Skill shortages in South Africa – An in depth exploration

A skill is an ability to perform a productive task at certain level of competence. As a skill is associated with a particular task, a person who does not possess such a skill is unlikely to be able to carry out this task or will be less productive than somebody who does possess this skill. Skills are often associated with a qualification and its acquisition through formal education and training. However, an individual can acquire skills in other ways, including various forms of informal learning and job experience.S

Skill shortages occur when the demand for workers for a particular occupation is greater than the supply of workers who are qualified, available and willing to work under existing market conditions. If the supply is greater than the demand then there is a surplus.

There are currently as many as 829 800 unfilled positions for high-skilled workers across a wide range of occupations in South Africa. This is one of the findings of the latest Adcorp Employment Index, a monthly survey conducted by JSE-listed human capital management group, Adcorp.

The Index, reflecting employment in South Africa during April, also shows a negligible increase in jobs of just 1.86%, described by the company’s Labour Economist Loane Sharp as ‘patchy and even’. Unpacking the findings of this month’s Index, Sharp says: “To a great extent, the shortage of highly-skilled workers has been artificially induced by the Immigrations Act (2002), which makes it exceedingly difficult for foreigners to find work in South Africa.

The highly-skilled categories suffering the greatest skilled shortages are:

  • Senior management;
  • the professions – medicine, engineering, accounting and the law;
  • Technical occupations – specialised technicians and artisans; and
  • Agriculture.

In terms of actual numbers broken down by occupation, the skills shortage among technicians is 432 100, among managers 216 200 and among professionals 178 400. In sharp contrast, a total of 967 600 elementary workers are in excess of the nation’s needs, as are 247 400 domestic workers.

Adcorp warns that South Africa’s skills shortage poses a significant limitation on the country’s long-term economic growth potential, with viable economic opportunities often rendered thereby unviable.” Many existing activities are, given pervasive skills shortages, conducted inconsistently and, apparently, inexpertly, which is probably a more significant factor in South Africa’s low labour productivity by global standards than is widely thought.”

Adcorp is critical of the uncertainty surrounding the quantum of South Africa’s skill shortages, noting that many governmental skills development initiatives are based on an imprecise idea of the extent of skills shortages, not only in particular occupations, but in the economy as a whole.

It points out that the state’s imprecision extends to the National Skills Fund, which is financed by a 1% payroll tax on all but the country’s smallest employers.

“Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) have consistently failed to produce credible estimates of skills shortages in their respective sectors, and probably for this reason the National Skills Fund has failed to disburse more than R3, 5 billion in funds available for skills development.”

Adcorp explains why it is in a unique position to add quantitative detail to the skills shortage.Thus: “As South Africa’s largest employment Services Company, with more than 98 000 employees distributed throughout the South African economy, and with more than 800 000 job applications processed each year, Adcorp is South Africa’s pre-eminent authority on the job search process.”

The firm maintains that its figures represent the only available estimates of South Africa’s skills shortage.With regards to the marginal 1,86% increase in employment, the fastest growth was seen in the high-skilled occupations (senior management, professionals, and technicians) and then declining in the low-skilled occupations (elementary and domestic work).”

April had seen an extension of the long-term employment trend whereby the informal sector had grown faster than the formal sector, largely driven by small-scale employers opting out of income taxes and labour regulations.

The following are workplace skills that employers demand of job-seekers:

Communications Skills: (listening, verbal and written). By far, the one skill mentioned most often by employers is the ability to listen, write, and speak effectively. Successful communication is critical in business.

Analytical/Research Skills: Deals with your ability to assess a situation, seek multiple perspectives, gather more information if necessary, and identify key issues that need to be addressed.

Computer/Technical Literacy: Almost all jobs now require some basic understanding of computer hardware and software, especially word processing, spread sheets, and email.

Flexibility/Adaptability/Managing Multiple Priorities: Deals with your ability to manage multiple assignments and tasks, set priorities, and adapt to changing conditions and work assignments.

Interpersonal Abilities: The ability to relate to your co-workers, inspire others to participate, and mitigate conflict with co-workers is essential given the amount of time spent at work each day.

Leadership/Management Skills: While there is some debate about whether leadership is something people are born with, these skills deal with your ability to take charge and manage your co-workers.

Multicultural Sensitivity/Awareness: There is possibly no bigger issue in the workplace than diversity, and job-seekers must demonstrate a sensitivity and awareness to other people and cultures.

Unemployment in South Africa is one of the highest in the world – and employers are struggling more than ever to fill skilled positions.