by Hopewell Radebe, 20 February 2013, 06:36
DESPITE it being a legislative requirement, several government departments on Tuesday denied responsibility for drawing up and publishing the National Scarce and Critical Skills List — indicating the confusion that resulted after President Jacob Zuma increased the number of ministries in 2009.
The Department of Home Affairs, which used to determine which skills South Africa needed the most, on Tuesday pointed fingers at the Department of Labour for failing to update the list, which in turn blamed the Department of Higher Education and Training, saying it had taken responsibility for the list in 2010.
The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry said business used the list to recruit foreign staff and address the national challenges of skills development and unemployment.
Chamber CEO Neren Rau said on Tuesday the list also helped the country, especially its tertiary institutions, to focus on skills development programmes that “increase the number of graduates in those crucial areas”.
He said business had been under pressure to increase employment opportunities for locals, despite tough economic conditions. This was why there had not been an outcry about the failure to update the list.
The Department of Higher Education and Training did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
Centre for Development and Enterprise research director Antony Altbeker said on Tuesday that, according to legislation, it was still the responsibility of the Department of Home Affairs to liaise with relevant government departments to identify critical skills.
South Africa had no clear strategy to address labour shortages and immigration policy, and work permit applications appeared to be resolved on a case-by-case basis, he said.
“SA has a serious scarcity of skills that can be addressed effectively if government defined skills broadly and allowed recruitment that would lead to skills transfer, while getting the job efficiently and effectively done to grow our economy,” Mr Altbeker said.
“We should not have a policy that grudgingly invites small numbers of highly specialised people. Even if the government allowed the not-so-highly skilled to come to SA, experience shows they are often entrepreneurial … and hardly take jobs performed by locals.”
Former home affairs minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the first minister tasked with determining skills needs, said South Africa was four years behind in its knowledge of labour market needs. “I am sure that the home affairs minister, having previously been the education minister, appreciates the nexus between identifying needed skills and producing the right skills through our education system,” he said.
Prince Buthelezi said a provision in the Immigration Act required the home affairs minister to consult with the departments of labour and trade and industry annually and publish a national scarce and critical skills list.
The purpose was to determine which foreign professionals would be allowed into the country “to ensure that the country’s skills base grew in harmony with the needs of our economy”.
“It also created a valuable tool … to determine where the focus should be placed in producing skills through tertiary institutions, to ensure that our own citizens could be equipped to fill existing gaps in the labour market,” Prince Buthelezi said.