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11 August 2010

Skills shortages hamper growth targets

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

Skills Shortages in South Africa: Case Studies of Key Professions

Edited by Johan Erasmus & Mignonne Breier and published by the HSRC PRESS

The recent action by health professionals in South Africa, protesting against low salaries and poor working conditions, highlighted reasons for the frequent emigration of key figures from the medical sector. But this is not the only professional field that is facing shortages.

South Africa’s skills shortages are widely regarded as key factors preventing the achievement of the country’s targeted six per cent growth rate. These shortages, of professionals and artisans in particular, need to be seen in relation to a number of issues that arise from the country’s apartheid history, as well as post-apartheid attempts to rectify historical imbalances. They also need to be considered in relation to international skills shortages and the global market.

Skills Shortages in South Africa: Case Studies of Key Professions (HSRC Press) edited by Johan Erasmus and Mignonne Breier, explores the question of shortage in 10 different occupational fields in South Africa, against a local political/historical backdrop and within an international context.

Local trends which have been seen to have influenced skills shortages in South Africa are varied. They include a embattled education system, which is still struggling to overcome decades of dysfunction under apartheid; the decline of the apprenticeship system which has led to a shortage of artisans; loss of senior capacity as a result of affirmative action; and loss due to poor working conditions (specifically medical personnel).

International factors include a “pull and push” scenario which favours the mobilisation of skilled professionals who are encouraged to work anywhere in the world – but often at the cost of developing countries. International recruitment alleviates shortages in recipient countries, but exacerbates them in donor countries, which are often developing countries that cannot compete in terms of satisfactory salaries and working conditions.

However, despite the widespread recognition that South Africa has severe skills shortages in certain key areas, there is still debate as to the nature and extent of these shortages. It is for this reason that the studies reported in this book were conducted, across 10 key professional fields: management, social work, engineering, medicine, law, information and communications technology, schooling, city planning and artisan trades.

The studies show the complexity of the concept of skills shortage and the difficulties associated with trying to quantify shortages. In reaching their own assessments, the authors have made use of multiple sources of data to overcome the limitations of official statistics. The studies are situated within a South African labour market that has its own specific trends, ranging from the difficulties associated with affirmative action to the fact that skills shortages exist alongside a large pool of unemployed graduates.

While the first two pieces in the book offer a broad introduction to and identification of labour trends within the South African context,  the following 10 chapters focus very specifically on key sectors, drilling down to such factors as demographic trends and graduation data.

With data also available on an attached CD-Rom, Skills Shortages in South Africa: Case Studies of Key Professions (HSRC Press) is essential reading for planners and policy-makers in higher education, and should provide a rich source of information to economists, sociologists and those interested in career guidance and mentorship.

Skills Shortages in South Africa: Case Studies of Key Professions (HSRC Press) emanates from a study on sector and related skills requirements commissioned by the South African Department of Labour in 2006. It formed part of a wider research project on scarce and critical skills related to the National Skills Development Strategy and the National Industrial Policy Framework of 2007, for which the HSRC led a research consortium comprising the Development Policy Research Unit at the University of Cape Town and the Sociology of Work Unit at the University of the Witwatersrand.

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For a review copy of the book, contact:

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