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Standard Bank
General economic research - Economics Division

Policy Commentary: The South African Labour Market

Francis Antonie

9 March 2004

Copyright: Standard Bank
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The Department of Labour has tabled a policy document on the 'State of Skills in South Africa' at Nedlac for consideration by the social partners. The document is the work of the Skills Development Planning Unit (SDPU) which is located in the Department, and whose brief it is to research and analyse the South African labour market to determine the skills development needs for the economy. The document is divided into seven distinct sections. The focus of this Policy Commentary will be a review of the key features identified by the SDPU of the South African labour market. Further Commentaries will focus on the demand for skills in South Africa, and on the skills base in South Africa with special reference to education's role in skills development.


According to the SDPU, three important points emerge as markers in the debate around skills development in South Africa, namely

  • the economy continues to experience a shortage of skills in key economic sectors;
  • there is no quick fix solution to the skills problems that have developed over a substantial period of time;
  • the availability of skills is an increasingly important factor affecting the level of investment.
In order to address some of the challenges surrounding skills development in South Africa, government has committed itself to undertake short-term measures to address immediate shortages, and longer-term solutions to address structural imbalances in the labour market. The SDPU identifies the following as key decisions taken by government in this regard:

  • facilitating the placement of new entrants to the labour market through learnerships and internships;
  • facilitating the recruitment of skilled foreign workers in areas of critical skills shortages, while ensuring the concurrent development of South Africans in those fields;
  • providing career guidance, and counselling to school leavers to assist them to pursue further studies in fields that are relevant to the needs of the economy; and
  • fast-tracking the implementation of the Human Resource Development Strategy by all government departments.

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