The service delivery dilemma: skills shortage or poor work ethic

By corfaling, 23 February, 2011

The “skills shortage” has become a convenient scapegoat for most shortcomings in service delivery by municipalities, public utilities and government departments. Businesses in the private sector often use the same lament as an excuse for sloppy service.


The skills shortage is gradually achieving a revered status, heading the long list of socio-economic challenges of our country. Billions of rands are about to be spent by government on ambitious plans to eradicate this malady.


Listening to leaders of protesting communities the grievances are mostly about poor or non-delivery of commodities and services whose production requires the most basic of skills. Do you really need a B Sc Chem Eng degree to detect sewerage running into the streets? Is a CA qualification mandatory to sort out a R12 000 municipal account presented to a pensioner living in a cluster home?


Think of the challenges you are likely to face next time to get service from a municipal or government institution. Will its delivery demand rocket science type expertise from the responsible official? Unlikely. Most of the time it merely requires that person’s applying his/her mind to the job at hand.


Not for a moment do I want to ignore the skills shortage for engineers, accountants and many other professions and trades. However, increasingly I get the impression that lack of service delivery should be blamed on a pervasive poor work ethic. Instead of living up to the eight principles of the Batho Pele value system, many a public sector worker dispenses service with a mind over matter attitude: “I don’t mind and you don’t matter.” And increasingly you will encounter that attitude also being displayed by front- line service staff in the private sector. Somehow it has become contagious in SA.


If you tend to agree that we have a work ethic problem I would welcome your views on the causes and remedies. For instance


  • Is the poor work ethic the manifestation of an ideology of entitlement among workers?
  • Do different cultures in our country hold divergent views on the concept of work?
  • Would a performance management system implemented at grass root level, informed by cultural diversity and competencies, bring about a positive mind shift towards productivity?


I am about to embark on a major research project to find out how we can create a positive work ethic to make South Africa more of a winning nation. I would welcome evidence of a good and/or poor work ethic that you have encountered, and your suggestions on how to improve attitude. Please send your comment to [email protected]



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