Centre for Researching Education and Labour

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Completed Research Projects

REAL Centre tackled research issues such as:

  • A Linked Macro-Education Model for the Labour Market project was developed in partnership with Applied Development and Research Solutions. The project involves the development of a skills forecasting tool—the Linked Macro Education Model (LMEM)—to be used by the Department of Higher Education and Training and its agencies for the planning of supply and demand of skills in the South African economy. The project began in 2012 and was largely finished in 2016.
  • The notion of a skills/labour market ‘mismatch’ and the assumptions behind it, including notions of work, the nature of jobs that are available, no longer available, and growing; the industry conditions that contribute to the structuring of jobs and therefore have an impact on how companies interact with the reserve army of job seekers; the decisions made by employers and industries in the development and deployment of skills and employability; the purposes and nature of education, and models for forecasting skills and economic growth in the future.
  • The relationships between skills development and skills deployment in different sectors, and how different qualifications are produced, understood and valued, especially in technical, vocational, and professional education;
  • Possible meanings of ‘vocational’ education, beyond the current notions of skills/competencies, and notions of intellectual development, beyond the traditional liberal education, in the context of education for the 21st century, in the developed and developing world;
  • Possibilities for strengthening post-school education and training system in South Africa, expanding access to it meaningfully, and measuring success;
  • The policies in the education and training systems that will help manage both periods of scarcity and abundance in jobs;
  • Better understandings of the group of young people who are not in employment, education, or training in South Africa, and better insights into the real barriers to jobs and education.

Completed Research Projects:

  1. A Review of the Gauteng Master Skills Plan
  2. A Review of the Public SETA Trades

A Review of the Gauteng Master Skills Plan

This project was commissioned by the Gauteng Provincial Government to evaluate its Gauteng Master Skills Plan. The Master Skills Plan is one of key programmes selected by government to review. The review was to mark the midpoint of the current government’s term of office. It was intended to contribute to improving the implementation of government’s programme to the end of the current term of office in 2014, and to provide the basis for public communication of government’s achievements in implementing its mandate. 

A Review of the Public SETA Trades

This is a project that was commissioned by the P-SETA to look at its potential artisanal development footprint, the capacity in the public space and the demand for the trades. The report has been well received by the SETA and was presented at a public colloquium in November 2012.

Knowledge and work

This research involves analysis of relationships between knowledge in curriculum and knowledge used at work, as well as qualifications used in labour markets. Research in this area is led by Stephanie Allais and Yael Shalem. This project is funded by the Education Policy Consortium. We have 2 PhD fellows in this area.

Sectors, Skills and Economic Evolution in South Africa

This project involves research in the manufacturing, chemical and fibre economic sectors. Led by Andre Kraak, this project consists of a series of sectoral studies, conducted by REAL staff members and PhD students. The project currently conducting highly original and substantial research in an important and poorly understood area.

Vocational Education and Pedagogy

Research projects linked directly to the Research Chair in Vocational Education and Pedagogy, which were led by Volker Wedekind until March this year, encompass three strands: understanding supply and demand dynamics in the TVET Colleges; mapping of the vocational system; and vocational curriculum and pedagogy. The first draws on administrative and economic data to inform the Sector Skills Plans of the ETDP SETA for the TVET sub-sector; the second focuses on understanding the dynamics of the vocational system across levels, economic sectors and social space drawing on concepts such as networks, skills ecosystems and regional systems, and the third focuses on the classroom, lecture theatre, workshop and workplace to explore the dynamics of teaching and learning in those spaces through case studies of a range of programmes, educational settings and occupations. Part of this work has been contracted out, part is in the process of being contracted out, and part is being handled by a REAL staff member; Dr Lynn Hewlett, who is on a part time secondment to REAL from the School of Governance, has taken over the overall management of this work.

National Skills Development Strategy Evaluation

REAL, in collaboration with Mzabalazo Advisory Services (MAS), was awarded a contract by the National Skills Agency (NSA) to evaluate the National Skills Development Strategy III. The evaluation, will involve a number of REAL staff and associates across four work streams that include document and literature analysis, interviews with a wide range of stakeholders, a tracer study and case studies of various sectors. Presha Ramsarup Naomi Alphonsus, Andre Kraak and REAL Associate Carmel Marock are all involved in various work streams. The centre is co-ordinating the tracer study of providers and learners that have been recipients of NSF and SETA funded training. It is a large an innovative undertaking that has raised various insights into learner data and setting up a tracer. REAL is also co-ordinating case studies, focused on responsive to green skills, skills to support research and innovation, supporting rural partnerships and supporting small and medium enterprises.

The Green Skills Project

A three-year project funded by the Green Fund and is a collaboration between Rhodes University and REAL. Presha Ramsarup is the lead person at REAL. The project is focused on development of capacity within the post–school system and institutions to understand the green skills needs related to greening work across different sectors. REAL is currently involved in analysing greening of work within six sectors: Paint, Agriculture, Paper, Public Procurement, Coal Mining and Automotives. This will enable a cross-sectoral understanding of environmental hot-spots in the value chain, the key occupations involved within greening the sector and how the occupational tasks and job roles will be affected with the greening of work. The project will be running a six day short course in Green Skills. It has just produced a Green Skills Toolkit which is soon to be introduced in a series of workshops. The programme is working towards the development of a master’s level module on Green Skills, which can then be utilized across both institutions.


Knowledge and social justice

This project is funded by the National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences and Education Policy Consortium. Led by Stephanie Allais and Yael Shalem, the project consists of conceptual work in the broad area of the relationship between education and social justice. The main focus of the project is to investigate the capacity of education to bring about social change, as well as what type of curriculum and pedagogy are required. The project will be exploring, contrasting, and developing the main positions on education and social justice in South Africa today. The idea is not to evaluate the different positions against each other ‘to see which one wins’ but rather to clarify differences and similarities in the different positions, clarify the rationale of diverging positions, and hopefully build synergies where there are currently antagonisms. We hosted a colloquium in June in which educational researchers from many different traditions participate and engaged in a semi-structured set of debates. Based on this colloquium, a paper was prepared for the Social Realist Conference in Cambridge, as well as for a panel at the South African Educational Research Conference, which is taking place in October. Four discussants will respond to the paper.

NRF/ESRC/Newton project on Higher Education and the Public Good in Four African Countries

The REAL Centre was been awarded this project late in 2016, in collaboration with research partners in the UK and three African countries (Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria). Stephanie Allais and Elaine Unterhalter are the lead investigators. The research project aims to advance understanding about how different constituencies—students, staff, governance bodies, employers, government, and civil society—understand higher education and the public good in four African countries. A major focus for the year was a workshop with experts and stakeholders from the four countries. Following this, the emphasis has been on developing field work tools. Field work should commence in October.

Occupations, work, and work-oriented education in different countries

This project, led by Stephanie Allais, is NRF grant and Education Policy Consortium funded. The research aims to investigate the economic trajectory and labour market structure in a selection of contrasting countries, with a view to understand the ways in which they enable and/or constrain the development of ‘occupation’, the emerging or new ways in which work is being organized, and the implications for educational preparation for work. The research is comparing 6 countries, 3 in Africa—one least developed, one developing, and one middle-income—and 3 wealthy or developed countries. The innovation in this research is an attempt to develop, at a macro or national level, a comparative picture of the ways in which work and labour markets are regulated and organized, as well as how they relate to education and training systems, across a set of contrasting countries. Draft case studies have been developed for the three African countries.

The contribution of vocational skills development to inclusive industrial growth and transformation

This project is funded jointly by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Swiss Development Cooperation Agency over the course of the next 6 years. The project has a budget of roughly USD 2.8 million, covers 6 countries, and involves approximately. 14 doctoral students, 6 post-doctoral fellows as well as academic staff and experts. Three countries (Bangladesh, Cambodia and Laos) form the core group of countries. In addition to the core group of countries, the study will also focus on a group of contrasting countries (Ethiopia, South Africa, Vietnam), two of which are middle-income countries (South Africa, Vietnam). We lead the South African component of the research, and we will host one PhD student and one researcher/postdoc. The project is in its initial stages, and we are currently advertising as well as bringing in some contract researchers.


REAL is part of the large Wits-wide proposal for research into Inequality currently being submitted to the Ford Foundation; REAL is leading the education strand of the research. The project as a whole has got approval for a first stage, in terms of setting up a Centre for the Study of Inequality, and the larger proposal is now going to Ford internationally.