Implications of the updated critical skills list for the job market

New definitions will help inform academic institutions of professionals now in demand and enable them to adjust their programmes: Moeketsi Seboko of Xpatweb.

FIFI PETERS: Our president, Cyril Ramaphosa, may limit the types of jobs that foreigners can apply for at the upcoming State of the Nation Address, the Sona, later this week. That is according to media reports. This comes after government recently published a list of 101 critical skills that foreigners wishing to work in South Africa could apply for.

To unpack this further I’m joined by Moeketsi Seboko, who is the immigration manager at Xpatweb. Moeketsi, thanks so much for your time. It feels like government is sending mixed messages here – on the one hand citing the skills that we are short of in this country which foreigners can apply for, but on the other hand saying that foreigners are excluded from applying for certain jobs. How are you making sense of the recent announcements in addressing the skills gap?

MOEKETSI SEBOKO: Hi, Fifi, and hi to your listeners. Actually to the contrary, Fifi, we are talking about two different processes, two different programmes or interventions by the government.

The imminent announcement by the president on jobs that may be reserved for South Africans is primarily to address unemployment – especially among the unskilled workforce – and to ensure that ordinary South Africans are not left out when it comes to employment. In contrast to the critical skills list, which seeks to attract the necessary and critical skills that corporates or business have been struggling to retain, or attract in South Africa to improve the economy.

FIFI PETERS: Let’s get to the list then. What are the new skills on the list that this country is short of, either by not having sufficient skills in the country, or by not being able to keep the skills in the country and losing them to other parts of the world?

MOEKETSI SEBOKO: Wow, the list is very extensive, as you have alluded to. There are about 101 occupations on the critical skills list, and these are occupations that businesses and cooperates deem fit and necessary in order for them to compete with the rest of the world. We all know that we are moving into a technological economy, [into] mechanisation and all that, and South Africa lags behind.

So, in order for SA to compete with its counterparts internationally, we need to be on par with them; and in order for that to happen we need the skills to enable us to compete with the rest of the world.

FIFI PETERS: So we are talking about the skills that are more [in line] with a digital age, a more technical age. But what happens if you are a foreign national working in this country as a result of a skill set that was needed prior to this update? What happens to your ability to continue working here under the work visa that you received previously?

MOEKETSI SEBOKO: Okay. One thing that we need to make clear, Fifi, is that work visas are temporary visas to allow a foreign national to work or reside in the country. Their status is temporary, so there shouldn’t be any expectation that anyone who’s on a work visa should then make plans or convince themselves that they have permanent resident status in the country.

So, when the visa is issued, you should know that your status in the country is temporary, and the plan should be that. To those people who have been issued with a critical skills visa based on the previous critical skills list, the department has extended an olive branch. It said because some of the occupations or actually most of them – the majority that are on the current critical skills list – were on the previous one, the Department of Home Affairs has said those may apply for permanent residence should they wish to make their stay in South Africa permanent. They may apply for permanent residence on the basis of the new critical skills list.

However, if your occupation is not on the new critical skills list, you can look at other work visas that you may qualify for.

FIFI PETERS: How should educators be looking at this list – in terms of what the jobs market needs right now – to better prepare the current students who will be the future workforce.

MOEKETSI SEBOKO: Something that is also good for South Africans is that these skills, this list will also help to inform academic institutions on what curriculums are out there, what professionals are in demand, so that at least then they [can] change the curriculums to respond to and meet the demands of what the world is dictating. It will also help us to increase our skills, to ensure that instead of looking outside for skills, we then are instead developing the skills that SA needs.

FIFI PETERS: All right. I couldn’t agree with you more, Moeketsi. But we’ll leave it there for now. Thanks so much for joining the show, sir. Moeketsi Seboko is the immigration manager at Xpatweb.



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