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Career guidance in South Africa is deficient and seriously polarized where reachable…

Career guidance in South Africa is deficient and seriously polarized where reachable…


Copyright © 2007 Thando Mgqolozana
Used with permission of the author:
Author: Thando Mgqolozana
12 July 2007

Workinfo.com Human Resources Magazine Volume 1 Issue 8, 2007

What is career guidance? First and foremost, we need to define a "career", which is “the sequence of major positions occupied by an individual throughout his pre-occupational, occupational and post-occupational life, including work-related roles such as those of a student, employee, and pensioner, together with complementary vocational, familial, and civic roles”. Following which we must to look at "guidance", which refers to the “process of helping individuals to understand themselves and their world”. These definitions provide us the liberty to conclude that "career guidance" refers to the “services intended to assist people, of any age at any point throughout their lives to make educational, training and occupational choices and manage their careers”.

Now that we know what career guidance is, and what it is not, we should further enquire whether South Africa has such an essential service. Currently career guidance in South Africa is deficient and seriously polarized where reachable, I opine. The present career guidance service does not reach the majority of the people who are in need of it and falls short to aid those who are in reach of it. The effects of such polarity are evident in the form of unemployability, dissatisfaction and vacillation within occupations, escalating drop-out rates, scarcity of skills and general social exclusion whereupon swelling figures of undesirable activities mostly by the youth result.

What went wrong? 

First of all, career guidance was utilised by the then government to guide whites to be super-ordinates over black sub-ordinates in the past. Similarly, but sadly, career guidance has not received priority status from the democratic government as well.

A juxtaposed response of the state was to entrust the Department of Labour with the responsibility to provide career guidance for those in the employment sector including potential employees, while the Department of Education was set to cater for those in education. This arrangement has rather been characterised with lack of strategic leadership in the provision of career guidance between these two departments and other role players. It also excludes many people who are not in the education and employment sectors but need career guidance, and so the deep-rooted legacy of the past deepens further.

Second, a range of professionals and sub-professionals from either education or psychology are responsible for providing career guidance in schools, community centres, universities, employment agencies and in libraries. These individuals provide practical information or counselling but have no background whatsoever in career guidance. As long as we have career guidance being intergraded under the guise of other essential subjects such as education and psychology, we will continue to see its undesirable state of fragmentation.

Third, other role players in the career guidance arena enjoy autonomy in the provision of the service. Those who are fortunate must pay exorbitant fees to access career guidance from psychologists. Most institutions of higher learning do not have stable career guidance programmes accessible to all students. Some non-profit organizations concerned with career guidance are mostly located in urban communities and this relegates the majority of people who need it most but are in peripheral areas. 

Some attempts made by the government include, among others, the introduction of Life Orientation as an examinable subject under the National Curriculum Statement. LO comprises of career guidance as a core learning area in general education, further education and training, and adult basic education and training bands. There is evidence that career guidance under Life Orientation constitutes only eight percent of the two hours per week in a normal school time-table. In addition, Sector Education and Training Authorities have been established to develop a sector skills plan within the framework of the national skills development strategy. These and other initiatives by the government fall short in addressing career guidance needs of the majority of the people and encourage the disturbing fragmentation which results from initial neglect.

How can we intervene? The picture above tells the unfolding story where neglect of a national imperative is bound to generate counter-productive outcomes. It calls for direct and more radical career guidance interventions that will see a remarkable elimination of such social ills as those perpetrated by the current deficiency. Should willingness to alter the career guidance paucity arise, the government shall have to look at the following medium- to long-term hints:

  • Establish career guidance as a profession, just as we have accountants, dentists and nurses. This professional sovereignty will produce field practitioners who will lead the implementation of a specialized type of career guidance.
  • Establish all-inclusive career resource centres at municipal level with utmost intensity in the peripheral areas. This will increase access to education and employment and subsequently enable total social and economic re-integration of the underprivileged.
  • Initiate a regional programme. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Europe has about thirty one member states which are successful in delivering their career guidance services; therefore the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), which is its African counterpart, can learn some good lessons from that organization.

In closing, career guidance structured in the fashion mentioned above will advance the principles of our freedom; realize depolarization of the service which will subsequently alleviate atrocious social ills that face our African society, and qualify to be what it is by definition.

  1. Shertzer, B. and Stone, C. S. (1981). Fundamentals of Guidance: Fourth edition. Boston . Houghton Mifflin Company.
  2. Shertzer, B. and Stone, C. S. (1981). Fundamentals of Guidance: Fourth edition. Boston . Houghton Mifflin Company.
  3. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2004). Career Guidance and Public Policy: Bridging the Gap. Kay, L. L. E and Fretwell, D. H. (2003). Country Report on South Africa - Final. Public Policies and Career Development: A Framework for the Design of Career Information, Guidance and Counseling Services in Developing Countries.

Thando Mgqolozanais a Mandela Rhodes Scholar at the University of the Western Cape and writes in his personal capacity. He can be contacted at: 
University of the Western Cape, Private Bag X66, Belleville, 7535
Email: laz@workmail.co.za
Cell: 082 581 0383

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