SA VP bemoans skills shortage

Mlambo Ngcuka was speaking at a meeting of business leaders, ambassadors and high commissioners in Johannesburg recently and told the delegates the absence of skills was threatening the long term growth prospects of Africa’s biggest economy. She said there was a critical need for stakeholders to take part in government initiatives to remove obstacles to economic growth, particularly the Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa programme (ASGISA) that she has spearheaded since her appointment to the post of deputy president. “I am harping a lot about skills because that is the issue that is giving me sleepless nights,” she told the meeting. Despite burgeoning economic growth that has seen South Africa consolidating its position as the continent’s strongest economy over the past few years, the country is still desperately in need of trained professionals to run development projects. A significant proportion of the trained professionals in the country ‘ who are still too few in number to meet the required needs ‘ hail from other countries both within the continent and abroad. While this has seen innumerable benefits for the Southern African nation, the ripple effects on the country’s citizens has been harsh. “There can be no doubt that in the past and to a lesser extent in the present, the entrance of expatriate skilled professionals into this country has meant that locals have had to suffer in the local job market. “But in the long run I think this will benefit the country to an extent because more and more of locals are now forced to increase their training in various professions and that can only be a good thing,” recruitment specialist Lain Manning said. Under ASGISA, the government aims to halve unemployment and poverty by 2014, and achieve an average and consistent six percent economic growth rate between 2010 and 2014. However, a key stumbling block for the government has been its failure to effectively roll out the programme, reportedly due to the slim domestic skills base. Mlambo Ngcuka said before the state could effectively implement the programme and put in place the necessary infrastructure, it was necessary to have the required skills in place. Experts say part of the problem could be solved if South Africa were able to fully utilise training agreements that it had with other countries for various professions ‘ particularly artisans that are “badly needed” in the country. Efforts also need to be hastened to churn out more professionals from the country’s institutions of higher learning. The deputy president has also suggested that middle managers be placed in positions that allow them to learn the necessary skills on the job as they already have practical experience of their job operations. She has also suggested that beaureacracy on the part of government, through delays in processing work permits for professionals coming into the country. Recently, Mlambo Ngcuka presided over the “quota work permit” initiative designed to offer work permits to professionals in some specialised areas, as part of efforts to encourage the growth of skills in South Africa. The work permits are understood to be offered on a quota system, with the highest quota being granted to professions related to technology and technological development. Earlier this year government also launched the Joint Initiative for Priority Skills Acquisition (JIPSA) programme, which is intended to reduce the shortage of skilled labour that has been identified by ASGISA. The deputy president has set a target of 18 months, within which she has said she expects to see tangible results from the JIPSA initiative. The International Investment Council (IIC) also said recently that skills growth was an essential element for sustainable economic growth for South Africa. The IIC, which is a grouping of international experts on foreign investment, stressed the development of locally available skills and the courting of locally unavailable professionals to meet the domestic shortage. Trade and Industry minister Mandisi Mpahlwa said last week the country needed to be specific about the skills that it intended to develop in order to achieve its hopes on economic development. “We need to be specific about the types of skills we need. These skills need to be tied to specific investment plans,” Mpahlwa said.

May 2006
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