The future of scarce skills in SA

By Artisan Training Institute

With South Africa’s unemployment rate at its highest in almost 15 years, it is crucial that the youth is made aware of viable future vocations.

According to the Artisan Training Institute (ATI), the current industry shortage of skilled artisans in some trades offers an alternative and often an even more secure choice as a career path, as opposed to securing a university degree. A number of trend reports, including the Department of Higher Education and Training’s National Scarce Skills List, supports this advice.

Trading Economics’s May 2018 statistics pegs South Africa’s unemployment rate for this year’s first quarter at 26.7%, with the number of unemployed increasing by 100 000 to 5.98 million. These numbers are worrying, as this means that the country’s unemployment levels are at their highest in almost 15 years. Of the almost six million unemployed, the country’s youth are the most affected. With an increase of 1.6%, 58% of South Africa’s youth population is now unemployed, states IOL News.

Working as an artisan can provide great career opportunities; plus, skilled artisans are enjoying global mobility too.

Unfortunately, in these challenging economic conditions, a university degree is not a guarantee for securing employment after graduation. Statistics SA’s fourth-quarter labour survey for 2016 indicated that of the 58% unemployed youth, 7% are graduates.

In response to these statistics, the ANC stated that to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030, more than 30 000–40 000 qualified artisans should be produced annually to meet the industry’s labour demand. This mirrors the demand globally for a focus on promoting mid-level skills development to ease youth unemployment.

Artisan vocations are the answer

Another barrier South Africa’s unemployed face is international competition. Due to the local skills shortage, companies are turning towards the global landscape to fill vacant positions. A 2017 critical skills survey by Xpatweb showed that 75% of South African companies actively seek international talent to fill positions, despite prohibitive visa processes. One of the critical occupations where companies struggle to find the necessary candidates locally, is skilled artisans.

This shortage of skilled artisans poses an opportunity for youth to secure future employment. Instead of opting for expensive university and university of technology degrees or diplomas, which can result in thousands of rands of debt, vocational schools offer them a better chance at landing a job and building a successful career. The value of apprenticeship training is that apprentices gain valuable work experience while undergoing their training.

In an interview with RNEWS, Sean Jones, managing director of ATI, stated that many of the newly qualified artisans who complete their apprenticeships are almost immediately employed. ATI offers quality technical training in South Africa, with this 35-year-old institute training around 1 200–1 400 students per annum.

“This is very much in line with a trend that we have noticed in industry, which is that quality artisanal qualifications provide fast access to the job market, better remuneration, and promising future career prospects.” He further states that the continued development of quality artisan qualifications can substantially alleviate the youth unemployment in South Africa.

The top 100 job types

For aspiring artisans, there is a useful resource available, published biannually by the Department of Higher Education and Training. The National Scarce Skills List is compiled using information from various governmental sources, such as the National Development Plan, the SETAs’ Scarce Skills Lists, and the Industrial Policy Action Plan. This National Scarce Skills List provides the public with an overview of critical scarce skills by industry. In this context, a scarce skill is defined as the job type for which employers cannot find suitably qualified or experienced employees.

In the 2016 report, the top hundred scarce skills included artisan vocations such as electrician; millwright; boilermaker; carpenter; fitter and turner; welder; plumber; toolmaker; diesel mechanic; electronics instrument trades worker; air-conditioning and mechanical services plumber; automotive electrician; automotive motor mechanic; and pressure welder.

With the next National Scarce Skills due to be published soon, Jones is of the opinion that the findings will remain very similar, specifically based on industry demand. But he goes even further by providing more detailed insights about the rankings of these scarce skills. “According to ATI’s trend research, the three dominant trades have been motor diesel mechanics, electricians, and fitting and turning. Regarding rankings, the motor diesel trade ranked first for five years up until 2015, after which the electrical trade took the first ranking from its second place (in the prior five years).”

In terms of motor diesel trade, the vocation regained the number one ranking in 2018, with electrical trade coming in at a close second, followed by fitting and turning in third place. Another positive development is that training in the millwright trade has steadily increased over the past eight years and similarly, the demand for the instrumentation trade (although there was a slight dip in 2018).

Trading unemployment for in-demand skills

In essence, both these trend reports showcase that overall, skilled tradespersons are highly sought after in South Africa. It is therefore imperative to show young people that acquiring a trade is a viable option. Statistics increasingly prove that they are more often than not taken up into employment faster than university graduates with academic qualifications.

Creating widespread awareness of these opportunities and educating youth about these employment options are crucial — for the country and its citizens. Jones concludes: “There are many top executives and entrepreneurs who started their careers ‘on the tools’. Working as an artisan can provide great career opportunities; plus, skilled artisans are enjoying global mobility too.” 


Click here to read the September 2018 issue of RACA Journal


 

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