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‘SA NEEDS TO NARROW ITS SKILLS GAP’ – DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF UP’S CENTRE FOR THE FUTURE OF WORK

Dr Olebogeng Selebi | 27 May 2024


The future of work is rapidly evolving due to technological advancements and shifting economic landscapes. As we stand on the brink of a new era, adapting to these changes is imperative.


According to the Institute of the Future, a US-based think tank, 85% of jobs that today’s students will hold by 2030 have not yet been created. This highlights the need for a workforce that is equipped with the skills to thrive in a dynamic environment.


In South Africa, this reality is evidenced by a recent drop in the graduate unemployment rate from 10.6% in the first quarter of 2023 to 9.6% in the second quarter.


South African employers are particularly concerned about the lack of proficiency in core skills such as communication, socio-emotional intelligence, digital literacy and mental flexibility among employees and new hires.


The labour market increasingly values soft skills like leadership, communication, conflict resolution, interpersonal skills, teamwork and time management.


The importance of these skills is universally acknowledged. Initiatives are in progress to standardise the teaching, assessment and recognition of these skills within post-secondary education and workplace training.


The COVID-19 pandemic exposed significant skill gaps, particularly in digital skills and remote work, which employers believe pose a barrier to technological adoption and productivity growth.


The digital migration of skills has enabled talent to contribute to global economies virtually, breaking geographical barriers.


This issue is not new in Africa, particularly South Africa, where skilled workers are less likely to return due to factors beyond salary expectations.


This exodus worsens the skills gap, impacting productivity, economic growth and social equity. The continent must align educational output and upskilling programmes with industries for growth to retain skilled workers.


The effective retention of skilled labour requires shared responsibility between governments and employers. Companies must also drive worker autonomy, invest in continuous learning, and prioritise employee well-being and mental health.


Addressing the skills gap requires a comprehensive and strategic approach that involves multiple stakeholders, including the government, educational institutions, the private sector and civil society.


Educational institutions should incorporate technical and soft skills into their curricula, fostering collaboration between industries and educational bodies.


Private companies can play a crucial role in designing and delivering relevant training programmes, ensuring that graduates are job-ready and relevant to market needs.

Promoting a culture of continuous learning and professional development is essential. Incentives for employers to invest in upskilling their workforce can help bridge the skills gap within organisations.


Online learning platforms and flexible training modules can make upskilling more accessible. Initiatives of this nature ensure that skills development is more inclusive and equitable.


Programmes must address historical inequalities and provide targeted support to marginalised groups, fostering a more inclusive workforce.


Bridging the skills gap is not just about meeting job market demands – it’s about building a foundation for long-term prosperity and equity.


South Africa can achieve this by investing in education, training and continuous learning.


Today’s choices will shape the country’s trajectory in the global economy, and through proactive collaboration and forward-thinking strategies, we can navigate challenges and seize future opportunities.


‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’.


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