Review of 'The list of occupations in high demand: 2014’ (Siphelo Ngcwangu and David Balwanz)
In November 2014, the Department for Higher Education and Training (DHET) published a Government Gazette titled ‘The list of occupations in high demand: 2014’. This publication argues that the ‘provision of education and training…be better coordinated with the needs of society and the economy’. To address this concern, the publication ‘provides a list of occupations…in high demand’ with the intention of informing ‘decision-making in …skills planning and development,’ (DHET 2014:4). The researchers agree that the DHET should play a leading role in positioning education and skills development to better meet the needs of society. It is in this spirit that they critique this recent publication.
The document references a number of other government policies such as the National Development Plan (NDP) and the White Paper for Post School Education and Training (PSET) however it does not clarify how it responds to these policies specifically. This results in a number of contradictions, for example, while most South Africans view the NDP as national policy and therefore a priority, the document allocates less points to it than for instance the Joint Initiative on Priority Skills Acquisition (JIPSA) proposals (see point scoring system page 14). Such contradictions leave the reader with more questions than answers with regards to how policy priority is translated into the list and to which priorities is the list responding. In the same vein it is also not clear how government departments would actually implement the list to align to their respective programmes which are not designated special status but are of national importance. These are issues that the list itself may not address entirely as they are more about intergovernmental relations rather than skills identification.
The researchers’ first critique relates to the use of the Organising Framework of Occupations (OFO). Since the OFO includes only formal sector occupations, they argue that it offers an overly narrow conceptualisation and valuing of education and skills. Using the OFO to frame DHET thinking on education and skills development has three deficiencies: (i) as concepts for thinking about the relationship between education, economy, and society, ‘knowledge’ and ‘skill’ are more flexible, transferrable and timeless than ‘occupation’ or ‘job’, (ii) the OFO framework excludes over half of the adult population (those who are unemployed, in the informal sector, or using skills and knowledge informally in the community) in its conceptualisation of education and skills development, and (iii) the OFO framework undervalues liberal arts education and higher education knowledge production, research activities and transdisciplinarity initiatives (each of which are associated with the growth of high-skill jobs). The researchers argue that an education and training system designed around responding to this OFO list will be constrained by its inability to account for other economic activities which citizens engage in but are not necessarily in the formal sector of the economy.
The second critique is that the list is explicitly biased towards science, engineering and business occupations (DHET 2014:14). This bias reflects a belief that technocratic solutions (e.g., more engineers and accountants) will solve the problems of society (e.g., the persistence of poor roads and poor audits) and prioritises technocratic skills over the role of education in promoting social values (e.g. integrity, solidarity) and contributing to other forms of community wellness and development. For example, violence against women and drug and alcohol abuse are prominent social problems: but according to this list, the ‘market demand’ for spiritual advisors, substance abuse counsellors, and experts in supporting victims of sexual assault is low. Other government departments (such as the social cluster) would find this exclusion of priority areas for social cohesion and development to be problematic given growing demand for social support services as social problems widen due to a range of economic and social factors. Other omissions include the cultural sectors such as the film industry which has a high economic growth potential through the expansion of the film industry. Importantly, this list exemplifies two serious deficiencies of the developmental state paradigm: it offers neither a moral compass nor a transformative social vision for a safe, humane and meaningful future for which so many South Africans continue to desperately yearn.
Providing more clarity on the sources of the list and why other skills areas are excluded may be of use to the general reader and provide research experts with more insight on what informed the original conceptualisation of the priority areas of the list.The list of occupations in high demand is available at www.dhet.gov.za
Siphelo Ngcwangu is a research associate at Wits University Centre for Researching Education and Labour (REAL). He is the project manager for the LMIP theme 2 project and researcher on barrier to employment and skills development for youth in South Africa.
David Balwanz, Centre for Education Rights and Transformation, University of Johannesburg.