Do college graduates find employment?

Insights from a major tracer study

Project overview

Student enrolment at technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges nearly doubled from 358,000 learners in 2010 to 688,000 learners in 2017. Despite the increase, there is a persistent mismatch between the curricula taught and the skills required by employers. Furthermore, a lack of data on TVET employment outcomes constrains effective policy and planning, including efforts to improve quality and responsiveness to the labour market. Action is urgently required, but reliable data should inform our next steps.

Tracking the employment outcomes of college graduates helps the DHET to ensure that the TVET system responds more effectively to the needs of employers and improve employment outcomes for college graduates. Analysis from 4,581 successful interviews in the TVET graduate destination survey was used to inform enrollment planning, funding, and policy development for the TVET sector.

This is the first time a tracer study of this size has been conducted that provides stakeholders with a national, generalizable sample that tells us something about TVET college graduates. The survey, completed in January 2020, represented an important step in an ongoing effort to identify whether and how TVET graduates are absorbed into the South African labour market and how vocational education is matched with the skills needed in the economy.


More about the project

The OECD has observed that the post-secondary education and training system in South Africa is ‘flying blind’ in the absence of timely and reliable information on labour market outcomes for post-secondary graduates. While several TVET tracer studies have been conducted in the past, the quality of the data was problematic and the outcomes were not adequately institutionalised for policy and planning. 

This project sought to lay the foundations for a TVET college graduate destination survey mechanism within the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). The aim was to ensure that timely and reliable data on the labour market outcomes of TVET graduates is used to inform policy and planning, and to complement the use of labour market intelligence and the pathway management system being developed as part of the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention (PYEI).

The project innovated by combining different data-sets to create much more accurate and meaningful results. This approach aimed to make a long term contribution to the methodology of future studies. Through the process, long-lasting capacity for this kind of innovation has been built up within DHET. The study was able to generate the largest and most reliable sample ever undertaken in the country.

Project methodology
For this project, four experts were brought in to design, develop, and implement the baseline study methodology. These included a TVET college/labour market expert, a tracer study expert, an information systems architect, and the SA Commercial contact centre. The project worked with DHET officials who oversee exams and the further education and training management information system to develop a consolidated learner database.


Throughout its capacity-building journey CBPEP has learnt valuable lessons. Its work with the TVET tracer study led to the following key learnings.

Define, understand and diagnose the problem:
Historically, the quality of research and data in this sector has been poor and not adequately institutionalised for policy and planning. CBPEP knew that, in order to fully understand and diagnose the challenges facing the sector, it had to gather reliable data – a driving force behind the tracer study itself.

Putting the citizen at the centre:
To obtain reliable data, CBPEP had to ensure that the study adequately represented graduating college students and the labour market into which they were moving. To do this, it solicited the support of a TVET college/labour market expert, a tracer study expert, an information systems architect and the SA commercial contact centre to design, develop and implement the baseline study methodology. The inclusion of these four experts ensured that the outcomes were directly driven by the needs of those involved.

Capacity building is ongoing – it’s for the long term:
CBPEP’s aim was to ensure that skills gained at TVET colleges would continue to match employment needs in the long term. To achieve this, the project also focused on building capacity in the Department of Higher Education and Training to continually track employment outcomes of college graduates.

project outputs

A Skills Partnership for Employment and Growth

November 10, 2020

See what was said at the EU Investment Month webinar which discussed results of a CBPEP-funded destination survey on TVET colleges; EU and international experiences in skills development; and post COVID-19 plans for economic and employment growth in SA.


New research: A Baseline Study on the Destination of TVET College Graduates

The research described in this report is based a tracer study which sampled completers from all 50 public TVET colleges in South Africa. The survey of 4581 TVET College graduates with a response rate of 35.2 % has revealed important insights for decision and policy makers within DHET.

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