Joint Initiative for Priority Skills Acquisition: progress report

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Labour

26 August 2008
Chairperson: Ms O Kasienyane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Joint Initiative for Priority Skills Acquisition (Jipsa) presented a progress report on their activities for 2007/08. This addressed various key focus areas such as engineers, technologists and technicians, artisans, town and regional planners, education management and planning and maths, science and language competence in public schools. New areas that were focused on were skills for agriculture and rural development as well as placement programmes. The presentation was concluded by mentioning the transition from Jipsa to Human Resource Development Strategy – South Africa, which was due to run from 1 April 2009.

Members raised questions on throughput, the monitoring of the tourism sector and education training authority, and specific provisions for agriculture. Members also questioned what was happening in terms of project management, what strategies were in place to draw in those who had been retrenched and those with experience but no paper work, the relevance of the learnerships to the specific communities where people wanted to live, training of the unemployed, the position with retired and foreign engineers and the reasons why Jipsa was to be taken over with the Human Resource Development Strategy. Many questions were asked around bringing expatriates in, ensuring that South Africans would return after working overseas, what special dispensations applied, whether South Africa was “poaching” graduates from other needy African countries, and what was being done to assist engineering faculties and the needs of their teaching staff. Members also commented that there were maths and science graduates who did not have teaching qualifications but whose knowledge could no doubt be used, and the need to assess the sector education and training authorities to see whether they were working properly, the fact that professional bodies should be engaged in the project and that there were a number of public servants who had taken severance packages and were thereby prevented from working again in this sector. Further questions related to the possibility of an enquiry into pass rates at the previously black universities, and the balance between food shortages and concentration on bio fuels,

The Chairperson tabled minutes of previous meetings, and the minutes for 20 to 31 July and 6 August were approved. The Minutes of 5 August were disputed by a member, and these would be finalised at a later date. It was agreed that a visit should be arranged to Labour Centres in the Western Cape.

Meeting report

Joint Initiative for Priority Skills Acquisition (Jipsa): Progress Report
Mr Alan Hirsch, Deputy Director General, Office of the Presidency, briefly gave a background description to the Joint Initiative for Priority Skills Acquisition (Jipsa), which was set up within the Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (ASGISA), under the Deputy President in March 2006, to address the skills issue. Jipsa was lead by a joint Task Team that was chaired by the Deputy President. It consisted of Ministers from Labour, Education, Science and Technology, and economists from the government sectors, and also included representatives from the trade unions, CEOs of businesses as well as representatives from various segments of education. The joint task team met four times a year to review progress and make decisions. The task team was also supported by a technical working group of senior officials, experts and projects owners chaired by Bheki Ntshalintshali (Deputy General Secretary of Cosatu). On a day to day basis Jipsa, was supported by a secretariat that was located at the National Business Institute and was funded by the Business Trust. He added that Jipsa was essentially a partnership between Labour, Government and business.

Mr Hirsch said that within the Jipsa group there were people that were knowledgeable on skills needs. They would hold discussions on key priorities relating to skills needs and find out what was affecting economic growth or what the bottlenecks were. The smallest number of the most urgent skills needed was then focused on, so as to have maximum impact on the areas where the skills were needed. An expert research team would be commissioned to do a report on what skills were needed, what the gaps were in the market, and possible solutions. The Joint Task Team would make decisions based on that report. Once a decision had been made a project leader would be elected.

Mr Hirsch provided the key areas of focus that had significant needs in terms of skills. These were engineers, artisans, urban and regional planners, technicians and technologists, managers for education and health care, maths and science competencies in schools, skills support of the sector priorities of AsgiSA and Industrial Policy Action Plans and finally cross-cutting skills in financial and project management and ICTs.

Mr Hirsch stated that the achievements and accomplishments of Jipsa so far were not as large as the challenges ahead. In July, the Joint Task Team decided to continue with most of the focus areas. The health focus was dropped because the Jipsa approach was not suitable. An additional focal area was rural and agricultural development.

He went through each key focus area in turn:

Engineers
There were not enough engineers and not enough had been invested in engineers. He said that by 2010, there would be 2500 engineers who would graduate. He added that government needed to look at the target beyond 2010. Furthermore, he stated that there was a shortage of trainers at university and Further Education and Training (FET) levels as these people were being drawn into the private sector.

High level engineers and planning
Mr Hirsch said that the key issues were around bringing back retired engineers and attracting high level engineers from abroad.  He added that one could not train high level engineers in a short period of time

Technologists and technicians
Mr Hirsch mentioned that the rate of completion of degrees and diplomas were not where it should be. The main focus was to improve on better training and better selection. The private sector was also providing experiential learning opportunities.

Artisans
There was a shortage of artisans. In one instance, welders had to be temporarily imported from abroad. South Africa needed at least 50 000 more artisans by 2010. The Department of Labour had put in place various training routes such as apprenticeships, learnerships, internships and national certificates and lastly, recognition of prior learning. Various businesses had “CEO Commitment” to artisan development and the Technical Business Partnership was training 5 400 artisans and operatives over the next three years. The question of tax incentives for artisans was being addressed, because currently learnerships, which took about one year to complete, and an artisan qualification taking three years to complete were given the same tax allowance. Jipsa was also addressing whether there should be a reward system in place for employers who employed numbers of artisans above the required amount. Mr Hirsch added that there were not enough assessors in place and that there would be an increase in the numbers of assessment centres.

Town and regional planners
Jipsa found that not all municipalities had enough skilled planners. Research had found that there were enough people who graduated but that the main reason for a shortage of planners derived from regulatory confusion, accreditation and registration issues and the career environment for planners. A working group had been convened by Jipsa to look into the matter.

Tourism
Jipsa had provided technical support to the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in developing and reviewing a Human Resource Development strategy for tourism. Also the effectiveness of the tourism and hospitality sector education and training authority (SETA) needed to be monitored.

Education management and planning
Jipsa was supporting efforts in the Department of Education to develop a strategy around the education planning system and its options.

Maths, science and language competence in public schools
Jipsa was supporting the Deputy Minister’s Maths and Science Education Quality Reference Group. Jipsa also continued to encourage businesses to support the “Adopt a school” programme.

New area of focus – Skills for agriculture and rural development
Jipsa would identify the skills needed for agriculture and rural development. Training of agricultural workers and employers would be addressed. Mr Hirsch said that in terms of research the sector for agriculture and rural development had formerly received under-investment, and that Jipsa was committed to closing the gap.

New area of focus – Placement programmes
The local placement programme was aimed at the unemployed youth. More companies and government departments should be involved in that programme. Placement abroad, since its inception, had involved ten countries. However, the opportunity was constrained by the lack of a strong system to manage placements.

Mr Hirsch said that one should not underestimate the challenges that lay ahead. Even though Jipsa had achieved substantially, there was still much to do. Progress had been made in engineering but there was still a gap. He added that there was a lot more that the private sectors could do in terms of placement, and that there were still weaknesses in the placement areas in terms of recruitment, selection, orientation, support and targeting the “able but poor”. Those issues could only be addressed through a strong and dedicated agency.

Mr Hirsch concluded the presentation by talking about the transition from Jipsa to Human Resource Development Strategy SA (HRDS-SA) and a comprehensive approach was taken. The HRDS-SA had been approved by Cabinet and was due to run from 1 April 2009. The Jipsa stakeholder structures would be incorporated into the HRDS-SA in a suitable way. The Jipsa secretariat would remain for a year after the inception of the HRDS-SA, and would provide support for the new structure.

Discussion
Ms A Dreyer (DA) asked Jipsa to provide clarity on what was meant by an “Immigration Advisory Board would assist”. She stated that there was a problem with throughput in terms of getting learners to complete their studies, and asked how Jipsa was addressing that problem.  In terms of the SETA for the tourism and hospitality industry (THETA), Ms Dreyer wanted to know whether there was sufficient monitoring or were there other actions that could take place. With regard to agriculture, Ms Dreyer wanted to know whether the concern was only around training people, or whether low skilled workers could be absorbed into that area.

Mr Hirsch said that between the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Labour there was a process of identifying skills needs that were difficult to supply in the medium term. There was also a quota list of a large number of occupations and the positions available in those occupations, and people who qualified were permitted to enter South Africa and get those jobs without going through a stringent process. He added that a systematic approach was needed to link the potential employer with the potential employees, where medium to short to term positions were unable to be filled in South Africa.  With regards to throughput at FETs, he said that R2 billion had been invested in the infrastructure to build them and to make them more attractive, both for students and teachers. In terms of monitoring the SETAs, Mr Hirsch said that intervention had been required from time to time but that those interventions should come from the Board that represented those SETAs. A study of the SETAs had been conducted and had been submitted to New Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC). He added that he was not suggesting that people could not be employed until they were sufficiently trained up or skilled, but that there was a need to find jobs for all types of people. He said that the problem with the farming sector was that it was not competitive enough and was not creating enough jobs.
 
Mr M Mzondeki (ANC) said that one area of concern was around the project managers. He also asked what strategy was in place to draw in people who had been retrenched or who had experience but not the necessary paperwork. He stated that an area that should receive focus was the relevance of the learnerships that people were undergoing to the community they come from.

Mr Hirsch said that Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) would address the problems of people with experience but no paper work. The Department of Labour would be able to provide more information regarding that issue. With regard to the link between skills needs and skills programmes, the HRDS-SA was meant to undertake a constant monitoring of the skills required and what the necessary training had to be. Each of the SETAs also had a skills plan.    

Ms Nonhlanhla Mjoli-Mncube, Economic Adviser to Deputy Presidency, said that a lot of questions had been asked and that not all could be answered. Project management was one of the skills that were identified. She said that there were South Africans who were retired but who wanted to come back into the mainstream economy. There was a database both of retired people, and those who wanted to return to South Africa. However, government and some companies were not always aware of them. Therefore, the database would be re-launched. Ms Mjoli-Mncube commented that there were many graduates with skills, but no project management skills. Part of the international placement programme was geared to placing those graduates in environments where these skills could be obtained.

Ms S Rajbally (MF) asked if there was any room for training the unemployed. She further wanted an explanation on the limited lifespan of Jipsa. Ms Rajbally also wanted to know what Jipsa had to offer retired engineers, and whether foreign engineers were being brought in to train people or to work in their respective field.

Mr Hirsch said that 2001 Cabinet had approved the integrated Human Resource Development Strategy. However, when it came to the implementation, it was found that there was not a system in place to address urgent skills needs effectively. Jipsa was therefore set up as a stop-gap until the HRDS was revitalised and re-established as more effective. Structures established under Jipsa were not meant to be permanent.

Ms Mjoli-Mncube said, in respect of international placement, that Jipsa had received offers from several countries who were willing to send out their retired and skilled engineers to offer assistance. Jipsa was also focusing on training unemployed young people. She added that unless poor people were targeted, Jipsa would not be able to meet its objectives.

The Chairperson wanted to know if the skills of immigrants had been used to an advantage, including those from informal settlements or from the informal sector.

Mr L Labuschagne (DA) wanted to know what the government was doing in assisting engineering faculties, and asked when the study of engineering teaching staff needs would be done. Furthermore, he asked whether foreign engineers would also come from African countries, as he pointed out that they were probably more sorely needed in their own countries than in South Africa.

Mr Labuschagne questioned how Jipsa would increase the amounts of assessors.

Mr Labuschagne commented, in regard to the shortage of maths and science teachers, that there were people with maths and science degrees but without the necessary teaching qualification, and that that could be an opportunity to tap into.

Mr Labuschagne noted Mr Hirsch’s comment on placements, as being “relatively successful”, but felt that this should not be accepted. He would like to see more, and wanted to know what was being done to ensure that those people returned.

Mr Labuschagne finally wanted to know whether assessments had been done to see which SETAs were working.

Mr Hirsch said that the Department of Education had overseen the use of funds for universities. He also added that Jipsa did not go to other African countries to recruit people. He admitted that there was a shortage of trainers and that more assessors needed to be trained for assessment centres. He added that he could not comment on people with degrees but who had no teaching qualifications and that it was something that needed to be taken up with the Department of Education. As for the SETAs he said that he had clarified that point already.

Ms Mjoli-Mncube added that a study conducted showed that 95% of black South Africans who had worked abroad, did come back home. She also added that there were contracts in place for people that were placed abroad and that visas provided limitations for their stay abroad. She said that the initiative had no interests in depleting skills from Africa in order to bring them into South Africa.

The Chairperson asked Jipsa to elaborate in regard to planners and regulatory confusion in rural areas between municipalities and traditional leaders.
 
Mr M Nene (ANC) said that some businesses would regard training as affecting productivity and felt that there should be a monitoring mechanism in place on compliance.

Mr W Spies (FF+) wanted to know why professional bodies that represented engineers, medical doctors, lawyers and artisans were not engaged in the project. With reference to the trade unions, he asked why minority trade unions were not being accommodated. He stated that the Freedom Front Plus had developed a website three years ago where there was a database of people’s CVs. Mr Spies wanted to know whether there was a mechanism to integrate this with Jipsa’s system. He commented that public servants who took severance packages, specifically teachers, were not then again allowed to teach in the public sector. However, with the skills crisis, there should be some way to remove those barriers of entry.

Mr Hirsch said that professional bodies were represented at the joint working level of Jipsa. From time to time, participation from unions was reviewed and Solidarity was included in some of the presidential activities. With regard to public servants who took severance packages, he agreed the issue needed to be raised to find where the blockage was and perhaps a suitable formula found to resolve it.
 
Mr O Mogale (ANC) asked, with reference to the Joint Task Team, how often they met.

Mr Hirsch said that the Joint Task Team met quarterly. 

Mr Mogale noted that a company called Match was officially given the responsibility by FIFA to run the accreditation for tourism around 2010. He said that Fifa had set high standards and therefore it would be difficult for newcomers in tourism, particularly black providers, to adhere to these, and how the report suggested that they relate to these standards.

Mr Hirsch said that the standards for tourism and 2010 had to be met as far as possible, especially by young black entrepreneurs and professionals. 

Mr Mogale asked what type of infrastructure on teaching and learning was being referred to for engineering. Mr Mogale also asked whether Jipsa could commission an enquiry into universities regarding the successful pass rate of black engineers at so called black universities, compared to the poor pass rate of black engineers attending other universities.

Ms Kasienyane asked how Jipsa balanced the fact that there was a shortage of food in the country and elsewhere with the concentration on biofuels.

Mr Hirsch said that when Jipsa was established there was hardly any awareness about the potential conflict of food production and production of agricultural products for fuel. He added that there was not a strong programme that supported biofuels. 

Mr E Mtshali (ANC) wanted to know whether people that had severance packages would get a second pension if they were reemployed.

Ms Mjoli-Mncube said that Jipsa was not the employer but the enabler, and that the package would be negotiated between the employer and the employee.

Ms Grace Mabumbulu, Group Executive: Human Resources, Office of the Presidency, said that in terms of throughput there had been significant improvements. Jipsa, together with the Department of Labour, was looking at possible blockages that prevented people from qualifying. She added that there was a National Skills Fund which was accessible through the SETAs in assisting the unemployed.
 
Other Committee business
Ms L Moss (ANC) said that with reference to the previous presentation there were serious problems with the Department of Labour of the Western Cape. She added that the visiting of labour centres was long overdue.

Ms Kasienyane agreed with her that not enough was being done.

She then proceeded to the minutes of 10 June 2008, which related to the oversight visit that had been done, and Mr Labuschagne made the point that the recommendations had been mentioned, but not inserted. It was agreed this be done.

Ms Kasienyane then tabled the Minutes of 29 July, 30 July, and 31 July 2008, all of which were approved.

In relation to the Minutes for 5 August 2008, Mr Labuschagne said that he had concerns about what was being documented in the minutes and did not agree with it. He said that the minutes did not correctly reflect what was being said and that a transcription was required.

Mr Mogale said that he had followed the public hearings closely even though he was not present at all of them, and he believed that the minutes were correct.

Mr Mzondeki said that the minutes reflected what had been discussed.

Mr Labuschagne disputed this.

Ms Kasienyane said that this set of minutes would be set aside until the matter was resolved.

The Committee adopted the minutes for 6 August 2008.

Ms Moss said that she felt frustrated by certain members and said that the DA had given in their names but had not attended the National Skills Conference.

The meeting was adjourned.

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