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South Africa faces skills shortage

2013-03-29 09:41 Xinhua     Web Editor: Wang Fan comment

There is no doubt among South Africans that their country is at the pole position to reap the benefits of its membership to BRICS, the world's latest multilateral body expected to realign the global politics of economy.

What is in doubt however is whether the country's human resource adequate to supply enough skilled workers to projects and industries that will come up.

None other than the country's President Jacob Zuma is spending sleepless nights as he seeks to find a solution on how to create a mass of skilled workers, as the country depends on migrant workers to fill the skills gaps in some professions even today.

"We have 3.2 million young people that required to be trained to have skills to that they are either employable or can start their own enterprises," President Zuma told other BRICS leaders during the just concluded 5th BRICS Summit in Durban South Africa.

Research by Adcorp Holdings of South Africa indicates that the highly skilled categories suffering the greatest skilled shortages are in senior management; the professions like medicine, engineering, accounting and the law; technical occupations like specialised technicians and artisans; and agriculture.

The research showed that there are currently as many as 829, 800 unfilled positions for high-skilled workers across a wide range of occupations in South Africa. The research was carried out in April 2012.

President Zuma said South Africa will borrow from the experiences of other BRICS members to build a sustainable vocational training system.

A chat with any of South African business person reveals the same fears; the country has no adequate skilled manpower. Skilled workers are imported from adjacent southern African countries as far as Kenya, the economic powerhouse of East Africa.

Prof. Hlengiwe Mkhize is the Deputy Minister of Economic Development in South Africa. Among her responsibilities is to increase the skills training among the youth.

"It is a challenge that we are now giving a lot of attention as a country," she said. South Africa's National Development Plan Vision 2030 appreciates the role vocational training and has made a raft of recommendations on how the country should achieve sustainable and relevant vocational training system.

According to Pro. Mkhize, the Brazilian model of technical training institutes that are government financed is one of the models that the country will borrow from. Investments in technical training institutes are among of the factors attributed to the success of Brazil's growing industrialization and engineering innovation.

Statistics from Brazil government indicate that by 2011, its technical institutes have nearly tripled compared to 2003. By the same year, about 401,000 students were studying at federally financed technical institutes, up from 102,000 nine years earlier.

Another country that South Africa is seeking to borrow best practices of vocational training from is China.

On Tuesday, President Zuma and China President Xi Jinping signed bilateral agreement within which they agreed to strengthen bilateral cooperation in human resources.

"The Chinese side will provide more training opportunities to the South African side, especially employment-oriented training and cooperation for South African youth. The two sides will expand cooperation in basic and higher education and strengthen the exchange and sharing of research output. China welcomes and supports the efforts of South Africa to host more Confucius Institutes and strengthen Chinese language training," noted part of the agreement.

Skills shortage in South Africa has been a major headache for the Africa National Congress (ANC) government which has been elected into office since 1994 on the strength of working to improve the living standards including creation of more employment opportunities.

The rate of unemployed is 25 percent according to government statistics, but is much higher, at 51 percent among the youth of up to 24 years-old.

South Africa's Association of Accounting Technicians perhaps offers some answers in a report released earlier that suggested financial training offered by South African schools and universities follows an educational model that remains academically based and therefore graduates are unable to apply that knowledge in work situation.

The skills shortage is a priority that the country's leadership in private and the public sector will need to address urgently, otherwise the country may be forced to ease restrictions for foreign workers to enable it meet the human resource requirements.

South Africa is in particular expected to attract high volume foreign direct investments because of its huge mineral resource, 50 percent of which has not been exploited and the need to add value to that resource, including for agriculture produce.

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