To my mind
INTERNATIONALLY there’s a growing market for skilled people, especially those with skills that are in short supply. There’s no discrimination against such experts; South Africans, too, with the necessary skills, are increasingly in demand. Some have already made their mark overseas.
Recently, the well-known American magazine Forbes, with a circulation of close to 1m, reported, in separate articles, on two South Africans. Both of them have already made their mark internationally.
One is the founder and CEO of Net 1 UEPS Technologies, Serge Belamant, better known as the man behind smart cards.
The other is venture capitalist Roelof Botha, who’s associated with the company Sequoia Capital and is a grandson of former Foreign Affairs Minister Pik Botha (see cover story).
The increasing global demand for skills is nothing new. What’s new is that the leading developed nations are intensifying their efforts to attract people with skills and experience. And so the competition for scarce resources becomes stiffer.
Countries such as Germany, Canada and France are making it easier for well-qualified workers to enter their job markets, and now SA is preparing to enter the fray. However, the country still lacks the type of environment that will attract these skills.
According to the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE), a study has shown that we need about 9 000 professional immigrants a year just to maintain the current skills levels. And yet the country could only attract 500 trained immigrants in 2003.
SA will have to catch a wake-up if it wishes to join the race. It’s no good paying lip service to these important issues, and Government in particular should take firm action.
On the one hand, we have a Minister of Labour who insists that, despite the chronic shortage of skills, affirmative action will continue indefinitely, and at all costs, and on the other a Minister of Finance who criticises its indiscriminate application.
In a report released at the end of February, the CDE criticised the current policy on professional foreigners and advocated a more open, flexible, energetic and marketdriven immigration policy. A major step in this direction, as the organisation put it, is to get rid of “misapprehensions”. These include the perception that we have a shortage of certain skills only, that it’s simply a short-term emergency, that the required skills can be found locally and that unemployment among matriculants and graduates is merely the result of not matching skills and opportunities effectively.
The harsh reality, on the other hand, is that the education system isn’t equipping pupils with the literacy and life skills necessary to meet employers’ needs.
Some still claim that there are sufficient skills and that they simply have to be found. But the small number of matriculants who pass maths every year – and we’re not even talking of higher-grade maths here – is ample proof of our skills shortage. Or, as the CDE puts it: the fact that we’re talking of scarce skills means just that – they are scarce, and there aren’t enough people with these skills available in the country. And it’s certainly not just a short-term problem. As a developing country, we’re going to have to develop and nurture skills for a very long time.
Nor is the loss of skills confined to one particular race group. Research shows that South Africans of all hues, including black professionals, have left our shores for greener pastures. If they’re better paid and the conditions are more attractive, why not? We will have to face the fact that we’re part of a globalised community, in which all countries are competing for very limited resources.