Is South Africa’s economy at risk because of skills Gaps? Emily Kerr investigates the findings of the recent City & Guilds Skills Confidence Report.


The findings of a Skills Confidence Report, an international research study of 8 000 employees in South Africa, the United Kingdom, United States and India, calls on Government and Business to align education reforms.

Unveiled for the first time by the City & Guilds Group, a leader in global skills development, the study measured, among other topics, the impact of skills gaps on the workplace and economy, how confident people feel about their skills and jobs, as well as other factors impacting future economic prospects.

The state of education is a hot topic in South Africa. What’s clear from the research is that South Africans are greatly concerned about how the current matric syllabus is not preparing the youth for work (67%). However, two-thirds (66%) of respondents agree that reducing the skills gap is achievable if businesses open up more opportunities for young people to experience what it is like to work at a company, and almost half (46%) believe that creating apprenticeships and traineeships is the way to reduce the gap.

Skills gaps can significantly impact businesses’ productivity and bottom lines. As a result of skills gaps 46% say their organisations waste time, 42% say they waste money, and 46% say it makes their organisation less productive.

At a macroeconomic level, skills gaps are affecting people’s confidence about future economic prospects. Across the board, the majority of respondents are worried about issues such as high youth unemployment (69%), and too few jobs being created to support the growing youth population (57%).

While education reforms are under way, less than a third (30%) of respondents are confident that the government is doing enough to tackle skills gaps. The majority of respondents (65%) are not confident that matric is preparing individuals for the workforce, and under half (48%) are confident that the qualification is relevant to the needs of employers. More than half of respondents (56%) are not confident that skills gaps are closing.

Despite concerns about the broad impact of the skills gap, South Africans believe that there is an opportunity for businesses to help future proof the economy.

“At the City & Guilds Group, we see first-hand how partnering with business to understand their needs can help establish learning courses that are relevant to the workplace,” says Chris Jones, Chief Executive of the City & Guilds Group.

“Our experience shows us that by aligning education with the workplace needs we can enable people and organisations to develop their skills for personal and economic growth.

“While the development of the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations ‘QCTO’ by the South African Government in terms of the Skills Development Act is progressing, it is not clear that these reforms will meet all employers’ needs,’ says Jones. “Many in industry are concerned that this will add more red tape to learning, extend the required learning period, and have a negative result in reducing the immediate skills gap.”

While times are challenging for those looking for work, those employed recognise the need to up-skill for their own future. Only 1% of respondents were not actively developing their skills for the future, and only 3% said that no skills were important for their future career prospects.

“Training is important for South Africans, however the research shows us that there is no one-size-fits-all,” says Jones. For example, 81% of general employees preferred to learn on the job, compared to 75% of CEOs and senior leaders. Likewise, CEOs and senior leaders preferred to learn through free videos and online resources, compared to 30% of general employees and 28% of middle managers.

Interestingly, when asked about what skills would be most important their future career prospects in ten years’ time, leadership skills topped the list (61%), followed by management skills (60%) and people skills (52%).

According to the report, the world of work is changing rapidly, but it is not clear whether or not employees are aware of this, or indeed preparing themselves for the future. Through this report, the researchers are hoping to gain this understanding, and encourage businesses and individuals alike to consider how they can future proof their skills. “Unless people are prepared for the future, businesses risk exacerbating skills gaps and stagnant productivity—both of which can significantly hamper future growth.”

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