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By A'eysha Kassiem
A moratorium could be placed on employment equity in scarce skills to entice white South Africans back to the country and "stabilise" the crippling shortage of engineers and skilled artisans.
This is one of several proposed initiatives that Transport and Public Works MEC Marius Fransman hopes will help ease the skills shortage facing the province.
Fransman said on Wednesday that, at a cabinet lekgotla on February 13, he had presented a report on developing skills for the 21st century. In it, he had highlighted the possibility of such a moratorium.
A homecoming campaign is also being planned to entice South African engineers in the UK back.
The past few years has seen an exodus of white skilled labour.
"I am calling for a moratorium, so when we do advertise posts, you can continue to appoint white scarce skills. I have a preference for a moratorium over the next three years to stabilise the province's situation.
"We can't wait for skills to develop," Fransman said.
He said the proposal might be controversial, but he was "cautiously optimistic".
The department's skills task team is expected to make a submission to the cabinet by the end of March.
"We need hard, quality skills ... an analysis needs to be made in what way employment equity is impacting in the context of scarce skills over the next three years," Fransman said. Most of these skills were, "unfortunately, white".
In his address on their scarce skills strategy at the lekgotla, Fransman also highlighted concerns regarding the Joint Initiative on Priority Skills Acquisition (Jipsa), such as the current throughput rate and the few previously disadvantaged individuals who are postgraduates.
He said as part of Finance Minister Trevor Manual's national Budget, several projects were taking place in the province.
"(Money has been set aside for) infrastructure delivery in the Western Cape such as roads, hospitals, education facilities and 2010 stadiums that has seen private investors focusing on the Western Cape.
"For all that to happen, we need to have sound project management skills and hard engineering skills," Fransman said.
He said that until about three years ago, there had not been "mega infrastructure developments".
"There has been a flight since 1998, where 10 percent of graduates are leaving for the UK and elsewhere. It is a global village and we can't stop them, but we need the skills here."
He said they had taken several initiatives to address the problem - including the employment of formerly retired engineers to mentor students, among other things, as well as establishing a special departmental scarce skills centre known as Masakh' iSizwe.
The department was also calling on more retired engineers to apply and assist.
The retired engineers were "predominantly" white, Fransman said.
"There is a gap. Projects are happening, but the majority of engineers are only graduating in 2009.
"Over the next three and four years, we will be making a call to engineers and inviting them back (to the country).
"I had a discussion with the UK High Commissioner about visiting the UK for a seminar in July where there are at least 1 000 South African engineers," Fransman said.
"We want to invite them back at a three-day seminar.
"We also want to take foreigners from India, Singapore and Malaysia, where there is a surplus of engineers."