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SA skills shortage massive, says Mlambo-Ngcuka

South Africa’s skills problem remains massive, Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said on Wednesday.

”The scale of the problem has become bigger in the interim. There’s a need for us to up our game,” she told a media briefing on the 2007 report of the Joint Initiative on Priority Skills Acquisition (Jipsa).

Vacancies in the public sector are also still unacceptably high.

Further, public schools and university throughputs are still too low, the quality and availability of trainers are a major constraint and rural communities have inadequate access to education and skills opportunities.

Mlambo-Ngcuka said the global situation has changed since Jipsa’s launch two years ago and the initiative has to be ”upscaled”.

Urgent attention also has to be given to foreign skills recruitment, because the country does not have the luxury of time for all the necessary training.

However, significant inroads have been made into increasing the number of artisans in training, and current training levels are higher than originally expected.

It is hoped the Jipsa programme will train 50 000 artisans by 2010.

According to the report, the 2007/08 service levels agreements (SLAs) signed between the various sector education and training authorities (Setas) and the Labour Department reflect a total of 18 879 artisans to be registered.

Provisional Seta SLAs indicate an additional 20 000 will be registered for 2008/09.

The National Skills Fund (NSF) has allocated a further R300-million for training 7 350 more artisans.

Among other things, the safety and security sector has also started a pilot project to determine the capacity of defence, police and correctional services to train and assess artisans.

Regarding engineers, the report says the Education Department’s enrolment planning forecasts that total engineering graduations will rise by 500 a year to about 2 000 a year by 2010.

Mlambo-Ngcuka said children have to be stopped from dropping out of school before reaching matric. ”[They] must go back to school because they are swelling the ranks of the unemployed.”

She said an agreement has been reached with the retail sector to help find work for those matriculants who do not want to go to university.

The Cabinet established Jipsa in 2006 to support the government’s Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (Asgisa).

Asgisa’s goals are to reduce unemployment from 30% to 15% by 2014 and reduce poverty from one-third to one-sixth of the population by 2014. It is also aimed at increasing GDP growth rate from an average of 3% to 4,5% a year between 2005 and 2009 to 6% a year for the period 2010 to 2014.

Alan Hirsch, head of the economic sector in the Presidency, said there is no reason to believe these targets will not be met.

AngloGold Ashanti’s Bobby Godsell, a member of Jipsa’s task team, was also optimistic about Africa’s prospects in the current global economic climate, saying: ”A large part of the developed world is heading for recession … in the next five to 10 years, real growth will happen in emerging markets. Africa has never been more positively received.”

Having recently returned from a trip to the United States, he said he had never seen a sentiment ”as positive” towards Africa and predicted that engineers who had emigrated would start returning.

South Africa has a sound financial services sector, it is less indebted than many rich parts of the world and has a healthier set of economic fundamentals.

”That’s what’s going to start bringing people back,” he said. — Sapa

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