Where Are The Real Skills Shortages?

South Africa has a skills shortage, says Kerry Dimmer. But are we training for the jobs in demand?

Long understood as one of the biggest key economic sectors in the country, agriculture is recording job losses. In 2016, the sector shed 70 000 jobs; in a particularly successful fourth quarter of 2017, it added just 39 000. Now, according to Statistics SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey for January to April 2018, it’s already recorded 3 000 job losses this year.

Another key sector, the construction industry, is faring worse, reported to have shed some 90 000 jobs last year.

Traditional industries are suffering, and this is a problem for strategies to combat inequality in South African society. The National Development Plan (NDP) aims at creating a million jobs in agriculture by 2030 – since the NDP was published in 2012, the sector has shrunk from providing 960 500 jobs to 847 000 today.

Today’s largest sector is community and social services, which employs 3.78 million people and grew by 216 000 jobs year on year in the first quarter of 2018. This was driven, says Malerato Mosiane, Labour Statistics Division of Stats SA, by health and social work activities, and public administration and defence, which created 101 000 jobs and 81 000 respectively. “Manufacturing employment increases are roughly 59 000 year-on-year, and trade employment, 69 000,” says Mosiane.

Official statistics suggest that there are six million people out of work in South Africa today. Are we training them for the jobs that exist or the jobs we want to exist?

Where are the real skills shortages in the country?

The market

How many vacancies are actually available at any one time, and in what positions, is really anyone’s guess. Paul Byrne, managing director of recruitment website CareerJunction, which has over 2.4 million registered jobseekers on its books, is in a position to make an educated stab at where the skills shortages lie.

“Our data cannot be compared on a like-for-like basis with that of Stats SA,” Byrne qualifies. “They are derived from different data sources, but when we compare the volume of jobs advertised per month to the local unemployment rate, there is a disconnect; there are plenty of jobs available yet the unemployment rate remains high. Simplistically, we can interpret this as not skilling our workforce to fit the needs of our modern economy.” Byrne believes that the skills shortage is set to worsen with the growth of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

According to a report by Accenture, ‘Reworking the Revolution’, one in three current jobs in South Africa could be at risk due to total automation, investment in intelligent technologies and human-machine collaboration. “We do not yet know what these roles will entail and therefore can’t begin to train our workforce to adapt to these positions,” Byrne says.

Although its applicants and recruiters are not reflective of the entire job market, where CareerJunction sees the highest demand for skills is in IT, senior and middle business management, accounting, sales representatives and consultants.

“Our candidate database shows that we clearly have great talent and a huge diversity of skills in the country,” says Byrne, “But it is clear that we do not have the right mix of expertise and experience needed to fill the already high and yet constantly growing demand for such skills.”

Meeting demand

The responsibility to ensure that talents are developed in line with demand falls largely to the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs), which provide and certify learnerships, internships, skills programmes and apprenticeships to individual industries. The SETAs fall under the control of the National Skills Authority (NSA), which in turn reports to the Department of Higher Education and Training.

Dr Thabo Mashongoane is the NSA’s Acting Executive Officer. “Through the SETAs and other mechanisms like Stats SA,” Mashongoane says,  “The NSA tracks … what skills are most in demand. Year-to-date we see the trend emerging for engineering, construction and electrical engineering skills, from artisan or entry-level right up to certified or degreed personnel.

“Of particular interest, is the growth being experienced in the service industry, which has a need for accountancy and IT skills.”

Further, Mashongoane says, the NSA has identified a huge need for generic but critical skills, such as communication, self- and people-management, or conflict resolution behaviour.

“This applies particularly to those who are already employed, but for them to continue to be productive and eligible for promotion, they need to develop beyond their already acquired talents.

“It is also relevant to recent graduates who may have all the relative knowledge to apply for a position, or come from a previously disadvantaged background, but are working off a blank canvas as new entrants to the working world.”

Getting people into the right programmes isn’t easy, says Mashongoane, and one challenge is that South Africans undervalue vocational training. “Not everyone has the opportunity to go  to university, but even so artisan and occupational careers are honourable let alone much-needed professions. University enrolments remain higher than the technical, vocational educational and educational-based colleges, with the gap closing too slowly,” he says. “Change can only happen if other learners see their peers entering the universities of technology, being successful in employment, and deriving a stable livelihood.”

CareerJunction’s Byrne concurs: “Our view is that no matter what the future way of work holds, there are fundamental services that will always be required and we need to re-energise our skills in these occupations so we can depend more on our local expertise than a foreign supply of products and skills.”

Generally though, business and industry are cooperating with the NSA to address skills shortages proactively. “We still have a long way to go,” he  adds. “What we want to see is a higher percentage of business taking a leadership role to address the problems.”

And this includes, says Mashongoane, support and funding of the informal sector, which is not receiving the recognition it deserves. “Although supported through national skills funding in the main, the informal sector needs to grow especially through one of our initiatives, that of educational institutions introducing curricula that teach and offer entrepreneurship as a learning programme,” explains Mashongoane.

“Informal employment isn’t just about township economies: it includes people in precarious employment situations. It includes all people in the informal sector and people helping unpaid in their family business. It also includes employees in the formal sector and persons employed in private households who are not entitled to basic benefits such as a pension or medical aid and who also do not have a written contract of employment,” says Mosiane.

If we ever needed proof that an education is crucial to tempering job losses, bear in mind this final Stats SA statistic: the youth and persons with education levels below matric feature highest in the unemployment rate, they have the lowest absorption rate, and the lowest labour force participation rate.

Image: ©Shutterstock - 776393740
Image: ©Shutterstock - 776393740

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