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Definitions - Skills

Definitions - Skills

Defining ‘scarce’ and ‘critical’ skills

Scarce Skills

Scarce skills are usually measured in terms of occupation or qualification. Both ‘occupation’ and ‘qualification’ have the merit of being relatively straightforward to measure and readily understood. [The term scarce skills refers to those occupations characterised by a scarcity of qualified and experienced people (current and anticipated) – in other words, occupations in which numerical imbalances exist in employment because of a difference between the demand for and the supply of skills.]

The Department of Labour has also included a differentiation between absolute and relative scarcity of skills in the definition:

(a)   Absolute scarcityrefers to suitably skilled people who are not available in the labour market. Specific contexts in which absolute scarcities may arise include:

·   A new or emerging occupation, i.e. there are few, if any, people in the country with the requisite skills.

·   Firms, sectors and even the national economy are unable to implement planned growth strategies because productivity, service delivery and quality problems are directly attributable to a lack of skilled people.

·   Replacement demandwould reflect an absolute scarcity where there are no people enrolled or engaged in the process of acquiring skills that need to be replaced (DoL, 2006c).

(b)   Relative scarcityrefers, for example, to the context where suitably skilled people are in fact available in the labour market but they do not exhibit other employment criteria, for example:

·   High-level work experience, for example project management of large construction sites such as dams or power plants.

·   Geographical location, for example, people are unwilling to work outside of urban areas.

·   Equity considerations, for example, there are few if any candidates with the requisite skills from specific groups available to meet the skills requirements of firms and enterprises (DoL, 2006c).

·   Replacement demand would reflect a relative scarcity if there are people in education and training (formal and work-place) who are in the process of acquiring the necessary skills (qualification and experience) but where the lead time will mean that they are not available in the short term to meet replacement demand.

Critical Skills

Critical’ skills refer to particular capabilities needed within an occupation, for example, general management skills, communication and customer handling skills, team-work skills, communication technology skills. [The term critical skills refers to particular skills within an occupation, or the qualitative deficiencies that may exist or develop in the skills apparatus of the existing workforce.]

Critical’ skills, in keeping with international trends refers to specific key or generic and “top up” skills within an occupation. In the South African context there are two groups of critical skills:

a) Key or generic skills, including (in SAQA-NQF terminology) critical cross-field outcomes. These would include cognitive skills (problem solving, learning to learn), language and literacy skills, mathematical skills, ICT skills and working in teams.

b) Particular occupationally specific “top-up” skills required for performance within that occupation to fill a “skills gap” that might have arisen as a result of changing technology or new forms of work organisation.

Both scarce and critical skills must be identified at the occupational level, with scarce skills being considered against the occupation itself and critical skills being reflected as specific skills within the occupation. 

Process of developing the National Scarce Skills List

The National Scarce Skills List was prepared by the Department of Labour drawing relevant data from SETA Sector Skills Plans. Contributions were received from several other government departments, including Home Affairs and the Departments of Trade and Industry, Public Enterprises and Science and Technology. Additional data obtained from other government departments was used largely to validate the scarcities identified in the SETA Sector Skills Plans that had been highlighted in the National Scarce Skills List.

SETAs had identified scarcity using the above definitions and through a process of research and stakeholder consultation. The Department acknowledges that this first Scarce Skills List is an indicative list. In keeping with the Department’s adoption of a labour market demand signaling system and process, the List consists of occupational titles against which scarcity has been identified. Numbers have not been assigned to the scarcity except for the purpose of the Work Permit Quota List to be published by the Department of Home Affairs.

The Department is currently already engaged in a process of updating this first List based on SETA’s Sector Skills Plan Updates. The scarce skills information reflected in these Plans and mechanisms for identifying scarcity have been improved through the experience and lessons learnt during the development of the first List and it is the intention of the Department to assist SETAs to ensure that the scarce skills signaling processes and data are substantively updated, reliable and serve their sectoral and national purposes.

Purpose of the National Scarce Skills List

The National Master Scarce Skills List brings together a number of labour market demand side identification processes and represents a growing coherence across government and economic sector actors in identifying and forecasting skills demand.

There is a twin foundation for the Master Scarce Skills List. The first lies in the adoption of a clear definition for Scarce and Critical Skills, initially drafted and developed between the Department and its skills development sectoral intermediaries, the SETAs. These definitions were then negotiated and amended with relevant line departments in the Skills committee of the government’s economic cluster, i.e. between the Department of Labour and the Departments of Education, Home Affairs, Public Enterprises, Science & Technology, and Trade & Industry.

The second lies in the adoption by the Department of Labour of the Organising Framework of Occupations which SETAs have utilized in the drafting of their 5 Year Sector Skills Plans. This Framework allows different economic sectors to identify and forecast skills shortages at a sufficiently detailed and meaningful level of the occupation for a variety of strategies to be designed to address the scarcity.

The List is intended to serve several purposes:

  1. For the Department of Labour and its statutory skills development intermediaries, the national list provides a set of indicators for skills development interventions
  2. For the Department of Education and public education and training institutions, the national list provides a set of indicators for course development and career guidance that should be provided to learners and communities, including schools, FET Colleges, Universities, Universities of Technology and learners across these institutions
  3. For the Department of Home Affairs, the national list provides a basis for establishing the Work Permit Quota List and for evaluating employer-sponsored applications for work permits
  4. For the national government and national initiatives such as JIPSA, the national list begins to provide a platform for targeted interventions and the development of mechanisms to monitor and evaluate both the success and impact of measures aimed at redressing particular scarcities

Given that the purpose of the list is to identify trends and appropriate interventions, the relative “amount” of scarcity is indicated as a rounded, aggregate figure. This method has been used to ensure that the National Scarce Skils List remains a central device reflecting the Department of Labour’s approach to labour market trends analysis for skills development and not a device for uncritical manpower planning.

It must be noted that the rounded, approximate figures reflect an order of magnitude and not the potential negative impact on growth and development. For example, the magnitude of scarcity for economic development policy and planning skills may be less than 50 while the inability to address this scarcity may result in unsustainable local economic development accompanied by increased poverty and unemployment in the particular locality.

Core Functions (Form EEA2, Employment Equity Regulations)

Core Operation Function positions are those that directly relate to the core business of an organisation and may lead to revenue generation, e.g. sales, production, etc.

Support Functions (Form EEA2, Employment Equity Regulations)

Support Function positions refers to those positions that provide infrastructure and other enabling conditions for revenue generation, e.g. human resources, corporate services, etc

Links

Key Issues - Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (AsgiSA)

Department of Labour - www.labour.gov.za

Gary Watkins

Gary Watkins

Managing Director

BA LLB

C: +27 (0)82 416 7712

T: +27 (0)10 035 4185 (Office)

F: +27 (0)86 689 7862

Website: www.workinfo.com
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