23 February 2021
Writing matric exams is challenging for most students as it is the culmination of their secondary education journey. However, writing these exams during the global COVID-19 pandemic, after a year of adapting to numerous pressures during the academic year, was an even tougher challenge for the matric class of 2020.
“In light of these challenges, it is not surprising that the pass rate has dropped to 76.2%, compared to 81.3% in 2019,” says Michelle Baron-Williamson, Chief Transformation Officer of Managed Integrity Evaluation (MIE). “South Africa’s youth is resilient, however, and I am hopeful that as students embark on their studies this year – more accustomed to a new way of learning – we will see the matric pass rate rise again in 2021.”
A tough economic outlook
Thousands of matrics who now hold a pass certificate are either seeking to further their studies through tertiary education, or to enter the job market with their freshly printed certificates in hand. “Regardless of the path these students decide to follow this year, there is no doubt that they face a tough road ahead,” says Baron-Williamson. “Those who decide to enroll at tertiary education institutions will be dealing with continued remote learning, strained educational resources and uncertainty around how the pandemic will affect their studies in the future.”
For those entering the job market, tough economic conditions await. “The World Bank estimates that the South African economy contracted by a steep 7.8% last year, and although it is expected to grow by 3.3% this year, a return to pre-2020 economic activity could take up to five years,” explains Baron-Williamson.
There are numerous factors that will influence the prospects of those looking for gainful employment, particularly the rising unemployment rate, which has now reached almost 40%. While reduced lockdown restrictions have eased the pressure on certain industries somewhat, the job market in these industries will take some time to recover,” says Baron-Williamson. “
Certain jobs, however, are still in demand. Professionals in the engineering, accounting, human resources, supply chain and technology fields remain in demand. The CareerJunction Index released in December 2020 has highlighted the increased demand for these professionals, emphasising the fact that while a matric certificate is a critical educational milestone, obtaining a tertiary qualification will be what sets South Africa’s future workforce apart from those struggling to find employment.
“This places additional pressure on matriculants, as funding for tertiary studies is becoming increasingly difficult to come by, and the knock-on effect of fewer students enrolling for tertiary education means that the juxtaposition of the country’s skills gap versus its high levels of unemployment will become even more pronounced,” says Baron-Williamson.
Background screening is critical
When faced with such extreme challenges, jobseekers often turn to ill-advised methods to secure employment. From fabricating or misrepresenting skills and experience to outright qualifications fraud, there are many risks for businesses who are hiring new talent. These risks must be mitigated if businesses are to ensure their sustainability during tough economic times.
“MIE’s annual Background Screening Index has shown year after year that qualifications are the most commonly misrepresented aspect of an applicant’s CV,” notes Baron-Williamson. “When companies fail to perform adequate background screening on potential employees, they place their organisations at significant risk, from both an operational and reputational perspective.”
Last year’s hard lockdown forced most companies to adopt new ways of working, in most cases overnight. “South African businesses showed incredible resilience, adapting to flexible work schedules, implementing remote working and finding workarounds for unique operational requirements,” says Baron-Williamson. “These same organisations now need to put that newly-learned flexibility to work in finding creative ways to open the job market where traditional barriers previously existed. Initiatives such as school-leaver work experience programmes, on-the-job training and job shadowing must become part of the new normal if a credible workforce is to be created and maintained.”
Baron-Williamson concludes with words of encouragement for the matrics of 2020: “While there may be less opportunities for either further study or entrance into the workforce, there are still companies who are hiring, and organisations offering bursaries and study assistance. Our matrics should be proud of their achievements during a difficult year, and use the lessons learned through these challenges to find innovative ways to reach their goals and further their careers.”