by Janine Noble

Identifying scarce skills

SA needs to re-evaluate the way it identifies talent

Identifying scarce skills
SA needs to re-evaluate the way it identifies talent

There is a widely held opinion, supported in some cases by fact, that there is a limited availability of skilled resources in South Africa. The March 2013 Adcorp Employment Index revealed that there were more than 829 000 unfilled vacancies for skilled people in the private sector in 2012.

However, according to Suzy Boucher, partner for the 2013 DHL Rising Star Awards, this is a fairly broad statement.

“Certainly in particular sectors, such as engineering, there is a scarcity of skilled resources, while in other sectors there is an adequate supply of skills, but the holders of those skills may have a limited ability to translate their skill into effective and productive contributions. Compounding this situation is the very real issue of people entering the job market with inappropriate, or inadequate, skills.”

Boucher points to the results of the index, which revealed that there are 580 000 unemployed graduates in South Africa, most of whom are trained in the arts, humanities and social sciences, and do not hold the financial, accounting and management qualifications that are currently in demand in the workplace. 

“Due to the complex and fast-paced work environment, employers increasingly look to hire employees who are already trained and have relevant experience. Therefore, the challenge with producing graduates holding degrees in the humanities, arts and social sciences is that, while they have the intellectual capacity, they do not have immediately applicable technical skills and capabilities that employers can put to work. This is, in comparison to an accountant or an engineer, who is able to immediately deliver results by applying the theory they acquired from their degree to real life work projects.” 

Boucher says that this issue can be attributed to the significant gap in collaboration between formal learning institutions and the workplace as to what skills or expertise are needed to be taught in order to service the requirements of workplace now and in the future. 

She adds that that the insufficient supply of the type of skilled resources required by the country is a systemic issue affected by a number of possible factors. “There is inadequate, or perhaps invisible, long-term planning in place, which could assist to identify the necessary skills required in the future, and ensure the development of an adequate supply of the requisite skills.

“Another possible factor is the inappropriate application of transformation and affirmative action programmes, which accelerate promotions into senior leadership and skilled functions without appropriate development and support activities.” 

She says that the quality of students leaving school could also be a possible contributor. “Many students do not have the required grades, in the necessary subjects, to enter tertiary education institutions to study for the professions that are currently experiencing a shortage of skills.  This, along with transformation targets foisted onto the tertiary education institutions, means the country is not currently enrolling a sufficient number of students in disciplines where the scarcity of skills is most apparent.”

Boucher adds that while South Africa is suffering from a skills shortage, the country also has an abundance of untapped potential, but that the challenge is to discover and unleash that potential in a planned and deliberate manner.

“The challenge in South Africa is that, broadly, we don’t have the necessary mechanisms to identify talented individuals. Further to this, talent identification and development efforts in the workplace are mostly limited to a select few employees as the organisation has finite resources available to invest in talent. Usually the talent identification process is well defined and managed to target middle to senior management levels, thus overlooking the majority of employees”

“It is as much the individual’s responsibility to be aware of their unique talents, skills and strengths and to make their employers aware of their value, as it is the responsibility of managers and human resources to identify and develop talent within their organisations.”


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Issue 58