Change the world

Dr Lesley Powell is the Research Chair Youth Unemployment, Employability and Empowerment at the Nelson Mandela University. She undertook her PhD at the University of Nottingham where she is currently appointed as a member to the University of Nottingham’s UNEVOC Centre and as an Honorary Associate Professor to the Faculty of Education at the University of Nottingham.

Dr Powell has worked in the area of Post School Education and Training (PSET) since 1995. Shortly after the first democratic elections she joined Professor Harold Wolpe at the Education Policy Unit (EPU) at the University of Western Cape. In 1995 she was seconded to serve as the researcher to the National Commission of Higher Education’s technical writing team. In 1997 her interests shifted to Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET). She joined the National Business Initiative and was appointed as the Divisional Manager of Research for the Colleges Collaboration Fund, a large scale project of R100 million project that aimed at supporting the National Department of Education transform the then technical colleges which were divided across multiple apartheid defined departments into a single and coherent TVET colleges sector.

The vision of her current Research Chair derives from Nelson Mandela University having committed itself to being a dynamic African university, recognised for its leadership in generating cutting-edge knowledge for a sustainable future. Here the Chair seeks to contribute to establishing Nelson Mandela University as a leader in cutting edge and engaged research in skills (including TVET) and livelihoods whilst simultaneously contributing to strengthening and expanding TVET scholarship in South Africa and on the African continent.

Her research work has largely focussed on TVET with her theoretical interest being the ways in which TVET can intervene in inequality and poverty and particularly the way(s) in which it can advance the conditions for meaningful livelihoods. While much of her research has been on the development of the South African Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) college sector, her commitment is to the global struggle for social justice and human rights. In this regard she has published widely on TVET systems from human development and social justice perspectives. Her publications include refereed book chapters, journal articles, monographs, conference papers and published policy reports. A select sample is provided below.

  • 2019 [with Simon McGrath as second author]. Skills for Human Development: Transforming Vocational Education and Training. London and New York, Routledge Taylor and Francis Group.

  • 2014 [with Simon McGrath as second author]. Exploring the value of the capability approach for Vocational Education and Training (VET) evaluation: Reflections from South Africa. International Development Policy series No. 5 (Vol. in press, pp. 126–148). Boston: Brill-Nijhoff.

  • 2013. A critical assessment of research on South African FET Colleges. South African Review of Education, 19(1), 59–81.

  • 2012. Reimagining the purpose of VET - Expanding the capability to aspire in South African Further Education and Training students. International Journal of Educational Development, 32(5), 1–32.

  • 2018 [with Joy Papier as first author and with Timothy McBride and Seamus Needham] Survey Analysis of the Pathways of Public TVET College Learners through NATED Programmes. Labour Market Intelligence Programme, Human Sciences Research Council: Cape Town.


Her commitment to transforming TVET policy has resulted in much policy research (or policy activism). A select sample is shown below.

  • 2019. Qualitative report on Rounds 1 to 3 of Youth Livelihood Interviews. Submitted to MerSETA.

  • 2018. Report on the Community Youth Survey. Submitted to the MerSETA.

  • 2018. A typology of publicly funded youth unemployment schemes. Submitted to the ETDP Seta.

  • 2017.Skills Intervening in Youth Unemployment. ETDP Research Chair Seminar. Johannesburg. ETDP.

  • 2015. Case study report on the FET (TVET) colleges undertaken as part of the evaluation of the five year targets of the Human Resource Development Strategy 2010-2030. Prepared for the Human Resource Development Committee.