Artisanship vs Degree: Choosing Your Career Path

3 May 2016
3 minute read
artisan welding

The matrics of 2016 need to start thinking about their future. Your first decision has to be: do you want a career, or just a job? If you’re wise - and can afford it or access financial assistance - you need to invest time and money in further education to lay the groundwork for a long-term career. Your first choice will be whether to go for an artisanship or a university degree.

A university degree and office working environment certainly seem to carry more glamour among today’s youth, but with the skills shortage in South Africa, an artisanship may well be the surest route to finding a career.

Scarce skills

According to employment specialist firm Adcorp, there are currently as many as 829 800 unfilled positions for high-skilled workers across a wide range of occupations in South Africa.

A 2015 Manpower global survey found that South African employers had difficulties in finding suitable bricklayers, electricians and plumbers. Adcorp lists the skills shortage among technicians is 432 100, among managers 216 200 and among professionals 178 400.

The road to artisanships: technical college

In the search for careers, many young people look first to university education or cushy clerical jobs – when the entrepreneurial opportunity really lies in trades. In countries such as Germany and the US, most people who have apprenticed in some trade such as an electrician or plumber go on to establish their own business at a young age. The same can happen in South Africa.

The first step would be to encourage your child to talk to career guidance counsellors about artisanships as early as possible and opportunities for study at a Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) rather than a traditional university. More information on TVETs is available at

Education Minister Blade Nzimande recently (12 January 2016) announced that the range of post-school opportunities available throughout South Africa for 2015 matriculants in 2016 are:

  • 212 472 new admission opportunities at universities for prospective students
  • 133 551 Engineering and Business Studies opportunities at TVET colleges which operate on more than 264 campuses across South Africa;
  • 88 794 occupationally-directed (apprenticeship or learnership) opportunities in collaboration with TVET colleges, SETAs and employers;
  • 30 750 new learner-artisan registration opportunities and
  • 51 835 learning programme opportunities in the form of 5 087 apprenticeships, 9 073 bursaries, 20 138 learnerships, 17 537 skills and work-readiness programmes supported through the SETAs.

As you can see the bulk of opportunities are in technical vocations.


A more affordable way of becoming an artisan is through an apprenticeship. This is an education and training system that teaches trade knowledge and skills through on-the-job training and formal instruction. The on-the-job training is provided by an employer and supervised by a journeyman. This means you have to be employed by a company, or through a sector education and training authority (SETA).

Highly successful manufacturing economies – like Germany - place considerable emphasis on apprenticeships, with as many as 60% of young people signing up in this field.

Finding an apprenticeship is not easy – no more so than finding a job – but opportunities exist if you have a good matric pass rate. In addition to looking at the websites of individual companies you know, here are a number of websites where you can search for opportunities:

We therefore urge parents to discuss with their children the exciting option of an artisanship. Get your kids to also make their own enquiries both at school through career counselors and private online research. University should not be the only option – artisans are often highly paid, there are many work opportunities and the potential to establish one’s own business. Perhaps the single greatest advantage of an artisanship is that a trade is highly sort after globally.

The key to financial security

Consumer surveys have shown that what 70% of South Africans want more than anything else is to have financial security. The road to this security is a long-term career and all indicators point to a bright career in trade!

Frequently asked questions

Artisanship involves practical training in a specific trade, while a university degree is a formal academic education in various fields.

Artisanship may offer better career prospects due to the high demand for skilled workers in the country.

Yes, industries like construction, engineering, and technical fields are experiencing a shortage of skilled workers.

You can pursue artisanship through apprenticeships or Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges.

Artisans often have better earning potential, more work opportunities, and the option to establish their own businesses.

Yes, skilled artisans are highly sought after globally, providing opportunities to work internationally.

Yes, there may be financial assistance available for both options, depending on the program and eligibility.

You can explore websites like,, and for apprenticeship listings.

No, artisans can build successful and fulfilling careers with proper training and dedication.

Parents can encourage their children to explore all options, discuss career choices, and seek guidance from career counsellors.

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