The announcement from the Minister of Finance that officials must beef up on qualifications is a step in the right direction. However, qualifications alone are not going to solve the high levels of skills shortages experienced in the state departments.
In 2007, some officials were given an eight-year window in which to obtain qualifications. That window has expired in 2015 and one must ask how many officials are indeed better qualified compared to their qualification status eleven years ago.
Demanding that officials must now have a qualification after eighteen months, begs the question on what sort of qualifications the minister has in mind. The Minister’s 18-month demand could have different implications for different officials.
- There could be officials who already have a qualification and who need to upskill because his/her current qualification is not adequate for the current role.
- There could be officials who already have a qualification that is completely irrelevant to the current role. In such a case a new qualification must be achieved in 18 months
- There could be officials who have no qualification whatsoever and who need a first qualification in 18 months. For this group, a National Diploma at level 6 may be out of reach within an 18-month window. Level 6 National Diplomas take at least three years to complete, so a lower level qualification would have to be completed in the time frame envisioned by the Minister
Another question to ask is whether 18 months is adequate time for officials without qualifications and who are doing a job that requires a degree as a minimum competency?
Third, if officials still do not have qualifications after the last 8-year window has expired, is it not a signal to the State that so such officials are dead wood that have no place in any department?
Whilst qualifications are necessary, one must question some of the State’s employment policies – especially as those policies could have a negative impact on some sections of previously disadvantaged groups. There are vacancies that existed for years and that are not yet filled because of dogmatic adherence to policy views that only a specific group of previously disadvantaged persons are suitable for that vacancy. Would the State be willing to fill vacancies with competent people from other disadvantaged groups to improve the skills situation, or will a blind adherence to policies aggravate skills shortages in such a way that the status quo still prevails five years from now?
Dealing with a legacy in which appointments were made out of patronage and not merit is very difficult to change. Government stands in front to a big courage test. They would have to make a choice between relaxing draconian employment policies or perpetuating the skills shortage by demanding results that previous windows of opportunity did not achieve.