By Eloise Nolte, Managing Director of College SA 

Earlier this month, the Department of Basic Education released the official Matric Final Exam Timetable, outlining the final stretch for thousands of Matric learners in our country.

As these learners gear up to start writing their final exams on 1 November 2021, many may be wondering what their next steps will be. 

Matriculants will also be entering one of the toughest job markets of our time. The impact of Covid-19 on the economy has seen South Africa’s official unemployment rate rise to 34.4%.

Now more than ever, the decision that learners make after completing their school career is critical to their career prospects. While many still opt for university, there is an ever-growing list of exciting, quality alternatives for learners who wish to follow another path. 

There are also options for those who haven’t managed to complete matric. This is not the time to be disheartened about the future, this is the time for adaptation, innovation and hope.

Understanding the NQF

With a Grade 10, 11 or 12 qualification learners can move upwards in the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) levels. 

In South Africa, the NQF is the system used to measure levels of learning. There are ten NQF levels and they fall into three categories: General and Further Education and Training Qualifications Sub-Framework, Higher Educational Qualifications Sub-Framework, and the Occupational Qualifications Sub-Framework. The ten levels are: 


Sub-framework and qualification types

10Higher Education
Doctoral Degree
Doctoral Degree (Professional)
9Master’s Degree
Master’s Degree (Professional)
8Bachelor’s Honours Degree
Postgraduate Diploma
Bachelor’s Degree
Certificate (Level 8)
7Bachelor’s Degree
Advanced Diploma
Certificate (Level 7)
Advanced Certificate
Certificate (Level 6)
5Higher CertificateOccupational
Certificate (Level 5)
4General and Further
Education and Training
Qualifications Sub-Framework
National Certficate (Grade 12)Occupational
Certificate (Level 4)
3Intermediate Certificate
(Grade 11)
Certificate (Level 3)
2Elementary Certificate
(Grade 10)
Certificate (Level 2)
1General Certificate
(Grade 9)
Certificate (Level 1)

Understanding these levels and how they work can help learners to find vacancies for which they’re qualified. Achieving the next NQF level also doesn’t necessarily involve going to university. Many of these qualifications can be achieved through distance learning (something today’s learners are familiar with), adult education and training institutions, or via technical and vocational education and training colleges.

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Learners can start by looking at the fields that are most in-demand today, and assess whether their interests fit these fields of study before exploring how they might go about completing the next NQF level.

Moving through the ranks

According to recent reports, applicants with skills in, for example, accounting, engineering and technology have continued to be among the most in-demand during 2021.

School leavers looking to enter the accounting space might be interested in studying courses that are accredited from the well-regarded Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (ICB) or the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA). The CIMA Business Accounting course doesn’t require a matric but it can provide learners with an NQF level 5 qualification.

When it comes to technology, IT Academy, a highly respected course provider that is part of Optimi College also provides a valuable Software Development course that covers fundamentals such as HTML5, C#, Microsoft Azure, and much more. This course is certified by the likes of Microsoft and it provides one with a NQF Level 5 qualification upon completion. 

For many years, there has also been a severe shortage of artisans in SA, and there are several options in this space that learners might wish to consider. National trade courses in essential career paths such as boilermaking, welding, fitting and turning, electrical and motor trade — all critical for engineering-related fields — can help learners to gain a foothold in the current market. These qualifications are known as N1, N2 and N3 qualifications, and enable learners to apply to a college to complete a Higher National Diploma afterward. 

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It’s important that learners know that there are alternatives to university. In a world that is constantly changing, traditional educational routes aren’t the only answer.