Skills initiative to boost growth

27 March 2006

The government has embarked on an intense drive to harness and improve the skills of South Africans to ensure accelerated economic growth.

Launched by Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in Pretoria today, the Joint Initiative on Priority Skills Acquisition (Jipsa) is a high-level task team that will identify urgent skills needs and advise on how they can be met.

The Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (Asgi-SA) has identified the shortage of skilled labour as one of the six constraints to its goal of boosting economic growth to 6%. The other five are exchange rate volatility, infrastructure backlogs, limits on investment opportunities, the regulatory environment, and deficiencies in state organisation, capacity and leadership.

The government has acknowledged that the single greatest impediment to its public infrastructure programmes – as well as private investment programmes – is the country’s shortage of skills.

Professional skills in engineering, science, finance and management, as well as technical and artisan skills, are critically needed as the South African economy moves into higher gear, the government has said.

Jipsa will be chaired by Mlambo-Ngcuka, who also heads Asgi-SA, and will run for an initial three years.

“Those parts of the legacy of apartheid most difficult to unwind are the deliberately inferior system of education and the irrational patterns of population settlement,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said in a media briefing on Asgi-SA in February.

“In a period of growth it is evident that we lack sufficient skilled professionals, managers and artisans, and that the uneven quality of education remains a contributory factor.”

Jipsa has already identified several interventions in need of urgent attention, such as mentoring programmes and overseas placement of trainees to fast-track their development. Others include special training programmes, bringing back retirees and expatriate South Africans, and drawing in new immigrants.

Also planned are a major upgrade of Further Education and Training colleges and a revamp of the Adult Basic and Education Training programme, based on models developed in New Zealand and Cuba.

The Employment Services System will be set up to close the gap between potential employers and employees. Already established is a scarce-skills database to fill the expected needs of the over 100 individual projects included in Asgi-SA.

Another initiative is the deployment of experienced professionals and managers – including retired experts – to local governments to improve project development implementation and maintenance capabilities.

The Jipsa task team will be made up of senior representatives from the government, the labour movement, business, academic institutions, science councils and state-owned enterprises.

Gwede Mantashe, the general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, will chair the Jipsa technical working group.

The National Business Initiative will constitute a secretariat for the project, and Cabinet has agreed that people with disabilities must be integrated into Jipsa activities. reporter and BuaNews

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