Each LMIP Briefing is an evidence-based contribution to informing the development of a skills planning mechanism for South Africa. Briefings showcase our cutting edge research and aim to highlight key trends and potential implications from LMIP research projects.

LMIP Briefing 13

Planning for artisanal skills in the future  

To plan for artisanal skills in the future, it is critical to understand three contextual factors: first, historical patterns of artisanal skills supply and demand; second, changes to the nature of work and occupations; and third, the relation between knowledge bases and preparation for work. This note reports key trends in relation to the third contextual factor.

Trades in four industry sectors at the cutting edge of local and international product and market growth were selected for investigation, namely Confectionary Baker (681201, Hospitality sector); Boat Builder and Repairer (684907, Boat Building sector); Mechatronics Technician (671203, Engineering sector) and Camera Assistant (Film sector). Case studies across the four sectors show the following trends:

- Increasing standardisation of work, through mechanised or digitalised work routines.

- Coding of work routines into universally-benchmarked Standard Operating Procedures, to enable production processes to be split up between sites, countries and continents.

- Constant drive towards product/service innovation to maintain or increase market share.

Firstly, these result in the simultaneous up-skilling and down-skilling of artisanal work. To varying degrees, evidence was found in all sectors of narrower technical specialisation as well as a concurrent trend towards upward specialisation in science-based systems knowledge. In all sectors diagnostic problem-solving requires a combination of situated and formal knowledge with definite shifts in the knowledge combinations that will be required in the future. No sector accommodates only one version of the trades investigated.

Secondly, the investigation shows a skewed relationship between the varied demands of intermediate-level work and theeducation, training and development provisioning and qualifications that are currently available. Without recognition of the different labour process permutations found in any one trade, an inevitable ‘gap’ arises between the expertise demanded in work, and the knowledge and skills coded into a curriculum, which is typically linked to one ‘generic’ version of a trade. This obstructs labour market entry and progression, and constitutes an important reason for continued misalignment between labour market demand and supply.

Such research can contribute to artisanal skills planning in four distinctive ways:

- Substantively, through an investigation of changes in the diagnostic and problem-solving dimension of artisanal work, in response to changes in tools, technology, materials and work organisation.

- Methodologically, through showing how small-scale qualitative studies can capture present and future labour market conditions in a dynamic way and thus complement the more static picture revealed by large-scale survey type studies.

- Strategically, by focussing on changes in work and the impact of change on labour market futures.

-Technically, by presenting a tested set of research instruments and analytical tools that can be applied across sectors to achieve findings with predictive potential.