President Ramaphosa last week released the 2020 draft of Critical Skills List, after a two-year delay. Scarcity of – and access to – critical skills has been a burning issue for the last two decades for local organisations seeking to compete in a globally competitive marketplace. However, it remains a juggling act for Government who needs to manage the perception of an influx of foreign nationals when South Africa’s unemployment rate escalates year-on-year.

According to the Act, people with “an exceptional” critical skill, and where the pre-requisite advanced qualification and skills would take long to develop locally, are entitled to apply for a work visa. A quick look at the list indicates many jobs that one would expect to see, amongst highly skilled specialists, and yet there are some inexplicable inclusions, such as Caravan Park and Camping Ground Manager. Several accounting, marketing and communications jobs are included in this list too – and with some mismatch in the proposed qualification requirements – and yet we know that many suitably qualified and experienced individuals in these field continue to job hunt unsuccessfully. The report itself, under the * indicates more than 500 000 graduates available within the Department of Employment & Labour’s own database.

We note that “Data Scientist” is included as a scarce skill, and whilst we acknowledge that this field is relatively new and that there has been a surge in demand by many organisations, our successful placement track record speaks to the availability of these skills within the country, including amongst designated individuals. Our specialist recruiter Sheila Mtakwa has sourced skills, for the past decade, in the following Data Science areas:

  • Analytics: R/SAS
  • Coding: R, Python, Java, C/C++
  • Databases: SQL, NoSQL (CouchDB, Cassandra, MemcacheDB, etc.)
  • Algorithms & Models: Regression, hidden markov, support vector machines, decision trees, clustering, etc.
  • Data Analytics
  • Data Science
  • Chief Analytics / Data Officer

The proposal seems simultaneously over-restrictive and inaccurately focused, at a time when Covid19 has helped us all realise that most work can be done from anywhere, throwing open the virtual skills pool.  This outdated approach creates concern about our ability as a country to attract multi-nationals who would contribute to economic growth and job creation.

It is evident that more work needs to be done to ensure that this list is an accurate representation of the skills needs of our country, and that organisations who desperately need specialist skill are not bogged down with unnecessary red tape and tempted to locate their offices elsewhere, and that South Africans with the requisite skills are not unfairly excluded in favour of migrants.

We remain committed to sourcing the best talent for our clients and finding opportunities for our candidates. For more information on our specialist recruitment services, or current opportunities, please visit