Social benefits of 4iR

  • Access to financing

  • Involvement of private sector

  • How to improve youth employability

  • Alignment of curricula to industry needs

  • Responsiveness of VET sector

  • Experiencing technology


A total of 126 persons participated, representing a mix of private sector, public sector and civil society representatives but also a dozen of apprentices, most of them female electricians. The participants included business associations, individual companies and private training providers as well as several public sector stakeholders relevant to VET, including DHET, QCTO, NAMB, SETA’s, TVET Colleges as well as international development agencies and significant participation by NGO’s and Foundations representing civil society engagement.

Introducing the Unconference

Unconference unfolding

The concept of the unconference means that participants help to shape the agenda and discussion points based on what they find relevant to the broadly set thematic areas and topics and this informed the topics for the parallel sessions and defined the areas of focus for the innovation labs on the second day. The intensive use of the “sli.do” app as an instrument for feedback further enabled participants to shape and comment on the agenda allowing unconferencing in the true sense of the word.

A further special feature of the unconference was the show-casing of current and emerging technologies, many of these related to 4IR and beyond, making these technologies tangible for participants. Steve Grey from Makerspace Durban showcased a variety of technologies and demonstrated new business models as a significant feature of 4IR.

An inspiring keynote address from Mr. Sizwe Nxasana highlighted insights and lessons from several years working in business and the most recent experience in the area of education and VET. Amongst key messages brought forth were the following: that the education system needs to work closely with employers, that 21st century education requires project-based learning and the need to integrate digital skills throughout education from basic education through to post school education and training, including in TVETs and universities. He emphasized, a critical element of assuring quality VET is that lecturers in VET systems are adequately capacitated – both in terms of technology advancements as well as in transversal skills critical to the world of work.

This was followed by a panel discussion with Mr. Sizwe Nxasana and representatives from private sector (Mr Nivesh Lutchmann, Siemens), academia (Prof Stephanie Allais, Wits University) and youth utilizing technologies in business (Mr Afrika Mkhangala, Youth Economic Alliance). The discussion presented diverse perspectives on VET, public-private collaboration on employment-oriented VET, the value of leveraging 4IR for VET, etc, resulting in robust conversations on the relevance of continuous professional development, the importance of collaboration and not acting in silos and key advice to not expect all solutions to come from VET as companies have a key responsibility to ensure that training is relevant to their needs.

Tech carousel

In the morning successful showcasing of various technologies were demonstrated to the participants who could also engage and interact with these technologies:

  • Makerspace – Doodle robot activation and open source technologies, electronics and different things made in the Makerspace

  • Omni present – Builds robots for Industrials inspections, showcase drone technology, machine learning & VR

  • Perfect laser – Laser cutter and equipment supplied already to TVETs

  • Additive Manufacturing Solutions – 3D printing equipment for Industrial and educational applications

  • Baso – Use of augmented reality for education and training

  • Sisanda – Augmented reality for platform for educational content

  • Siemens – Factory automatization demonstrating technology solutions for VET

  • FESTO – Didactical material simulation and production chains

  • IQ Business – Innovative educational technology including VR

  • Naledi3D – Using 3D/VR simulation and low-cost android learning application

  • Fosh – Project based, experiential learning -mixed reality trade test

Parallel digging deeper sessions

Two rounds of parallel discussions followed, focused on 5 possible topics exploring and developing insights on how technologies/ business models/ processes can be utilized to add value to various aspects of VET:

  • Implementing agile, demand led training and development as pathways to employment: How can flexible, responsive mechanisms be utilised to build the capabilities and skills of young people, and enable them to be connected to different pathways aligned to the requirements of the 21st century

  • The changing world of work and its impact on training content: How can the content of vocational education and training be augmented to a rapidly changing world of work, that takes cognisance of both current and future work requirement

  • Leveraging the power of digital and other tools to enhance training delivery and assessment processes: How can advances in technology provide new methods and modes of training delivery contributing to greater insight and better understanding towards more efficient and effective learning

  • Improving the transitioning from VET to the world of work – use of technology to navigate different pathways: Can technologies and digital tools make it easier for young people to transition from education and training to employment. How can they navigate different pathways to facilitate engagement in the economy, including enabling self-employment

  • Leveraging the power of technology to enhance the capacity building of VET personnel: How can new innovations, and technologies be utilized to improve the training of personnel in Vocational Educations to facilitate their ease of using these technologies to enhance VET delivery


It became obvious that the major issue is not so much about new technologies as an end but as a means to address these challenges of employment and transferring skills for employability.

In the final session of the first day, participants identified topics for so called “innovation labs” to be discussed on day 2. They suggested topics which addressed VET delivery and implementation challenges.  

Innovation labs

On the second day, the following 7 topics identified as issues needing further reflection and discussion. Each session was compromised of approximately 5 – 15 participants focused on the following key areas:

  1. Enhancing Public-Private Partnerships to enhance VET

  2. Centers of excellence/ incubation hubs

  3. Teaching apprentices’ courses on 4IR

  4. Scaling up entrepreneurial (self-employment) capabilities

  5. Lecturer capacity building

  6. Implementing agile, demand led training and development as pathways to employment

  7. Demand led training, performance bonds, platforms

  8. Improving apprentice work integrated learning

Key areas of reflection and discussion were focused on:

  • Outlining challenges experienced

  • Reflecting on potential solutions

  • Reflecting on possible next steps

Participants developed ideas and preliminary ideas for interventions, some of these exploring the use of technologies as a mechanism to enhance VET delivery and content, as well reflecting on possible collaborative efforts of public-private stakeholders in VET. SD4GE could act as a catalyst to carry forward the findings and specific ideas of this highly interactive unconference.

#future4artisans Contest

The second day of the unconference was also utilized and an opportunity to “unlauch” the #future4artisans contest. The contest will target youth in the 18-35yr category who will be called on to produce and present a brief video show-casing their vision for the future world of artisans – including how they imagine the future of VET would be, ideally with specific ideas on the use of technologies in both the context of learning as well as ideas for use of these technologies to generate an income as an artisan.

All unconference participants were invited to contribute their ideas about who should be involved in this contest and participants also offered an opportunity to indicate their interest in participating and contributing to this contest.  Responses to these questions were once again indicative of a willingness to participate and contribute to this process, but also highlighted that such a contest should bring public-private collaborative efforts to the fore.

Participant feed-back

Evaluation of the unconference by participants indicated that they especially appreciated the demystification of 4IR, the new business models emerging as a result of technology. They also appreciated the bottom-up development of key elements of the unconference agenda and the resultant commitments made.

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