ICT and engineering tops SA scarce skills list

Information and communications technology (ICT) along with engineering skills continue to be the most sought-after in South Africa, according to the latest Annual Critical Skills Survey by specialised solutions company Xpatweb.


About 178 companies – including some listed on the JSE – took part in the annual survey aimed at identifying which skills employers find most difficult to recruit locally.


The Xpatweb data also guides the government's critical skills list.  


Survey figures further show that artisans, senior financial executives, health professionals, executive managers, specialists, academics, mining executives, risk managers, and foreign language speakers, are next on the list of most difficult to recruit professions locally. 


"The most notable jump in figures are the number of South African companies struggling to recruit artisans, increasing by 45% from last year and professionals in the health sector which rose by a massive 200%," noted Xpatweb Director Marisa Jacobs who is also an immigration specialist.


On the country's health sector's staffing arrangements, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says South Africa has an average of one doctor and one nurse per 1,000 patients. Hospitals are crowded, but understaffed, as shortages of skilled professionals in this sector continues to be an issue.

Skills leaving South Africa


Jacobs pointed out that the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE), already stated in 2019 that SA continues to lose hundreds of engineers each year, due to emigration.


And any discussion about emigration numbers is complicated by the fact that there is no official entity in South Africa that collects emigration data.


Resources from Stats SA, the United Nations International Migrant Stock database, and National statistics offices (NSOs) of foreign nations, however, suggest that upwards of 23,000 people per year are emigrating from South Africa.


"Our survey results show that there is a very clear link between the skills that are needed locally and the professions that other countries are recruiting for, again confirming that skills shortages are a global challenge and South Africa is competing for these scarce skills. Skills transfer to local teams and concession planning remains a key element for companies to develop their teams."


"This 'brain drain' has also spurred a massive skills shortage in the engineering sector, the data shows.


When looking at ICT professionals, a summit hosted by the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA) in 2019 revealed that SA is in desperate need of ICT skills, and that the country's education sector is just "unable to produce these skills in the numbers the country needs," says Jacobs.




IT Specialists are becoming a highly sought-after resource with the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). 


In a report published by the World Economic Forum, over one-third of skills (35%) that are considered important in today's workforce will have changed over the next five years.


The Xpatweb survey found 89% of participants stated that their organisation struggles to recruit critically skilled individuals. 


Furthermore, 76% of participants indicated the need to search internationally for these skills.

SA's 'onerous' work visa processes 


Over 85% of respondents indicated that they find it difficult to recruit critically skilled individuals locally and that an international search would help them find these skills, but that South Africa's work visa processes were impeding their efforts.


"Respondents indicated that the work visa process prohibits South African employers from recruiting internationally, citing onerous requirements and long processing times of the South African embassies abroad, as some of the major challenges they face." 


When asked about the visa application process, 79% of participants indicated that only a limited number of companies managed to avoid the negative impact that SA's visa application system might have on their business.

Artisan skills shortage


The survey also found the biggest jump in demand to be for artisans. 


Jacobs pointed out that the government indicated, already in 2017, that South Africa has a shortfall of about 40 000 qualified artisans.


"This gap is expected to widen as demand continues to increase and forces industry to import skilled artisans from various countries to complete time sensitive projects. It is important to be reminded that skills are globally sourced for the economic benefit of those countries and South Africa has to compete for scarce skills," says Jacobs.


"When viewing the results in their entirety, it remains evident that there is a continued lack of critically skilled individuals available in South Africa and key stakeholders need to address these problems collectively in an effort to reinvigorate the economy."

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