Contours of the Skills Planning Mechanism: The issue of scarce skills
The subject of scarce skills is hotly discussed in the policy arena and the media. A scarce skill is simply defined as a situation in which the demand for a specific occupation outstrips the supply of this occupation at a specified price (or wage). A scarce skills list is important to inform how lists for visas are constructed and the priorities for post-school education and training programmes. The LMIP has completed a study, Powell M, Paterson A and Reddy V (2014). Approaches and methods of understanding what occupations are in high demand and recommendations for moving forward in South Africa. The report attempts to unpack the complexities surrounding the methods and approaches that can be used to identify occupations in high demand, and develops a set of recommendations for moving forward.
- A proposed methodology for identifying scarce skills in high demand has been developed, building on existing structures and data collection methods in South Africa. This is an ambitious methodological approach that contains a number of stages and processes.
- The proposed methodology attempts to be cohesive and comprehensive and encompasses the structures and processes involved in labour market analysis in South Africa.
- The proposed methodology will be resource intensive and government must provide the budget to develop and build the necessary structure and capacity to support effective implementation.
- For the scarce skills list to have credibility, it is important to have consultations and buy-in from stakeholders.
- The process of determining a scarce skill list is not a totally scientific process, but is also used to support political decision making processes. That is not to deny the importance of evidence based policy making, but to highlight that government will need to take leadership in this process and determine the way forward.
Interactive capabilities of Post-School Sector education and training organisations
A body of research emerging from an LMIP study on interactive capabilities and networks can provide complementary labour market intelligence to inform the ways in which post-school education and training organisations respond to the demand for skills identified through such a methodology.
Universities or colleges or firms will not automatically respond to a call to produce the number and kind of qualifications and skills that may be required at different levels for occupations in specific sectors, to meet firms’ current and dynamic future skills needs. Three reports have been completed that investigate the capabilities of universities, TVET colleges and private providers to form strategic linkages and networks with firms to address skills demand in sectoral systems of innovation.
The case studies highlight the economic challenges currently faced in each sector, which require new kinds of skills development. Hence, meaningful skills planning require a contextualised analysis of routine skills needs, but more significantly for economic and social development, of the shifting skills needs required for growth, competitiveness and inclusion.
Mechanisms that facilitate better communication of skills needs and more effective interactive capabilities of universities and colleges are identified in each case, with the intent that these could be extended on a wider scale. Comparative analysis allows us to identify emergent trends that can be grown and strengthened across the organisations of the post-school system more widely. For example:
- Private sectoral intermediaries play a core role in sector-specific skills development, particularly skills upgrading, to build on the basic qualifications of universities and TVET colleges. Possible areas for intervention include funding support to private sectoral intermediaries, and enhancing the capabilities of SETAs to play their roles as brokers between industry, government and PSET organisations.
- In public higher education and TVET colleges, existing mechanisms to promote graduate employability development, placing students in firms as interns and involving firms in course design and review can be up-scaled and extended to more departments in more universities, universities of technology and colleges.
- The critical role played by individuals, informal exchange and tacit knowledge in building strategic partnerships with firms points to a critical means of encouraging interaction, and hence, the need for institutional support to academics, lecturers and managers in terms of time and funding.
The analysis also allows us to identify existing gaps and blockages that need to be addressed, to promote skills planning and development. Here we describe an instance of each.
- A lack of competences and interactive capabilities block the participation of TVET colleges in skills development networks with firms. Important areas to enhance interactive capability include strengthened and expanded management cadres; new NQF level 5 vocational programmes; and revised staff employment conditions and remuneration.
- There is scope for government departments to engage strategically with shifting sectoral initiatives, which may require policy and legislative support to address gaps. For example, legislative support for biofuels could support diversification in the sugar sector, which could create jobs and would require new kinds of skills.
 These are: (1) Il-haam Petersen and Glenda Kruss (2014), Understanding interactive capabilities for skills development in sectoral systems of innovation: A case study of the sugarcane growing and milling sector in KwaZulu-Natal; (2) Simon McGrath, Glenda Kruss and Il-haam Petersen (2014), Understanding interactive capabilities for skills development in sectoral systems of innovation: a case study of the Tier 1 automotive component sector in the Eastern Cape; (3) Michael Gastrow, Glenda Kruss and Il-haam Petersen (2014), Understanding interactive capabilities for skills development in sectoral systems of innovation: A case study of astronomy and the Square Kilometre Array telescope