South Africa’s forecasted economic growth for 2016 is very low, while unemployment reached a new high of 27.1% recently. Although job creation remains a key focus for government, an issue remains with the type of skills required for sustainable and inclusive growth. In McKinsey’s report, South Africa’s Big Five, Bold Priorities for Inclusive Growth, they estimate that 3.4 million jobs can be created in manufacturing, infrastructure, energy and natural gas, services and agriculture, but the skills required will be 48% skilled trade workers. The Annual ManPower Talent Shortage Survey also shows that trade skills are the most needed in South Africa. The National Development Plan highlighted that SA will require 30 000 artisans by 2030.

In a report by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and Swiss-South African Cooperation Initiative (SSACI), for the period 2014 – 2015 there was a total of 28 302 registrations for artisanal programmes with 14 270 completions. While artisan training has been revived from a low point of only 4500 artisans in 2005, we are not producing the numbers required to turn our economy around. At our HR Professionals Forum with Dionne Kerr, Siyakha Consulting CEO, she said that 150 artisans were deployed from Indonesia to work at the Medupi Power Station. At the same time, 1200 workers at a nearby mine were being retrenched, but foreign skills need to be recruited because they are not available locally.

Recent research and analysis for a course of action to re-ignite the SA economy has demonstrated that we need 40 – 60% of school leavers to pursue artisanal training. There needs to be a mind-shift amongst youth about careers in the artisan space. According to Sean Jones, CEO of the Artisan Training Institute (ATI), artisans are almost guaranteed formal employment and, upon graduation, can earn R20 000 – R25 000 per month – more than most university graduates will earn. Currently the failure rate at universities is around 50%, with many students not suitably prepared for tertiary education. Sean said that a 50% failure rate at university is far too high, meaning many students are out of their depth. If they opt, instead, to enroll for artisan training, they will get an apprenticeship with an employer from the time of enrollment and earn a stipend, from the employer, from their first year of training.

Fortunately the Western Cape Government is focusing on skills development and recently launched the Apprenticeship Game Changer. Skills development is not normally the mandate of a provincial government, but the goal of the Apprenticeship Game Changer is to achieve sufficient, appropriately qualified technical and vocational skilled people to meet the needs of prioritised economic growth areas by 2019. The growth areas identified as part of Project Khulisa include Oil and Gas, Tourism, Agri-processing, Energy and ICT and Broadband.

Dr Florus Prinsloo, Apprenticeship Game Changer, WC Government, says that SA must urgently return to a robust and active apprenticeship and internship system. This is not only for artisans, but all workplace based learning programmes across various industries, in a move towards generating the skills necessary for economic growth and development. Focusing specifically on ICT, this sector can drive huge economic growth and holds much promise as an enabler of economic and social advancement. The Apprenticeship Game Changer has recognised the potential of the ICT sector and will fund placements for skills in software development and systems analysis.

Without artisans, technicians and engineers, we cannot grow the economy at the pace that is required. With a skills shortage as critical as SA’s across most industries, perhaps it’s time to rethink the traditional South African recruitment and business models.