Top 100 scarce skill occupations in South Africa 13

Top 100 scarce skill occupations in South Africa


A list containing the top 100 occupations in South Africa that are in short supply has been released for comment by the Department of Higher Education and Training. This list, which will be updated every two years, will be used to inform South Africa’s human resource planning and funding allocation, programme development, and immigration strategies.

The provision of education and training in South Africa has not been aligned with the needs of the economy and that of society. South Africa’s growing skills crisis has been highlighted in many publications and this has been identified as an impediment to growth and development, as well as service delivery.


The purpose of the top 100 list is to inform:

  • human resource planning and development;
  • resource allocation and prioritisation;
  • the development of relevant qualifications, programmes and curricula; and
  • international recruitment strategies.

Sandra Dunn, INSETA CEO welcomed the gazetting of the list and said that it had been compiled from a wide range of information sources which included INSETA’s Scarce and Pivotal Skills Lists. Occupations that are scarce in each of the 21 sectors represented by the SETA’s were taken into account in compiling the list. However users must bear in mind that more points were awarded to an occupation if it was identified across a number of sectors as scarce, and had also been identified in other documents like the National Development Plan (NDP); The Department of Labour’s Job Opportunities and Employment Report (JOUR); and Career Junction’s Salary and Wage Report.

 It is not surprising to see scarce insurance sector professions like Finance Manager, ICT Systems Analyst, Actuary and Financial Investment Manager make the top 100 list, as these are professions that are in high demand in the broader financial sector. SETA’s will use the list to guide their funding allocation for bursaries, learnerships, internships and artisan training. Learners who are making subject choices for higher education must be given career guidance counselling on the top 100 scarce skill occupations. Occupations which require subjects like mathematics, science and IT dominate the top 100 scarce skills.


A key driver of employment in the short term will be government’s investment of R827 billion in building new and upgrading existing infrastructures over the next 3 years.  The work has been organised into 18 Strategic Integrated Projects (SIPS) which is intended to improve access by South Africans to healthcare facilities, schools, water, sanitation, housing and electrification, construction of ports, roads, railway systems, electricity plants, hospitals, schools and dams. Skills shortages identified in SIPs are concentrated in the engineering and built environment occupations. A shortage of engineers, technologists, technicians and artisans has been identified.

Top 10 scarce skills list in South Africa


1. Electrical Engineer

2. Civil Engineer

3. Mechanical Engineer

4. Quantity Surveyor

5. Programme or Project Manager

6. Finance Manager

    Physical and Engineering Science Technicians

8. Industrial and Production Engineers


10. Chemical Engineer


The Department of Home Affair could draw from this top 100 list to compile a “critical skills list” to facilitate the issuing of work visas.


Sharon Snell is Chief Operations Officer of INSETA. Image courtesy of ICES

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13 thoughts on “Top 100 scarce skill occupations in South Africa

  • sharon snell Post author

    I agree with you Petra I will definitely add management in the list of skills needed. At a government level there needs to be capacitation for managers on the changing ICT environment, especially the use of big data to deliver government services like healthcare, social services etc. 

  • Petra Penninkhoff

    Sharon, hi

    I assume you are referring to the 5 point list under section 9.1. I know it states its the top 5  five would definitely add Management, planning, budgeting (implementation and monitoring skills in the sphere of local and provincial government. It is great to have highly skilled engineers, artisans, technicians but if there is no one to manage them properly, monitor performance and do the accounting, those highly skilled people will still not be able to do their job properly. Isn’t local government one of the key areas to be addressed in the coming 5 years?

  • sharon snell Post author

    Hi Frank The SIP projects you mention are certainly big drivers of the top 10. Home Affairs will be using this list to make it easier for people with those skills to enter the country and assist. I can’t imagine that we will develop that many engineers in such a short space of time for them to make an impact on the SIPS.

    Petra the document on page 9 looks at the scarce skills needed – do you agree with those?

    Andrew I agree – We would all like to see a plan with real numbers and timeframes for achievement of the teacher targets. The NDP talks about increasing the pool of mathematics and science teachers at all levels in the system.


  • Petra Penninkhoff

    My concern is that the list is about “scarce occupations” rather than scarce skills. This completely overlooks the possibilities that people who have  skills but not ALL the skills they need to do their jobs can be trained in the missing skills (or competencies for that matter).  

  • Frank Smit

    In the light of the need for infrastructure, energy, and jobs (ie growth) in SA, in particular to meet the ambitious growth plans outlined by Pres Zuma in his speech, it seems to me that given the huge shortage of engineering and scientific people, this has no hope at all of succeeding. On the one hand we have critical shortages of people with vital skills, and on the other we have a huge surplus of unemployed people with very few skills that we need. But instead of addressing the need for skills and hard work to drive the economy, we hear more about “decent work”, a national minimum wage, and more legislation. It is the economy that drives employment, and skills drive the economy. You cannot legislate employment or fix its price – both are sure recipes for slow growth and more unemployment in future. Education needs to be fixed. Simple.  

  • Andrew Rose

    Thanks for this info and link.

    I looked out of interest  for “Teacher”. Interesting, challenging, frustrating, and I’m sure others could add additional feelings. Different teachers (vocational, maths and science) pop up 5 times on the list. It’s heartening to know that this is at least acknowledged, but I am left wondering where and how the development of these areas are going to happen.

    As for the top 10 skills. Without the development of teachers, it’s not going to happen. So definitely a difficult situation.

    My personal business experience in terms of trying to bridge the gap between university engineering students and business, is that the merSETA and SAQA requirements to get interventions recognised (so that learning interventions can justify budget spend) is very onerous. And to date, no success to get acknowledgement from ECSA and merSETA. Which are, for me, checklist driven entities. And as we all know, real learning and “administrative checklists” are on the opposite ends of each other on the learning scale.
    This Scarce Skills list is a government / immigration / economic development thing. We as practitioners need to use the info, stop waiting for government intervention and leadership, and continue to try and find work arounds that justify business involvement.

    The “disconnect” between business needs and what educational institutions can apply has been apparent for more than 8 years now that I’ve been interested in this training problem. As training people we’ll continue need to bob and weave between increasing administrative requirements, but somewhere in the mix, we will be able to find projects that work and make a difference.
    Keeping the teaching spirit alive through all this disconnect and administrative noise is a difficult thing though.
    Again, thanks for the info, will definitely spend time on it.

  • Chris Reay

    If one does a rewind and reviews the scarce and critical skills lists drawn up over the last decade, it is evident that there seems little change in the disciplines identified, and of concern is how little success has been achieved in providing the solutions. We seem to spend so much energy drawing up lists and having conferences about what the scarcities are, and assembling in most cases useless data. Do those doing the exercises ask the right questions so that the correct answers can be targeted? For example, when the need for say 500 Mechanical Engineers is listed, what does this mean? Is it to provide increased feed-stock to the education system ( a long term impact) or to provide the industry over say the next three years with such resources influenced by the projected type of industry needs eg the NDP (a short term impact). If the latter, then the question is insufficiently posed. Mechanical Engineers are not generic beings. It the case of the current (NDP) need, the Engineer needs defining at what we can call granular level. What this means is that if you search for 500 of them with the term Mechanical Engineer you will get the 500 “missing” Engineers. But once you start to specify at the level of what every employer requires with multiple attributes, you may find none. Until we use the systems that enable identification and recording at this granular attribute level, we are wasting the efforts of assembling scarce skills lists for Engineers. Using the ethos of the Engineer, until you can measure something correctly, you know little about it. We have proposed developing a database using our existing knowledge to provide a dynamic system to do this, and it has to be dynamic to do two things at least: know the current position and provide input to the specific Candidate Engineer training and mentoring needs in industry.Trying to get those that create these lists to understand this seems futile. 

  • sharon snell Post author

    Welcome I agree with you. A solid foundation in maths must be laid from day 1. I like we are as a country as we are having some honest discussions about our schooling system and the quality thereof, especially maths. DBE has been responding to these issues and I am glad that the minister has been retained for continuity. Hopefully the pace gets accelerated.

  • Welcome Mswazi Kubeka

    We are in serious trouble.  That will take South Africa years to attain those mentioned skills due to poor performance of our learners in subjects such as Maths in high school.  Drastic steps need to be taken by the Basic Education Ministry to solve this skill shortage.