The Lack Of Key Skills Is A Critical Issue

Addressing the skills shortage is a crucial step in improving SA’s economy, writes Delia du Toit.

The Current Landscape

The most recent list of Occupations in High Demand, published in June 2018 by the Department of Higher Education and Training, lists careers in government, the financial industry and senior management in various sectors as the top 10 most in-demand jobs.

The Department of Home Affairs also regularly publishes a list of critical skills, though the 2019 list has been delayed. However, immigration specialist Xpatweb did a critical skills survey among 100 large corporates and multinationals when the draft list was compiled in 2018. “The top 10 skills shortages identified in this survey were ICT specialists, health sector services, executives, engineers, artisans (mostly in mining, manufacturing and construction), senior financial executives, specialists and academics, mining executives, risk managers and foreign language speakers,” says Marisa Jacobs, director of Xpatweb.

The landscape changes constantly, she adds. “Comparing our annual survey results, the most notable increases were in the health sector, artisans, IT specialists, finance executives and specialists and academics. But several factors could influence future lists, such as President Cyril Ramaphosa’s direct investment drive, technological advancements like 5G being rolled out across the country, or the new oil and gas opportunities.”

The International Context

Brain drain, the long-term departure of skilled people from a country, plays a considerable role in skills shortages. Some experts have estimated that for every one professional immigrating to South Africa, eight professionals are leaving our shores.

Jacobs says there are no official statistics, but confirms that the outflow significantly trumps the inflow. “The typical client who leaves the country is almost always highly qualified. The professionals we lose often include executives, engineers, medical personnel, entrepreneurs, investors and technology experts. There is also more demand for vocation skills such as artisans and farmers abroad.”

On the flip side, Jacobs says, Xpatweb is most often requested to import skills in ICT, renewable energy, medical professionals, specialist technical resources and engineers.

The Solution

The Department of Home Affairs has suggested the employment of understudies and funding for training (directly or via a levy) to address skills shortages, as well as a scheme that requires skills transfer from recruited migrants to SA citizens. Implementation of any initiatives has been excruciatingly slow.

Ayanda Khuzwayo, education and training quality assurance officer at national recruitment agency Measured Ability SA, says the solution not only lies in upskilling or retraining, but also in working harder to retain available talent. “There are candidates available with almost any skill set, but either the compensation packages offered are too low, or the work demands are too high, and they can’t cope. Nurturing the existing talent would make a big difference.”

Urgent steps need to be taken, says Jacobs. “We need to make South Africa attractive to investors, and addressing skills shortages would play an important role in this. The Green Paper on International Migration (2016) projects that by 2020 the global economy may have 40 million fewer workers with university degrees than required. South Africa is by no means spared from this reality.”

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