Building a Career if you Failed School

When you look at the kids sitting in a Matric class, the class does not look half empty. But the numbers show that of the class that started school 12 years ago, only half are currently sitting in a Matric class. Half will have failed school and dropped out of the system before they get to the end of Grade 12.

How many of the kids that started school 12 years ago, will have a degree three years after they complete Matric? The most recent research shows that it is 9,9%.

How your education level impact your income

Your level of education is one of the biggest factors determining your income. There is a direct relationship between starting salaries and level of education. In fact, just one more year of education can double your income potential.


Here is the average starting salary you can expect, based on your level of education. This is based on research done in 2016.

  • No school education: R 1 704
  • Grade 1 to Grade 7 incomplete: R 1 867
  • Completed Primary School (Grade 7 completed): R 1 946
  • Grade 8 to Grade 12 incomplete: R 2 660
  • Grade 12 completed: R4 977
  • Grade 12 with Certificate (one year of study after matric): R 8 326
  • Grade 12 with Diploma (two years of study after matric): R13 378
  • Bachelor’s degree: R 21 527

The impact of unemployment

Unemployment is much much higher for people who are unskilled, or semi-skilled. Not only do they earn much less than skilled and highly skilled workers, they also find it much harder to find a job.

According to an article in the Mail and Guardian, last year the public employment services division of the labour department was able to find job placement for only 2% of the five million people on its database.  If you are unskilled or semi-skilled, then you are competing with literally millions of people for the very few jobs available.

According to a report, Employment, Unemployment, Skills and Economic Growth by Statistics South Africa, the different levels of education can be linked to jobs or occupations as follows:

  • Unskilled workers: Domestic workers, Elementary jobs
  • Semi-skilled workers: Machine operators, Crafts, Skilled agriculture, Sales and Services, Clerks
  • Skilled and Highly Skilled workers: Managers, Professionals, Technicians

In 2014, 25% of the workforce was Skilled. So if you want to be in the top 25%, you need to get training and education up to the Skilled level.

Will I find a job?

Unemployment today, compared to 12 years ago, is higher for all levels of education. There are more jobs, and more skilled workers. But there are even more people chasing those jobs.  

So it is more difficult across all levels of skills to find a job today, compared to 12 years ago.

The success rate of finding jobs, based on your level of education is currently as follows:

  • Unskilled workers: 6.2%
  • Semi-skilled workers: 11.1%
  • Skilled workers: 47.3%
  • High-skilled workers: 93.2%

How will I get a job and build a career if I failed school?

Here is the common sense advice for people who did not finish school. And even for people who did finish school, but did not study further.

I work for Skills Academy, so you can expect me to suggest you study!

  1. In South Africa unemployment amongst the youth is much higher than for older people. Youth means people younger than 35 years old. So as a young person you must work doubly hard at finding a job. You must get a job. Any job. The longer you are unemployed, the harder you will find it to stay motivated to keep on looking for a job.
  2. Read this article for some common sense advice on finding a job.
  3. You must study. Study something… anything. Prospective employers will be impressed if you show your initiative and tenacity in studying, even though you are poor and unemployed. Employers love self-starters who take personal responsibility for their lives. Reading a book is also studying. You don’t need money to study.
  4. Read up on scarce skills. And try to get started on a qualification that links to a scarce skill. Scarce skills are areas of employment where there is a shortage of trained staff to do the work. If you have a scarce skills qualification, the jobs will come looking for you!  TVET Colleges specifically offer training in Scarce Skills.  
  5. Study a course with the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (ICB). You can get accepted on many of the ICB courses without a matric.
  6. If you want to study towards a scarce skill, you will find that most of the ICB courses link to scarce skills.
  7. Sending out lots of CVs and job applications is a waste of time. Stop wasting your time like this. To get a job you must “pound the pavement”. You need to be going to places of work, asking for meetings in person. And asking for jobs.
  8. The way that people find real jobs, is via their contacts and via word of mouth. Use all your connections. Chat to your priest, teachers, old teachers, family, friends, friends of friends. Know someone who has a job? Get them to get you a meeting with a manager or HR department. Everybody who knows you, must be looking for a job for you.
  9. Stop being picky. There is no such thing as a “decent job”. All work has value. So show people that you are willing to do ANY job.
  10. What you want to do, is get your foot in the door. Even if you work for free, you are now in a real work environment. And when a job comes up, you will be in to front of the line to get that job.
  11. Offer to work for free.
  12. When you get a job, work harder than anyone else. Arrive first, and leave last. That is how you get noticed. That is how you get the next opportunity.
  13. Don’t give up. You are busy with a 30 year project. And the people who are the most tenacious, wins big. People who give up, and who complaints and spend all their time feeling sorry for themselves, get left behind.
  14. Tenacity is the only thing that matters. Tenacity means persistence, perseverance, determination, stubbornness.

This can be you.

Don’t give up!

About the Author

Jan Badenhorst works as the CEO of Skills Academy. Skills Academy offers Home Study Courses to people who never completed Matric, or who cannot get entry into Universities.

33 replies
  1. Nomah
    Nomah says:

    I dropped out of school when I was in the middle of grade11 ..only got the final Grade10 report.. Can u please help me study further and get a Vacancy

  2. mbali
    mbali says:

    Hey..I have I failed grade 11 and I dropped out.. Now iam willing to further my studies..can please help me I feel stucked..I just don’t know what to do

    • Kath Morse
      Kath Morse says:

      You can also register to study at TVET college. They have careers advisors to help you choose the right course for you and many of the courses are funded by NSFAS bursary.

  3. Jan Badenhorst
    Jan Badenhorst says:

    Hi Nomah. If you have Grade 10, you can gain access to the ICB (Institute of Certified Bookkeepers) National Certificate: Bookkeeping (Junior Bookkeeper). You can study this with any ICB accredited college. At Skills Academy we offer this course via distance learning. Meaning you can study it from home or part-time.

    Get the course information here:

    You can read more about all the ICB Courses here:

  4. Sne M
    Sne M says:

    Hi, I matriculated in 2010 in Higher Certificate and i went to Coastal College to further my studies now i have N6 in Financial Management and I have my 18 months Inserves Training. Where can i go to further my studies and find a job. Thanks

    • Kath Morse
      Kath Morse says:

      Hi, After you have completed your training and qualified then you can apply to study a bachelor degree at a university. However you may also find that your training placement offers you ongoing work. Kath

  5. lulama
    lulama says:

    Im Lulu 38 I’ve got matric I’m working as domestic worker I want to go to college to further my studies but I don’t know which course to take

    • Kath Morse
      Kath Morse says:

      Hi, If you phone your nearest TVET College you can make an appointment to see a careers counsellor. The appointment is free. They will help you work out your interests and explain what courses the college can offer you. You can also do this online careers assessment:

  6. kamohelo
    kamohelo says:

    i ended up in grade 7 because i did believe my friends for saying that i am too older for grade 7 .but my father said to me don’t believe what people say to just work hard to prove them wrong.but i did it . so please help me to get the job i need to prove that kids wrong but now i am still at home and being told go get the job

    • Kath Morse
      Kath Morse says:

      Hi, It is hard to get a job without a basic education but fortunately it is not too late for you. You can get an adult basic education – ABET. If you ask at your nearest library or community centre they should be able to tell you who is running ABET courses. There are also some online schools and colleges like the one in this blog that have courses with no entry requirements. Getting some training is really important if you want to get a job. All the best, Kath

  7. Kaela
    Kaela says:

    Hi I’ve only completed grade 7 and dropped out in grade 9, how can I complete my Matric without grade 9?

    • Kath Morse
      Kath Morse says:

      Hi, You need to do your ABET (Adult Basic Education and Training). If you ask at your nearest library or community centre they should be able to tell you where the course is running in your area. All the best, Kath

  8. Mweembe
    Mweembe says:

    I dropped out of school in grade 9 I have been trying but some schools in other countries don’t work as the schools in Zambia do if you fail grade 9 you have to go back all the way back to grade 5 an that’s not fair.. Am good in mathematics an English… But being a lady I have to work hard.. F my lifes well being I need a job an start a new life as time goes on I will be able to pay for my GCE examination in which I can go on with my school on the other side I work..

  9. Vuyolakhe Koppie
    Vuyolakhe Koppie says:

    Hi I am Vuyolakhe Koppie at Welkom Free State, i have a Matric Senior Certificate all i need to know which help i’ll get to upgrade two of my subject because i am not working or which job i’ll be offered .

  10. nthatisi lizzele moloi
    nthatisi lizzele moloi says:

    hi am nthatisi from leanisa lehae I drop out of matric in term 3 how can u help me find a job

    • Kath Morse
      Kath Morse says:

      Hi Nthatisi, It will be easier to get a job if you study further. Go to your nearest TVET college and see what they can offer you. You will be able to get funding from NSFAS. The college will help you with the application. All the best, Kath

  11. Divine
    Divine says:

    Hi can u please help me I dropped out of school in grade 8 now am 21 I don’t know what to do and I don’t wanna do online studies I wanna do face to face can anyone help me am really in need

    • Kath Morse
      Kath Morse says:

      Hi, You should start with ABET1 (Adult Basic Education and Training). To find a class ask at your community center or library. All the best, Kath

    • Kath Morse
      Kath Morse says:

      Hi, Contact your local FET College and see what courses they can offer you. There are definitely opportunities for you and they will likely be government funded through NSFAS. All the best, Kath

  12. Joan
    Joan says:

    My son dropped out of school the last term in gr10. So he only has a gr9 qualification. He is turning 17 in October 2020.
    What kind of jobs can he apply for and where can he apply? We are in the western cape, Cape Town, Epping (also known as Ruyterwacht) Thank you. Regards

    • Kath Morse
      Kath Morse says:

      Hi, There is very little work for someone who does not have matric. I suggest that your son register at Northlink college and get a qualification. He will be able to apply for funding through NSFAS. The college will help with the application. If you contact them now, he can see a careers advisor and get assistance for choosing a course. Otherwise. There are some NGOs that assist young people with getting a first job however I suspect that they are closed now due to CVD-19. Harambee can assist with finding a job and being job ready after he turns 18: All the best, Kath

    • Lana Baron
      Lana Baron says:

      Hello. You should start with ABET1 (Adult Basic Education and Training). To find a class ask at your community center or library. All the best, Lana


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *