SA graduates may get the job but lack the skills

By MaryAnne Isaac Time of article published Sep 13, 2021

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Durban – South African graduates who may already be employed, lack basic and critical skills to sustain business requirements in the workplace.

This is according to several studies that also reveal that higher education is no longer a guarantee of a job. Currently, South Africa is experiencing a shortage of skills in the engineering, ICT and artisan fields.

In 2019, it was reported that South Africa had a skills mismatch of more than 50% and the lowest productivity in the labour workforce compared to 30 other countries. Various studies have also revealed an educational mismatch to be similarly high in South Africa, with a quarter of the respondents being over-educated and 27% were under-educated for their jobs.

The mismatches of educational qualifications and job-related requirements lead to under-employment, where a graduate is employed in a job that is lower by some standard of working hours, income or skills and qualifications. Mismatches will continue to rise by increased access to higher education and low graduate unemployment rates, unless the focus moves to the basic education curriculum ensuring that graduates are adequately skilled to meet the needs of the labour market.

According to a study in 2010, South Africa’s universities and higher education institutes were not able to produce the critical skills fast enough, and it was estimated that creating 34 000 additional engineers, technologists, draughts persons and technicians, needed over a two-year period, would take roughly 100 years in terms of current educational capacity. Similarly, learning and development programmes cannot scale to meet the immediate needs of the economy – and businesses cannot afford to wait.

The wait is what drives companies to import skills or employ expats. Importing critical skills into the country is no different from importing any other essential factor of production.

There is no doubt that with the pandemic there’s an even wider skills gap, and SA needs access to wholesome skills in order to flourish and compete in the global market. The country’s skills gap – the difference between the professional talents needed by employers and those available among the working public – is a great concern.

Marisa Jacobs, director, head of immigration and mobility at Xpatweb says solving the skills problem will take hard work, and starts with an honest appraisal of the constraints.

“The sooner we do this, the faster we can address it. The first admission we must make is that the gap exists now, and a primary and immediate solution is required. Formal learning and development programmes will produce a future, technically-competent and national workforce – not just adequate, but world-beating. Until that day dawns, we need a stopgap,” she said.

Jacobs adds that in today’s sophisticated and highly competitive economies, countries are competing for skills to help them stay abreast of fast-moving technologies and rapidly changing business models.

“Attracting the skills we need is vital if we are to increase economic output and get the economy back on track,” she said.

According to CareerJunction, business and management, IT, and finance sectors are the most sought-after sectors, followed by sales, admin, office and support and architecture and engineering sectors, among others.

Moreover, Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande has highlighted 10 skills that are highly sought-after in the construction industry.

These are:

•Construction project managers

•Civil engineers

•Civil engineering technologists


•Civil engineering technicians

•Building inspectors



•Steel fixers


In 2017, the Department of Higher Education and Training implemented Centres of Specialisation in more than 20 colleges, focusing on 13 designated trades. Centres of Specialisation in the TVET College sector is a programme that aims to inform college differentiation, promote quality teaching and learning, facilitate responsiveness and provide a model for the implementation of the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations’ trade qualifications, at the same time as it develops artisanal skills.

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