1 Quarter 2016 Labour Force Survey by Stats SA; Skills development: Engineering Council of South Africa briefing

Economic Development

30 August 2016
Chairperson: Ms E Coleman (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) gave a presentation of the Quarterly Labour Survey Q2/2016 results, stating that the information was not actually garnered by Stats SA.  The report noted that unemployment decreased by 90 000 to 5.6 million which resulted in a decline in unemployment rate by 0.1 of a percentage point to 26.6. Expanded unemployment, which includes those who did not look for work but were available to work, increased by 0.1 of a percentage point to 36.4%, but that could be seasonal. Free State (32.2%) and Gauteng (29.5%) recorded the highest official unemployment rates. Youth and persons without matric remained particularly with the youth unemployment rate remaining high at 37.5%. 57.9% of all unemployed people did not have matric.
 

The Committee responded to this mainly by questioning the factors contributing to unemployment as well as the methodology employed in capturing data and information of those people who fall under the category of general service workers. The Committee further made recommendations to Stats SA to consider using race as a category for measuring progress and identifying areas of concern.

The Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) then updated the Committee on the progress of skills development in the engineering sector. He said that ECSA, despite being a recognised regulatory body, lacked the authority to effect the changes that had been identified as necessary for progression of the profession. ECSA works alongside voluntary stakeholders to take prospective engineers through a pipeline of outcomes required to receive accreditation as an engineering practitioners. Despite the implementation of these outcomes and the provision of pathways to accreditation, ECSA still faced a major obstacle to regulation, that of unregistered engineering practitioners. Currently 52% of active engineering practitioners are unregistered which makes it difficult to enforce regulations and attract compliance with regulations. The Committee questioned why the Competition Commission was hesitant to confer powers on ECSA, and it was then further explained that the main reason was that this profession was still unequal and not unified. Only once there had been strides to equality in the profession would the Competition Commission consider granting more extensive powers. Members also discussed whether the pass rates were realistic, urged that more universities offer engineering studies and that more programmes be launched to encourage more female participation in the engineering industry, as well as ECSA giving consideration to  developing engineering education programmes for school learners. ECSA was urged to try to perform to its full capacity.

The Committee adopted the programme for the remainder of the quarter without any objections.
 

Meeting report

Statistics South Africa Quarterly Labour Survey Q2:2016 Briefing
The Chairperson emphasised that interaction with the two stakeholders, Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) and the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) were imperative for determining the input required by the Portfolio Committee in realising employment and skills targets.

Mr Marius Cronje, Provincial Head for Stats SA, began the briefing by disclaiming that the collection of data and information in the presentation was in fact done and complied by the office of Stats SA. He noted that this presentation is mainly based on the results that were released in the 2016 First Quarter Labour Survey, quarter on quarter comparisons of 2016 and also year on year comparisons.

He presented the slides of the survey (see attached presentation for full details).

According to the report, employment declined by 129 000 to 15.5 million quarter to quarter with contributions from the community and social services sector, the agricultural sector and the transport sector. An increase in employment across the manufacturing and private household sectors was observed, together with total increases.

Unemployment decreased by 90 000 to 5.6 million which resulted in a decline in unemployment rate by 0.1 of a percentage point to 26.6. Expanded unemployment, which includes those who did not look for work but were available to work, increased by 0.1 of a percentage point to 36.4%. Mr Cronje said that the slight  0.1 fluctuation is a common trend which occurs over seasons, as people return to other occupations after holiday and busy periods, and is rather negligible in the greater scheme.

In terms of provincial statistics, Free State (32.2%) and Gauteng (29.5%) recorded the highest official unemployment rates.

It was identified that youth and persons without matric remained vulnerable. The youth unemployment rate remained high at 37.5% and persons without matric constituted 57.9% of unemployed persons.

Discussion
The Chairperson thanked Mr Cronje for the preparation of the survey and said it was apparent that Stats SA has taken heed of the Committee’s previous recommendations for creating a clearer picture of the unemployment situation in South Africa. She commended, in particular, the findings of the poverty contributors.

The Chairperson emphasised that Stats SA was responsible for the collection and analysis of statistical data and that the time to interact with this data and the parties involved in its compilation was now. As such, she encouraged the Committee to put forward their comments and questions.

Ms D Rantho (ANC) said her main concern about the presentation was the exclusion of those people who had what could be referred to as non-professional skills, or artisan skills such as plumbing, painting and handyman skills, amongst others. These skills are needed in certain sectors but many of these individuals were not in pursuit of permanent employment, which sees only a month end remuneration.

Mr Cronje responded by saying that independent plumbers, painters and handymen are classified under “services” in general. Moreover, it is very difficult to capture data about these categories of persons because their employment status and activity are more often than not inconsistent and fluctuating. In terms of the methodology employed to capture the data pertaining to these persons Stats SA data capturers embark on monthly visits to households over the period of a whole year. The same household gets visited twice a year and the sample is representative country wide.

Ms Rantho criticised the methodology that Stats SA was using to track those general service works. She said that the data capturers are embarking on house visits but that this is not where these persons usually gather. In reality these workers crowd street corners and contribute to the image that there is a dire unemployment crises. She suggested that Stats SA identify these gathering spaces and conduct research from there instead.

Mr Cronje admitted that the methodology for obtaining data and information required to effectively track this category of persons is not straightforward and that Stats SA would go back to the drawing board to develop better, more effective methodology. He admitted that this is an important point and that efforts would be made to identify such spaces.

Mr S Tleane (ANC) asked whether Stats SA could give a breakdown of figures in terms of racial categories in addition to the breakdown of figures in respect of provinces. Secondly, he questioned why Stats SA had not thought to use inequality as a variable for measurement.

Mr Cronje assured the Committee that the recommendation of using inequality as variable for measuring progress will be considered.

Mr M Mbatha (EFF) reiterated the sentiments of Mr Tleane, adding that in the South African context it is necessary for figures be presented in terms of racial categories. He emphasised further that the purpose of democracy was inherently to uplift the black coloured and Indian people who had been oppressed by the apartheid laws. Therefore, figures should be presented in a way that would make it clear how oppressed groups have progressed and been uplifted since the advent of democracy. 

Mr Cronje further assured the Committee that a racial breakdown would be provided for both the expanded and unexpanded definitions of ‘unemployed’ persons, in addition to the provincial breakdowns.

Dr J Cardo (DA) asked what the future forecasts would be if the unemployment figures continued on the same trend.

Mr Cronje said that in regard to forecasting, the same trends since 2008 can be expected. He added that South Africa is not currently making massive inroads in terms of improving its unemployment rate. He also added that Stats SA does not generally do forecasting but that efforts could be made to provide such information.

The Chairperson questioned the school attendance survey results for 2016. Comparatively speaking, child mortality looks the same since 2001. She also asked whether there had been progress according to the unemployment rate expanded definition.

Mr Cronje admitted that people did not link child mortality to poverty but these were the ratings that people had given, which therefore had to be included in this report.

Mr Mbatha followed up by saying that on the expanded unemployment number there is an influencing gender issue which sees more young women jobless than their male counterparts. It is also generally more difficult to for women to gain employment in rural provinces, despite being overqualified. He said that he would like to get a sense whether this has been detected separately, or whether Stats SA they been able to isolate the opportunities that gave cause for concern. He also said that there are more young people with qualifications but because of the job shortage they no longer waited to enter the employment sector specifically in the field where they had studied or specialised.

Mr Tleane further raised the issue that a large portion of the national budget goes to the correctional centres. He asked whether Stats SA had information on why those people were  in these centres and how that contributed to the unemployment rate.

Mr Cronje responded by saying that information is unavailable but that is a useful point for future consideration.

Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) briefing on Skills Development
Mr Thabo Senooane, Manager, Office of the CEO , Engineering Council of South Africa, presented a report on skills development in the engineering industry.

Mr Senooane first provided the legislative framework conferring authority on ECSA by citing section 22 of the Constitution. He then proceeded to outline that ECSA's main function as a regulating body is policy development, accreditation, quality assurance and the continuation of professional development.

ECSA works alongside voluntary stakeholders to take prospective engineers through a pipeline of outcomes required to receive accreditation as an engineer. Despite the implementation of these outcomes and the provision of pathways to accreditation, ECSA is currently faced with a major obstacle to regulation, which is that of unregistered engineering practitioners. Currently 52% of active engineering practitioners are unregistered which makes it difficult to enforce regulations and attract compliance with regulations accordingly.

The reason for the problem of unregistered engineers is that “engineering” is not a very well defined and protected term. The Engineering Profession Act (46 of 2000) does not make registration compulsory and employer bodies are not compelled to employ registered engineers. Other contributing factors to this are the delays caused by the manual registration process.

In response to this challenge, ECSA aims to make registration compulsory for all engineers that participate in the public space and to sign agreements with employer bodies , encouraging them to prefer hiring registered engineers over unregistered ones, as well as to facilitate the registration of those candidates already in their employ. Furthermore, ECSA plans to implement an electronic system of registration.

Discussion
Mr Tleane asked why the Competition Commission declined the request to make registration of engineering practitioners compulsory. He also questioned why it was necessary for a student to achieve an aggregate of 60% or more, as a prerequisite to being financially assisted.

Mr Senooane responded that the Competition Commission had looked into the regulation of professions. They deem it uncompetitive to ask for identification of qualifications for engineering work, because the profession itself is glaringly not unified. The unregistered practitioners are in a majority. Mr Senooane admitted that there is no unity in the professions and that there are still those who want to retain control of their industry. The Competition Commission has said that until there is unity, ECSA will not be given the powers necessary to make registration compulsory.

Mr Senooane emphasised that ECSA is, first and foremost, a regulator. As a regulator ESCA tries not to tamper with standards. He said that if a student passes with a 33% aggregate at school it would be irrational to expect same student to pass with 50% at tertiary level. The challenge with deciding on a fair aggregate percentage threshold is that if the aggregate is too high then there is the risk of being a gatekeeper whereas if the aggregate is brought down too low there is the potential of creating negligent engineers. 

Mr Tleane said he understood the rationale underlying the 60% prerequisite and suggested that the ECSA consider putting together an incubation programme where they should begin to train the students at secondary school so that they are given the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the basics of engineering.

Mr Senooane noted this suggestion and said that it will be considered as part of the Sakhimfondo Trust.

Mr Mbatha raised two issues. First, that universities that were not previously tasked with offering engineering faculties continue to operate without them, as such he wanted to know what ECSA could do to prompt the introduction of more engineering faculties in institutions such as the University of Zululand. He further pointed to the under-representation of female engineers.

Ms C Matsimbi (ANC) reiterated this sentiment saying that the representation of woman engineers is shocking and questioned what bodies such as ECSA were doing to attract females in the industry.

Mr Senooane responded by saying that ECSA has collaborated with Women in Engineering (WIE) whose representatives visit universities and technicians to encourage females to undertake engineering studies.

The Chairperson asked what progress had been made in combating challenges in the engineering industry. She asked what the Committee could do to assist. She felt that ECSA was not using its muscle as best as it could, and there was still far to go in addressing the plight of people.

Other Committee Business: Adoption of Programme
The Committee’s programme for the remaining term was adopted without objection.

The meeting was adjourned.
 

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