Technical Skills Needed to Tackle SA’s Youth Unemployment Crisis

Dr Andrew Dickson, Engineering Executive at CBI-electric: low voltage, who says that currently, technical skills are in dire need, particularly in the areas of electrical, mechanical, industrial, and civil engineering.

Although South Africa’s youth unemployment rate dropped slightly in the fourth quarter of 2022, the situation remains critical, with the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) revealing that 4,6 million young people are looking for jobs. Considering that 90% of the country’s employment opportunities require youth with technical and vocational skills, as reported by the Human Resource Development Council, equipping them with these skills is crucial for reducing the country’s unemployment rate.

This is according to Dr Andrew Dickson, Engineering Executive at CBI-electric: low voltage, who says that currently, technical skills are in dire need, particularly in the areas of electrical, mechanical, industrial, and civil engineering. In addition, there is an increasing requirement for artisans and technicians to support base operations within the engineering disciplines, especially as infrastructure repair and maintenance become more crucial than ever for keeping the country’s lights on.

This sentiment has been reinforced by President Ramaphosa who recently iterated that technical skills are what South Africa requires, stating that the skills that our country needs, the jobs that can grow our economy, and importantly, the avenues for entrepreneurship that are so sorely needed, can best be achieved by increasing learner access to technical and vocational subjects. “Unfortunately, however, government is limited in its ability to bridge the skills gap, so the private sector needs to step in either by investing in institutions or individuals,” says Dr Dickson.

He notes that, with state funding being reduced for universities and Technikons, additional support is vital. “This option may not appeal to shareholders; however, it is important to see the bigger picture where the value lies in investing in employees of the future who will be key for taking the country forward.”

“Another option is for businesses to work with institutions by providing practical learning opportunities for graduates so that they learn how to apply the skills they have acquired,” he adds. “For example, we provide training to Electrical Engineering students at Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges around the country on electrical safety compliance as well as the practical use of products like circuit breakers, wiring accessories and earth leakage devices.”

“Our holding company has taken this a step further with the establishment of Reunert College, which offers a bridging programme for school leavers from previously disadvantaged communities. It enables them to improve their Matric results which might otherwise have prevented them from getting a university exemption and/or from becoming employed,” explains Dr Dickson. “Many participants who have successfully completed the programme have secured bursaries to study further.”

When it comes to investing in individuals, he recommends that more industries consider making apprenticeships mandatory, like the accounting and law fields where new graduates are required to do their articles. “It ensures that companies take on apprentices and equip them with the experience required to meet the demands of the working world.”

“For businesses that choose this route, it is important to note that they needn’t shoulder the total cost alone, as government provides support via the Skills Development Levy and the provisions of the Income Tax Act,” says Dr Dickson. “But what this does require is that, if individuals are trained, they need to be placed in a position in a company thereafter.”

“One of the biggest skills gaps plaguing the country, particularly in the technical and electrical environments, is a lack of practical know-how amongst new employees,” he highlights. “In the past, this would be passed down by veteran employees, but as this practice is no longer in place due to factors like the brain drain and retirement of seasoned workers, inherent institutional knowledge is being lost. Mentorship must be provided to develop new hires into competent employees who can acquire these intricacies and, ultimately, pass them on to the next generation.”

“South Africa has the highest unemployment rate in Africa and the third highest in the world, according to a global list of 82 countries monitored by Bloomberg. Our plight is far too big for government to tackle alone. With there being 3.1 million companies in South Africa registered by the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC), imagine what could be achieved if they all invested in institutions and individuals, especially those operating in the technical space,” concludes Dr Dickson.

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