Skills development and training also help to address rising inequality. Image credit: Triple E Training

Skills development and training also help to address rising inequality. Image credit: Triple E Training

The focus of organised labour, as well as the public and private sector, needs to shift towards developing the proficiencies of the vast number of unskilled workers in the country.

As stated in Part 1 of this article series, South Africa has the lowest productivity rates among emerging economies. This is due to the high cost of doing business, which includes the impact of increasingly frequent industry strikes; lack of competition in many markets; and a dire shortage of skilled labour.

Rather, both government and the private sectors should be focusing on developing the skills that they need and then retaining them as part of a long-term solution,” Marco Maree, Expert Training and Development advisor of Triple E Training, says. Triple E Training is a leading accredited provider of adult literacy training and adult numeracy training solutions that are helping companies to enhance the proficiencies of their low skilled employees.

Employees who have completed the company’s training programmes have been primed for further learning so that they can continue adding value, while also growing and developing as individuals inside and outside the world of work.

In this way, skills development and training also help to address rising inequality, which is at the heart of these strikes that are crippling the economy. The private sector continues to grapple with increased disruptions to business due to prolonged strikes from a smaller workforce. This is, in turn, thwarting productivity and leading to further job losses. One protracted strike, for example, cost a mining company about R400-million a day in lost revenue. These incidences also lead to a reduction in business confidence and increased risk of economic stagflation.

Labour status and education levels are among the lead drivers of the stubbornly high levels of inequality in the country, combined with lasting legacies of the previous system, including race and geo-spatial factors. Skilled South African employees currently earn almost five times the average wage that their unskilled counterparts do. Yet, skilled employees make up less than a fifth of the total population. This has led to a so-called “missing middle”, in terms of skills supply. Companies, therefore, have to pay a premium for scarce skills, which hinders their ability to compete effectively at a global level – and they are still not nearly as productive as their international counterparts.

Wage inequality in South Africa has been an ongoing trend since 1995. Between then and 2014, the real wage Gini coefficient increased from 58 to 69. This was mainly due to an increase in capital and skills intensity in most local industries since the advent of democracy in 1994. The shift from labour to capital and the change in the skills composition of the local workforce could be evidenced by the decline in formal unskilled and semi-skilled job prospects between 1994 and 2015. This is despite growth in gross domestic product. Therefore, increasing employment, alone, will not necessarily have the desired impact on inequality in the country. For example, creating a million jobs would only reduce the Gini coefficient by between 0.8 and 1.5 points, depending on the industry in which these employment opportunities have emerged. This is considering that these job opportunities will mainly be geared at individuals with high skills sets and not necessarily for the poorest job seekers.


“To help fight rising inequality, the public sector recently launched a national minimum wage and there are even plans to introduce a basic income grant. No one can argue the humanitarian benefits of such initiatives, which already showed to be very effective during the lockdown that was implemented to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus. However, such initiatives do carry a high potential risk to our very weak economy. Another major concern is that they will further entrench low skilled labour when we should rather be focusing all of our efforts on building a robust pipeline of skills that we need to grow and develop our economy. This includes equipping employees with the basic skills that they need to embark on a journey of continuous learning so that they can sustain their jobs and improve their employability,” Maree concludes.

Supplied by PR, edited by Eamonn Ryan