CHRO Community Conversation learns which scarce skills are being impacted by Covid-19

Xpatweb revealed that SA is currently competing for critical skills in healthcare, engineering and ICT.

In this week’s CHRO Community Conversation, Xpatweb shared findings from their critical skills survey, which is helping to shape the national migration debate in South Africa.

Xpatweb MD Marisa Jacobs said, “The XPatweb critical skills survey started five years ago to determine the extent of critical skills in SA and the role of foreign nationals in addressing these shortages.”

Last year, Xpatweb submitted a comprehensive response to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) request for feedback on its Occupations in High Demand (OIHD) list.

“We presented our results to a panel of interdepartmental government representatives from the departments of Trade and Industry, Labour, Higher Education and Training, and Home Affairs. There was strong debate on the skills included and not included in the 2020 OIHD list,” said Marisa.

“With the involvement of Department of Higher Education and Training and the Department of Home Affairs, the Xpatweb 2020/2021 Critical Skills Survey results will reflect the needs of employers and ensure that we continue to compete globally for the acquisition of skills,” she explained.

The survey aims to address challenges that HR leader face when recruiting critical skills and can be used as a platform to lobby for a skill to be included in the critical skills list.

Skills transfer

A key takeaway from the 2019 survey is that 82 percent of organisations see succession planning as a business priority.

Moeketsi Seboko, immigration manager at Xpatweb, said, “The survey addresses challenges that HR leaders face in recruiting critical skills. Skills transfer is an important for business and skills are being brought here to develop South Africans.”

Mark Kensley, Exxaro’s Strategic Workforce Manager supported this approach. “We definitely need to transfer skills locally. In South Africa, there is also lots of imbalance in terms of gender and race. We need to identify the required skills and develop or engineer the talent that we want,” he said.

During the Community Conversation, Marisa revealed that the top 10 most difficult occupations to recruit in South Africa are:

  • Engineers
  • ICT specialists
  • Artisans
  • C-Suite executives
  • Senior financial executives
  • Healthcare professionals
  • Media and marketing specialists
  • Foreign language speakers
  • Science professionals
  • STEM teachers

According to Dylan Price, client engagement manager at Xpatweb, occupations on the critical skills list must fulfil three criteria, namely they must be in acute shortage and aligned to South Africa’s strategic priorities; require high-level skills or advanced qualifications; and require a long lead time to develop a domestic supply pipeline.

The Covid-19 effect

After the presentation, the floor was opened to the CHRO’s in attendance. Marlize Kriel, chief people officer at Hellman Worldwide Logistics, highlighted an interesting trend of ex-pats returning to South Africa due to the negative economic effects of Covid-19.

“As a consequence of the impact of Covid-19 on employment markets across the globe, we have noticed that a number of South Africans working abroad have lost their permanent employment and had to take up contract positions in more junior roles, and in some cases are considering returning to South Africa," she said.

Xpatweb has also picked up changes in skills demand and supply due to Covid-19 as well. Marisa elaborated:

“Ex-pats have declined projects because of Covid-19, however there remains a continuous movement of South Africans abroad. In terms of skills shortages internationally, there are massive overlaps with South Africa’s critical skills list and that of the UK, particularly in healthcare, engineering and ICT can overlap those lists.”

As an example, she said that the UK is competing for nursing staff internationally and has issued visas for these roles. “We are going to see South African nurses, doctors and specialists being poached and we already have a shortage of those.”

Remote working revolution

Another interesting trend that HR leaders should keep on their radar is the evolution of the work-from -home concept.

“Remote working space destinations are also emerging on the immigration front. Mauritius has a one-year visa where people can live in Mauritius and contribute to its economy while being employed in another country,” Marisa explained.