South Africa’s Skills Shortage 16

There is evidence that South Africa’s growing skills shortage is increasing. Skills are needed for the economy to grow.

Children that are scoring low in literacy and numeracy tests are not contributing to the fact that we need skilled people. If one looks at the new NCV courses that were registered by the Department of Education it is a concern that the focus is not on skills. Lately one can read the outcry for courses that offer the necessary skills. In Early Childhood Development, for example, the NCV course is a generic course in education and training. After the completion of this 3 years course will the learners be skilled for a specific career?

Other challenges are skilled people that are leaving the country and affirmative action. Government is looking at recruiting large numbers of skilled migrants. Will they be able to manage the flow of people in to South Africa?
Shouldn’t we first look at South Africans with skills and not affirmative action? I have no proof, but I am sure that there are many skilled people from all levels (culture, language, gender, race) in our country that are not used properly.

More questions: Shouldn’t we look at our schooling system? Shouldn’t we look at the courses that training providers are offering?

In Israel maths and science were identified as areas of concern. The solution was to develop a proper pre-school syllabus (a science and mathematical programme). Research has proven over and over the importance of a good foundation and we know that it starts in the pre-school years.

I realize that it will take a new generation to reform the system of skills production, but shouldn’t we start now?

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16 thoughts on “South Africa’s Skills Shortage

  • Rajan S. Narayan

    I agree with Wilma about affirmative action. There are many skilled South Africans who are being sidelined because of Affirmative Action. This is the reason for poor service delivery. Now the government is talking about importing skills. We have the skills here….scrap affirmative action and employ these skilled South Africans. People are being employed in Management positions because of their colour but in most cases they do not have the skills to do the job. I do agree that Affirmative Action was and is necessary to level the playing fields for the disadvantaged Blacks.However, A.A. has been designed to advantage Blacks with qualifications and experience, and not employ people with little or no qualifications and experience. How is AA going to be implemented if you get skilled labour from Europe, Asia, etc. Mind boggling……
    Our schooling system really needs an overhauling. In pre-school and primary school we should provide a firm grounding and foundation especially in Maths & English. A Grade six pupil should be able to read, write and calculate before progressing to the secondary school.
    The NCV programmes are good. However, more funding is required to provide better and adequately equipped simulated environments for learners. All lecturers should be given permanent positions, be better paid and given benefits across the board. There are many qualified lecturers who are employed by the college councils on contract, with no permanency and no benefits. The FET Colleges are going to lose these valuable skilled staff who are looking for greener pastures, mostly overseas. Hence, the reason for the high staff turnover. All lecturers should be employed by the Dept. of Education.
    Yes, if the powers that be in Education and govt. look at the situation honestly and critically then that would be the start of producing a skilled South African nation.

  • Des Squire

    The Skills shortage we are experiencing is not unique to SA. Have a look at some of the quotes below

    UK had identified a need for 587,000 new skilled workers to meet increased demand. In a recent survey when asked what their top priority was, the majority of respondents said they wanted the government to ensure all young people leave university and school with the skills they need to succeed at work. Two thirds said the government should focus on basic literacy and numeracy, 42% wanted more high quality vocational options for students and 46% said raising overall education standards should be a priority. (Not unlike SA?)

    India’s surging growth over the next few years will be capped by inadequate infrastructure, a severe skills shortage and poor governance, several executives gathered in the country’s capital said this week. “For me, the single answer is good governance, which means better efficiency, less corruption,” said Rahul Bajaj, chairman of Bajaj Auto and a member of the parliament. ( Could also be applied to SA)

    Australia is again experiencing a national skills shortage, with builders, engineers and tradespeople in high demand, a report says. The research paper, launched today by leading recruitment company Clarius, will claim the surplus of skilled workers that formed during the global financial crisis has started to recede at an alarming pace, with 17 of the 20 skilled occupation categories experiencing a sharp drop in labour in the last three months of last year

    An expert report is demanding urgent action to address chronic skills shortages in Europe’s labour market, as unemployment in the euro zone hits 10%. One in three Europeans of working age has few or no formal qualifications, making them 40% less likely to be employed than those with medium-level qualifications, according to figures compiled by an expert group. Nearly a third of Europe’s population aged 25-64 have no, or only low, formal qualifications and only one quarter have high-level qualifications, according to the ‘New Skills for New Jobs’ report. (See we are not so bad in SA and certainly not alone)

    New Zealand’s workforce is growing collectively older, and the country needs to not only to adjust itself to that fact but also to get ready to face skills shortages as the current active population retires, leaving some professions short of enough qualified people to do the work required.

    The Canadian economy is strong. In 2004, eight provinces boasted increased employment rates. Subsequently, in a recent survey of Canadian businesses, 56 per cent reported that they were forced to hire people who weren’t suitable for the job. Another 30 per cent had to forego business opportunities. And it’s only going to get worse. A Conference Board of Canada report noted that by 2025, the country will face a skilled labour force deficit of 1.2 million people.

    Let’s take a closer look at the issue.

    Reasons for the skills shortage are well documented, starting with basic demographics. Fewer people are entering the workforce and a larger percentage are joining the ranks of the unemployed. Many of today’s skilled workers are baby boomers. Over the next decade a large percentage of our current workforce will retire. Currently a great number of our skilled workers are unemployed, have left SA or are in occupations for which they are unsuited – an this due directly to EE and other related legislation.

    For solutions we need to consider both the long term and short term needs of the country.
    In the short term we could, if Government would wake up and abolish EE, make us of skilled individuals, who are in occupations for which they are unsuited together with those who will retire in the near future, to mentor and coach young people, graduates, and those undergoing learnerships and technical qualifications as part of their practical and workplace based experience.

    We need to encourage more young people and in particular women to enter skilled trades and technical programs. This requires an extremely vibrant and exciting marketing programme for FET colleges and Universities of Technology. How many parents know that the trades and technology fields are not only lucrative, but can lead to careers in senior management, as a contractors, entrepreneur or even inventors?

    Many of our matriculants are female, few are attracted to careers in the trades. Women need to know that these careers are not about physical labour – they’re about advanced technology.

    Matric completion rates and pass rates must be increased and more students need to be encouraged to study math, science and technology. The challenge is for business and industry to support training at post – matric institutions, because it is the right thing to do, to do it now because it is the right time, and to do it for the right reasons. By working with our partners in business, industry, government and organised labour, we’re creating short and long-term solutions to the skills shortage.

  • Myles Hopkins

    All of the points made thus far are valid – what has not been covered though is that it is not just South Africa that is facing this immense challenge. If you view statistics on other countries around the world, Hungary shows the lowest recruitment drive with 27% of companies looking to recruit. This is still a large percentage – other countries have as high as 80% of companies wanting to recruit. The fact of the matter is that our skilled workforce will go where the money is and the Pound, Dollar and Euro (even the Yuan) make it very attractive for the few skills we do have to leave this wonderful country of ours.

    Talent management must change from being organisationally focused to being individually focused – we need an individualised talent management strategy for each one of our HIPOs and mission critical skills.

    The public and private sector has to spend more on education, training and development. The United States spent $126 billion on training in 2009. It would be interesting to see how we compare.

    If you want to keep abreast of the latest trends and thinking in Human Capital then please sign up at the Human Capital Future Trend site that I operate – you can join (basic subscription is free) at

  • Chris Reay

    The skills crisis in SA is so big, so endemic, so unrealised by the politicians who have the focus on BEE and its related numbers, that the whole spectrum from primary to professional development is sliding steadily downhill to what we Engineers term maximum entropy. This is a scientific and thermodynamic measure of the level of unavailability of energy in a system to do work, in effect a state of maxiumum random chaos. The only method of reversing this decline in a system is re-building it up in a designed and structured manner using energy, in this case effective human endeavour. That requires an educational system that addresses the essentials of scientific thinking, the basis of which is maths and the sciences. Without that at the start of the food chain, the rest will inevitably suffer. I am exposed daily to the dilemma of locating sufficient technically competent resources, combining qualification and experience. All are in effect suffering from the consequences of BEE politics and change from proven, basic methods of education. The issue is that when one changes the rules the behaviour follows, and we have legislated for political goals rather than economic and employment generating goals.
    What is really of concern is that when and if the message ever sinks home to enough of society to take corrective action, the remedy is long and arduous to reach levels that place SA at globally competitive levels. We did away with teachers training colleges, nurses training colleges, scrapped apprenticeships, fired the white teachers, introduced OBE, made race the selection criteria in so may jobs and filled the infrastructure with unskilled cadres. To reverse the current state which is declining steadily to the lowest common denominator level is matter we probably cannot manage. There are no silver bullets. Inevitably with this destroyed basis, unemployment will actually increase as the numbers of the unemployable grow faster than the economy to retrain and employ them.

  • Fanie Agenbach

    Hi. I read comments on Wilma’s input and also wish to add my little stream. Some of you who read my comments in the past will know that am of the opinion that the so called skills shortage is a plastic thing. I agree that there there are shortages in some sectors but in general I believe that the skills are part of the unemployment figure of SA and that might be due to BBBEE and EE and maybe some other factors like some skilled persons not willing to teach others because they are loosing their job because of mentiond initiatives.
    I also believe that the economy is putting skilled people on the street. I met two guys this week. One is a boilermaker. I know this man and he is one of the best I have ever met. He is unemplyed and cannot find a new job because there is none. The other one is a Tooth Technician. He worked for a company that had 24 technicians. They all dissapeared in time. Some left the country (I wonder why) some started their own business in townships working illegally because such technicians are suppose to serve a dentist and do work according to their needs. Are there now less teeth problems in the country for 24 people to be out of work? Or are the skills just utilised elesewhere. Joseph asked, who is doing the job in SA. I’m asking too!!! Then, we had this supewr fantastic worldcup laying down something for other countries to follow. Where did this come from??? And what now??? Everything seems to be back to square 1 due to “skills shortages”!!!!

    Someone mentioned something about basic training and education. How true!!. I have been saying all along that basic education in SA is so bad it put people out of work for many cannot even speak, write and understand proper English. Has anyone ever tried to engage in a conversation in english with a recent matriculant??? Every second question is “excuse me” “sorry” etc. Even many/some people in our setas are in this category. Skills Shortage????? I have my doubts.

  • Marianna Bibbey

    these very concerns were what drove the Services Seta to run research teams to various countries and look at new models to intervene on the Basic educational level as to improve the pool of learners that exit GET! into the FET… We as providers struggle and universities and technikons and FETs struggle with BRIDGING courses to accomodate learners with poor foundational education levels. The Services Seta trhough Ivor Blumethal have embarked on a few projects that they will be implementing into schools in liasison with the department of Education – to run Pilots and measure the impact and results… The Setas wants to be pro-active in this regards but are also limited in funding and in participation from higher levels… I do however hope that these projects will open the eyes of many and instead of trying to channel moneys into dead horses – they would channel MORE funds to the Setas that does these ground breaking work!

  • Themba Peter Mpofu

    Wilma, your thoughts are exactly what I have been attempting to draw somebody’s attention to. I have looked at the skills available here at home that still remain unutilised. Here I am talking of a section of our population that is 40 years old and over. Most of the people in this age group have years of experience and only get jobs if they are headhunted or know somebody who can sell them to prospective employers. I have tried to rally a number of government departments to at least consider utilising this available skills pool to no avail. It would be a great injustice to this country and its citizens if the government were to go ahead and recruit foreign nationals [some of whom fall into this age group] and put them into positions where we have our own people who do not even get considered. My stance on AA is that it is not implemented the way it was intended and as a result has such negative publicity. The end result is that the country will suffer as a result of the skills shortage that can be easily rectified, to some extent by utilising our own people as much as possible. The same people I am talking about can be used as mentors to the large number of young people straight out of school and who do not have the experience needed. It is only in instances where we have a shortage in specialised and scarce skills that managed skills importation can take place.
    I have had the experience of living in foreign countries and the way they manage ther skills development and use of foreign nationals is very simple – all foreigners work on an annually renewable work permit. The employer has to demostrate that a national has been identified for the post currently filled by a foreigner and active development of the local person is taking place. This process is well managed in these countries and the benefits are clear. We are importing some of the products of this process. Of course the education system is also aligned with the skills needs of the country. We can do much, much better than that here, if we get leadership that is so inclined and is taking the necessary steps.
    I have even tried to get the President’s office to look at this issue. I have been referred to the public service department where I am hoping to get someone to explore this approach.

  • Mandla Doctor Khoza

    All is well with SA, but the corruption thats clouds the country leads to such poor skill shortage, coz those who have the skills are moving out of the country.

    for now teachers who teaches maths and science in the country are mostly from other african countries like, Zim and other.

    Yes Our education system is contributing a lot, we turn to inharit sylubuses that needs more equipments or laboratories and not buy such things for our schools.

  • Bethuel Sello Modise

    I agree with the comments on skills shortage. Our education is not focused on skills as it should be. I suggest we find a platform on which we can try and influence the structure and nature of training with particular focus on redefining what ABET CURRICULM must entail. We perhaps need to come together as people practicing what we preach on the ground rather than keep waching theorists determine the course we have to follow. You can also talk to me at

  • Brian Moores-Pitt

    Perhaps I can brighten your day. In the context of our general educational deficiencies, and specifically computer access and literacy in schools, visit the following website: . Then imagine what would happen if all high school students and teachers had access to it. The mind boggles at the potential but use it to motivate your argument. Best of luck and lots of perseverance.

  • Hennie Potgieter

    For us to address the skill shortage we need a total new look at our education system and we do not need teachers Schools but learning centers. For success we need to create an willingness to learn among all of our population. It will always be a problem with our schooling system as long as the academics are in control of it as they will continue to use the system in the way they have in the past. We need to look at skills and development of people with new eyes and with new solutions. It will always be better for this country to develop its own people. The importation of skills is a short term solution and certainly not the best solution for the country. It is a pity that ideology takes preference over the needs of our country.

  • Moeketsi Jonathan Pholo

    sorry i might sound a big mouthed individual but that is the honest truth, lastly how can an underequiped and undereducated tutor teach an unresourced child ( you can not expect a teacher to teach end user computing to learners whilst the same teacher is not computer literate) all that was going to be done at close to nothing, i have prove how it was and it is handled. statics prove that 3/10 educators are not computer literate.

  • Moeketsi Jonathan Pholo

    that is true i agree with you 100% and whenever you try and come up with a project which can benefit the same learners in south african schools they definately ignore your proposal.
    proven i have been up and down withthe department of education trying to bring forward a project named Liduvha educational projects which is a re-incarnation of BANA PELE project which failed dismally to date i keep on being pushed pilar to post LOL lately some of the ideas were integrated into a newly established project by the same non-responsive department. anyone willing to contribute to the project can email me or just post it here. further explanation the project deals with teaching learners from grade 1 computer basics up to the last grade with accreditation certificates issued to learners (simply every learner in south africa leaves school to study basic or end user computing whilst one could have learnt that at the very same school) that is what i call literacy development 🙂