/ 17 April 2024

South Africa faces skills gap in hydrogen economy, report finds

Anglo American Plc Launch Worlds First 510 Ton Hydrogen Fueled Truck
Drivers in the cabin of a hydrogen-powered truck during a moving demonstration, part of Anglo American Plc's NuGen carbon-neutral project, at the Anglo American Platinum Ltd. Mogalakwena platinum mine in Mogalakwena, South Africa, on Friday, May 6, 2022. Anglo American unveiled the worlds biggest green-hydrogen powered truck at a platinum mine in northeast South Africa where it aims to replace a fleet of 40 diesel-fueled vehicles that each use about a million liters of the fossil fuel every year. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images

South Africa urgently needs skilled engineers, technicians and specialists in green hydrogen, while some workers require topping up their skills or new qualifications in order for the country to compete in the global economy, a new report has found.

The Labour Market Intelligence report launched by Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande on Tuesday comes after his department and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research CSIR, undertook a skills need assessment which identified skills required across all segments of the emerging green hydrogen value chain.

So far it has identified 138 occupations needed within the value chain such as engineers, technicians, tradespersons, specialists as well as managerial and elementary level occupations.

Some of the most needed skills include knowledge of potential hazards when working with or around hydrogen, knowledge of hydrogen-related regulations, standards, and codes, and understanding of electrochemical reactions, processes and hydrogen production processes.

“South Africa realises the role that green hydrogen can play in achieving its climate change objectives and more significantly, the potential opportunity it provides to address the country’s triple threat of unemployment, inequality, and poverty,” Nzimande said.

The hydrogen economy is expected to grow significantly in South Africa, and R319 million of the R1.4 trillion investment plan for the just transition to cleaner energy has been targeted for this sector. 

The labour market report highlights 27 occupational qualifications offered by various training providers and funded by the Sector Education and Training Authority which have been identified as critical for the hydrogen economy. 

“This assessment highlights that in contrast to developed countries such as Germany and due to the sector’s nascency in South Africa, there are limited opportunities available for green hydrogen–specific WBL [work based learning] in the country,” Nzimande said. 

In some cases, skills need to be imported, and as such the minister said his department would work closely with that of home affairs to develop the second iteration of a critical skills list” following the publication of new work visa regulations.

Nzimande said the skills shortage in the health sector was also an ongoing debate. 

“With this in mind, we will be undertaking a research study on the supply and demand of health professionals in South Africa as part of the Labour Market Intelligence research programme,” he said. 

He said this would be done in collaboration with the departments of health and home affairs, as well as the Health Professions Council of South Africa and the Health and Welfare Sector Education and Training Authority.