Cultural-historical investigations into the dialectics of skills development implementation and occupational identity in the informal construction Small and Micro Enterprise workplace

This study explores the development of identity and agency on the part of young construction workers and work-seekers within the informal workplace environment of the South African post-apartheid construction industry. The study provides an exploration of the contradictions manifested in, and through, labour relations and skills development practices, via the daily struggles of the workplace participants. Ethnographic data are collected from the small and micro enterprise (SME) contractors and their workers; the work-seekers, who daily line the roadside identifying their skills via display of construction tools and signs; and skills development specialists. The rich data enables a cultural-historical analysis of the contradictions within the associated labour practices, and South Africa's post-apartheid skills development regime. These contradictions inevitably give rise to the struggles for identity development and agency on the part of the informal workplace participants The ground-breaking research of post-Vygotskian researchers such as Anna Stetsenko and leading Activity Theory scholars such as Yrjö Engeström and Annalisa Sannino, focus the analysis of workers' struggles. The research illustrates how skills development practices in South Africa fail to address the critical needs of informal workers and the unemployed work-seekers. In particular, the research finds that the ideology informing skills development practices in South Africa emphasises Western-centric notions, and precludes indigenous practices, specifically, the culturally relevant values of collective solidarity, extended family, and community relationships. These values are embodied in the ethos of ubuntu, mirroring the Vygotskian essence, and expansive learning, which identifies the relevance of the social to the individual's learning, and occupational identity development. As a result, the analysis unriddles the material structures of skills development and labour practices that perpetuate the exclusion and marginalisation of many young South Africans, thereby limiting access to skilled employment, and active participation in the country's post-apartheid socioeconomic activity. Therefore, employing these conceptual and analytic tools, the study posits a theory-informed model for transforming the prevailing structures, and the related practices. Primary recommendations are to clearly differentiate skills development from education; and to utilise skills development as a mediational tool for agency, in a workplace format tailored to the construction informal sector. The object being fulfilment of redress, with an outcome of disrupting post-apartheid South Africa's overwhelming poverty, unemployment, expanding inequality, and socioeconomic marginalisation of youth.