South Africa skills crisis – Germany, Ireland and Canada ready to eat up local talent

 ·14 Jul 2023

Germany has its sights on recruiting South African nurses to help with its own shortage, with talks revealing that the European nation has room for 520,000 trained medical professionals.

Speaking to ENCA, Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA) spokesperson Sibongiseni Delihlazo said the country can not afford these nurses to leave the country.

Major private healthcare company Life Healthcare reported that South Africa is experiencing a critical deficit of proficient nurses, which is adversely affecting the standard and availability of healthcare services nationwide.

There is currently only one nurse for every 213 individuals, with little being done by the government to urgently address this.

Delihlazo said that despite Germany having a much lower patient-to-nurse ratio of one to 58, the overseas government has felt compelled to try and make a change by poaching nurses from South Africa

Alarmingly, less than a third of South African nurses are younger than 40, and within 15 years, nearly half of all nurses will have retired.

Projections indicate a shortage of 26,000 to 62,000 professional nurses, but this number is anticipated to escalate to 100,000 by 2030.

Speaking on the specific number of nurses in South Africa, Delihlazo said it had not been defined by an authoritative body despite repeated requests to the country’s nurses council to log the shortage accurately.

In South Africa, issues have also arisen in the industry regarding the training of new nurses, whereby private companies are capped by the government in terms of the number of nurses they can train regardless of their capacity.

Industry figureheads such as Peter Wharton-Hood, the CEO of Life Healthcare, said that it is up to the government to alter education requirements and processes to allow the private sector to contribute more meaningfully.

Furthermore, nurses are forced to work in inefficient work environments plagued by public mismanagement and a lack of electricity as a result of load shedding.

Healthcare unions have for years been asking the government for increased budgets to improve the work environment of nurses; however, little has occurred.

Delihlazo said that the opposite is actually the case, with the budget allocation decreasing steadily throughout the years.

However, he said that it is hard to argue against nurses wishing to relocate abroad. He said there are many that are overworked, underpaid, unemployed or have lost their passion for nursing.

“How do we answer and ask them to please be loyal to the country when they are not working, the nurses have lost the passion for nursing, the conditions have worsened… we are in a tight position,” he said.

Land of opportunity

Germany’s hunt for skilled nurses is part of a much wider push by the country to draw in skilled foreign workers.

Deutsche Welle News (DW) reported in June that Germany is in need of as many as 400,000 foreign workers a year to make up for its own shortfalls when people retire en masse.

In mid-June, the German chancellor Olaf Scholz said that jobs in almost every sector are welcomed, from healthcare to IT, carpenters to technicians.

The country is currently revamping its immigration laws to allow for more skilled people to enter the country.

One such way a person can get in is through an ‘opportunity card’ where a foreigner, even without a job lined up, will be given a year to find employment if they have a vocational qualification or university degree.

But Germany is not alone in this – Ireland and Canada, other popular destinations for South African expats, have also ramped up their campaigns to draw skills to their shores.

Also in June, the Irish government worked with the Department of Employment and Labour to host a massive recruitment drive, looking for skilled South Africans in the construction and civil engineering sector.

Ireland has set a target of building an additional 33,000 new homes per annum for the remainder of the decade and retrofitting 500,000 homes by 2030. Its research indicates that an additional 51,698 new construction workers are required over the coming years to allow for this increase in building and retrofitting activity to be met.

The Canadian government, meanwhile, has updated its Immigration Levels Plan for 2023-2025, showing that the country is desperate to draw skilled workers from other countries to its shores.

While Canada has been welcoming over 400,000 new immigrants per year since 2020 in a bid to fill skills gaps, in November 2022, it increased this number, targeting 500,000 immigrants by 2025.

These drives for skilled labour come at a time when skilled South Africans – especially young graduates – are most mobile. Data from various sources, anecdotal and otherwise, point to increased emigration patterns among the youth – something which is becoming a very real crisis for local businesses.

Even in cases where skills are not physically leaving the country, the increased availability of remote work has given rise to “virtual emigration”, where skilled professionals are working for international companies from South Africa.

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