South Africa has a big shortage of these critical skills right now – and they are being poached to work overseas

The new critical skills list, which was gazetted in February 2022, includes numerous occupations – including electrical, chemical and mining engineers – initially left off the draft list.

Specialised expatriation company Xpatweb says its data also shows that engineering skills are some of the most sought-after skills in South Africa. Employers are looking for highly qualified engineers with many years of experience.

Also included on the list are technologists and technicians in specific engineering fields. However, these professions will be required to register as professionals in their field with the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA), which is the statutory professional body regulating this industry.

“As with all other occupations on the new list, the qualification requirements for those in the engineering field are of paramount importance,” said Jo-Lene Da Silva-Vergottini, expatriate solutions advisor at Xpatweb.

“Those wishing to apply for any of the occupations under the Engineering section will need to have obtained formal qualifications as high as an honour’s degree, comparable to an NQF Level 8 South African qualification.”

This can be challenging as an NQF 8 honour’s degree is a uniquely South African qualification, which refers to a one-year postgraduate study, Da Silva-Vergottini said.

“Whereas most institutions globally view it as a form of merit in a class system, for example, passing your bachelor’s degree with honours. The requirements for this specific level of qualification thus cause a hindrance for those who wish to apply for a Critical Skills Work Visa.”

Skills exodus

“As we continue to see South African engineers recruited globally, including places like the Netherlands, the shortage of experienced engineers in South Africa will continue to rise, Da Silva-Vergottini said.  “Whilst the new list seeks to assist with the shortage more should be done to ensure that South Africa produces more engineers in the fields that are so sorely lacking.”

She called on the government to prioritise skills development at the grassroots level to stimulate education in these fields to avoid skills shortages of this nature in the future.

The Department of Basic Education could target students in Grade 9 who need to choose subjects that they will require to be able to further study in a particular field once matriculated. Currently, these students are not given enough information as to the vast number of occupations they can choose from as future careers, she said.

“Perhaps a suggestion is that a condensed version of the critical skills list is provided to each school and possibly each student, who will then be able to make more informed decisions regarding subject choices for their future studies.  This will ensure that more qualified South Africans enter the job market in the fields and occupations that are critically lacking.”


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South Africa has a big shortage of these critical skills right now – and they are being poached to work overseas