‘University is not the only way to be successful. Encourage your child to get a trade,’ says teacher

Matric students during the progress monitoring by KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala of National Senior Certificate examinations at Umlazi Commercial High School on 11 November 2021. Today, the wait for results is finally over.
Matric students during the progress monitoring by KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala of National Senior Certificate examinations at Umlazi Commercial High School on 11 November 2021. Today, the wait for results is finally over.
Darren Stewart/Gallo Images

He’s a former University of the Western Cape rugby player and a much-loved automotive teacher at Bellville Technical High School.

His message to parents and guardians of pupils who did not perform as well as they’d hoped in the 2021 matric exams, or failed, is simple. “I need the parents to know that university is not the only way to be successful. Encourage your child to get a trade! My learners know this is what I preach at school.”

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There's nothing wrong with aiming for a university degree, say Curtis "Mr B" Beukes. But it's not the only way to be successful.

The message that teacher Curtis Beukes shared on Facebook garnered so many likes and PM (private message) requests for him to explain further, that he followed up with a commitment to make a video series explaining why “I will always preach trade over universities”.

“Please note if you can go to university that’s great and go for it, this is more for society who got the people thinking that all university graduates are successful. Regards, Mr B,” he ended his viral post, illustrating what jobs such as aircon technician, millwright, plumber and spraypainter could pay.

He talks to Drum about why he thinks more parents need to explore trade school options for kids and how he became an automotive teacher.

He tells us he wants to change the general perceptions in society about getting trained for a trade, saying it can be as fulfilling as a career for which you earned a degree. "The problem with society is, I just told my learners that, if you're walking with your mother in the streets and you see someone wearing an overall driving a car or walking there, then the first thing that the parent will say is, 'You see my child, if you don't do good in school you're going to end up like that.' Never knowing that person might have a trade, that that person might earn more money than you yourself. So that is the first problem that society is currently having.

"And that puts so much pressure on the learners, thinking 'If I don't make it to university, I won't succeed in life. So I usually say that if you can get a trade, a trade takes you three-and-a-half years and by the time you're done with your trade, you're qualified and you don't owe anyone any money because you got paid to study. So you can start with your life."

"Whereas a university graduate, usually, they have some debt to pay and that's the first thing they're going to do with the first few pay cheques."

High unemployment rates among SA university graduates aside, not everyone who's obtained a degree knows what they want to do with it, says Curtis. "But the trade learner, they did their three-and-a-half to four years and they qualified as a particular tradesperson."

Making an example of himself, the 31-year-old says, "I'm a diesel mechanic by trade. But I had to go study further to become a teacher in the trade. 

"So that is what I am trying to encourage," says the dad of two. "Once you are qualified in your trade you can go work anywhere in the world," he says, adding that there is a demand here and abroad for artisans.

His message to the Grade 12 pupils who failed their 2021 matric exams is: "Not everyone is going to make it to university. But that's not the end of the world. You can do an internships, you can do an apprenticeship in a trade and become a qualified artisan. Know that a qualified artisan can reach just as high goals as a university graduate. Know that you can still even work abroad. Many countries are looking for South Africans with qualified experience to work as qualified artisans in a trade to work abroad in countries like New Zealand, Australia and England, where you can further your trade and set yourself up to live a good life."

 Read more | 79.25% pass matric in prison

Mr B's advice for those who want to study a trade in college but do not have funds is to approach companies directly as apprentice opportunities do exist, and are often just not advertised. "I did it, I went to companies myself with my CV. Companies like the willingness in learners who come out by themselves – they have a driver's licence maybe, for instance – and they give you a chance.

"You never know, maybe just around the corner you may be get a chance to do an apprenticeship with the company and get paid while you study through them. A lot of companies, they don't advertise it but they have jobs because the apprenticeship works on a three- to four-year cycle – as soon as the fourth year is up, they take in new apprentices."

  • What if you still want to go to university but don't qualify for your first, second or even third choice?

Linda Fekisi, Head of Programme at The Independent Institute of Education, says matrics from the Class of 2021 may find themselves in one of the following categories following the release of the results:

1) The student’s performance was in line with expectations, and their plans are not impacted because of results. However, the student may have doubts about their chosen study plans.
2) The student performed better than expected, and university study is now a possibility, but they have not yet enrolled with an institution. These students could still land a place at a higher education institution if they move swiftly.

3) The student did not perform optimally, and may no longer qualify for the study path or institution they have applied for.

Linda says these students have the option of considering other qualifications for which they may be eligible, or the option of pursuing a Higher Certificate as a first qualification. 

While applications have closed at most public universities, private higher education institutions may still have limited places available to those who move fast.

But don't fall prey to fly-by-night colleges, she warns. “You must do your homework to ensure that you enrol with an institution that is well-respected in the industry, and is registered and accredited." 

  • What if your child failed matric?

“The most important thing is just support and validation. If a child is not feeling well about themselves, that acknowledgement and validation helps them through it," SADAG Mental Health Counsellor Zinhle Mkrweqana advised parents ahead of the release of the 2021 matric results.

"If you skip the ‘I don’t feel good about my results’ or ‘ I am not happy’ then the depression comes in because you want to ignore it. So address those emotions like: how do you feel this way and how can we help support you. Then it is how can we apply and do other things," she said in an SABC interview, adding that "the validation right now is 'what you're feeling is okay and appropriate and equal to what is happening to you at that moment'.”

  • How do I upgrade my results?

You can enrol in the government's Second Chance Programme which has various intakes throughout the year to allow students to rewrite matric subjects if you want to improve your results

"It helps them to meet the requirements of the National Senior Certificate (NSC) or Senior Certificate (SC) and obtain a Grade 12 matric certificate," according to the website. "Face to face classes are available at locations around the country, as well as online programmes and television and radio broadcasts."

More information is available from the Department of Basic Education. If you have access to Facebook, visit the Second Chance Programme page for updates.

  • Performed fairly well, but don't have funding?

Besides a number of free online learning programmes available to equip you in in-demand technological skills being offered by companies such as Amazon, Microsoft and Nedbank, you could also apply for bursaries from companies that require you to pay a nominal monthly fee. The bursary is converted to a student loan payable upon completion of your studies.

The Regenesys Business School EdForAll (Education for All) online learning initiative launched in 2021 is an example.  It aims "to give financially disadvantaged but deserving students across the world access to quality higher education for a nominal monthly commitment fee of as little as R500 per month, interest-free, for the duration of their study programme". 

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An engineer and apprentice in front of an industrial robots welder in production line.

Read more | 7 things you can do if you didn't get into university

Other in-demand qualifications to apply for

While applications have closed at most public universities, according to Linda, private higher education institutions may still have limited places available to those who move fast.

Here are some high-in-demand qualifications that may still be taking applications, which she recommends:

Information Technology

Qualified and capable IT professionals are in higher demand than ever before, and this is likely to remain the case well into the future. 

Career options to consider include Software Developer or Engineer, Web Developer, Mobile App Developer, Cyber Security Specialist, Data Scientist and IT/Business Analyst. 

Qualifications leading to these careers include, inter alia, Higher Certificate in IT in Support Services; Bachelor of Computer and Information Sciences in Network Engineering, Application Development, Bachelor of Computer and Information Sciences in Game Design and Development; Bachelor of Information Technology in Business Systems; DIT in Network or Software Management, and a range of IT-related Higher Certificates. 


The demand for graduates who are competent in the theory and practice of accounting remains across organisations – from startups to multinationals. A finance qualification, such as a Diploma in Business Accounting or a Higher Certificate in Bookkeeping will position graduates for a successful career in the industry.


The combination of management and business skills is a potent one which will position graduates to climb the career ladder from day one.

Qualifications cover a number of fields, including Local Governance, Logistics and Supply Chain Management, Human Resources, Event Management, and Business Management (e.g. Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing, Bachelor of Public Administration, Diploma in Commerce Marketing Management, Bachelor of Business Administration in Logistics and Supply Chain Management, Bachelor of Commerce in Entrepreneurship, and Higher Certificates in Human Resource Practices, Event Management and Business Management).

Brand communication & copywriting

Traditionally, the idea of becoming a copywriter was closely associated with the advertising industry. However a good writer today will find their skills in high demand in a wide variety of fields, including the corporate world, web development, public relations, content creation, SEO writing, UX writing, digital community management, social media management, and content strategy.

A BA in Creative Brand Communications & Copywriting, or a Higher Certificate in Communication Practices, will position graduates strongly within the jobs marketplace.

Additional sources: SABC News, www.theworldofwork.co.za, www.iie.ac.za / Additional reporting by Thando Ndabezitha

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