by Candice Moodley

The plan going forward

The EWSETA sector skills plan: a 2012-2013 update continued

EWSETA skills sector plan

The required management staff complement for the water sector is approximately 23 000 managers, of which at least 1 200 should be in technical management positions (i.e. engineers with management skills, or managers with technical skills). 

At the time that the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) report was written, the immediate need in 2009 was 1 400, of whom 246 were construction project managers, construction managers, engineer managers and technical project managers (21% of total required technical management skills). 

There was also a need for an additional 12 000 people with (developmental and financial) management skills in the longer term, to ensure sustainable and efficient management of the water sector. 

According to the DWA report, the water sector urgently needs 4 000 artisans / technicians to overcome the crippling challenges of poor operation and maintenance of infrastructure, which may deter the achievement of Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

The data does not exist to estimate precise figures for replacement demand in the sector at occupational level. However, extraordinarily high annual resignation rates point to a demoralised workforce, and very high retirement rates point to an ageing workforce. (More than 80% of water sector employees are above the age of 35.)  

Supply of skills in the energy and water sector – purpose of this section:

  • To describe the current skills development supply-side platform and outputs 
  • To explore the gaps between supply and demand in the sector.

In analysing the supply-side platforms, capacity and throughput rates against the demand-side requirements, the analysis drew on a variety of data sets, reports and interviews.  

Higher Education Management Information Systems (HEMIS) and the Education Management Information Systems (EMIS) data was analysed to identify throughput rates for higher education and training (HET) and further education and training (FET) colleges. General trends toward increased science, technology and professional qualifications are reported. However, the statistics are not provided at qualification level specifically, nor are the placement of graduates; hence a detailed comparison with demand-side needs could not be established. However, substantial anecdotal evidence points to three core patterns. 

First, the numbers of graduates are substantially below requirements in the sector. (For example, the HET system produces only about 1 500 engineers of all designations per year for which the energy and water sector has to compete with other sectors).

Second, there is a substantial mismatch in most cases between the skills levels of graduates and the requirements of employers. Thus, interviewees reported that graduates could often not perform calculations or use instruments they should have learnt.

Third, a high number of graduates 'disappear': engineer registration by the Engineering Council of South Africa is voluntary and very slow. During 2010 for example, only 10% of civil engineering candidates were registered as professional engineers by late in the year. 

For EWSETA-accredited programmes, education and training quality assurance data was analysed to establish learner enrolment, retention and achievement rates. These are disaggregated by qualification and by province. Thus, there was an aggregate 58% achievement rate across all EWSETA qualifications for the 2011-2012 year. The throughput rates in general are substantially below those required to address either growth demand or replacement demand.  

Priority skills interventions in the energy and water sector – purpose of this section:

  • To identify the core strategic challenges facing skills development in the sector
  • To identify the systemic and specific interventions required to retain and improve the stock of skills in the sector and the flow of skills into the sector

The overarching strategic imperatives arising from the analysis of the gap between supply and demand include the following:

  • The numbers of people who need to be trained dramatically exceeds both the resources currently available for training, as well as the supply-side capacity needed to deliver very many categories of training. Urgent attention to improving supply-side efficiency and effectiveness (the return on investment) is required; and strategies for mobilising and harnessing other resources is a priority.  
  • Both the scale of training and the kinds of skills development required point to the need for innovation. The challenges cannot be addressed through 'training as usual'. Partnerships will be required between public and private providers; along the skills pipeline (schools, FET colleges, workplace-based training and HEIs); between providers and workplaces; and between local and international providers (in areas where South Africa does not have the relevant expertise).  
  • Massification of training will need to balance the short-term imperatives for informal and non-formal interventions (targeted and task-specific on-the-job training, coaching and mentoring) with the longer term development of organisations and individuals through more formalised programmes.  
  • Innovative non-formal and informal strategies to mitigate replacement demand and take forward categories of critical skills development will require succession planning, internships and coaching/mentoring; targeted HIV/Aids education, treatment and prevention strategies; and the co-ordination of skills development efforts with other policy instruments such as strategies for improving working conditions, remuneration, job status and morale.

At least in the case of the water sector, 'whole organisation' approaches may be required to target skills development interventions to the specific organisational performance gaps in each category of organisation, as part of co-ordinated 'turnaround' strategies. This will require a true 'developmental' approach of working with organisations rather than for them.  

Building strategic human resource development capacity within workplaces themselves is thus a priority, improving their ability to better identify their own needs and plan and implement more appropriate responses. This, in turn, will require mobilising top management buy-in to the skills development priorities.

Finding, engaging, harnessing and developing un-utilised or under-utilised capacity in the sector is a priority. This may require tracing past graduates, recognition of prior learning (RPL) for semi-skilled artisans and professionals and other strategies.  

The Strategic Framework for Skills Development in the Energy and Water Sector – purpose of this section:

To develop a coherent strategic framework for EWSETA operations.

Priority skills interventions are those that will systemically address the needs, and should not be seen as a shopping list of qualifications and numbers. Priority interventions arising from the data and analysis in this SSP Update include:

  • Capacitating the state (including EWSETA)
  • Improving the return on investment in training currently through identifying and addressing existing inefficiencies 
  • Improving retirement and succession planning
  • Targeted HIV/Aids sector strategies
  • Targeted RPL interventions 
  • Building supply-side capacity through partnerships with FETs, HETs and public sector academies 
  • Bridging demand and supply through internships, work placements, career guidance and partnerships between workplaces and providers
  • Raising the base level of learning in the sector
  • Providing bursaries and funding skills programmes for priority scarce and critical skills. 

The WSP analysis, labour market analyses and literature surveys provide general indications of priority occupations, and the numbers required. These will be used as the basis for stakeholder strategy-making and EWSETA operational planning for specific interventions.


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