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Using Available Skilled Capacity (Oct 2010)

Posted By Chris Reay, Monday, 08 November 2010

Skills shortage is an amorphous concept that encapsulates many specific components, but at the heart of the matter is the idea that the demand for certain skills exceeds supply. Instead of elaborating on the past and all the reasons that we have a degree of skills shortages, it serves us better to contemplate how to move forward.

If we look ahead and assemble some sort of connect between the demand status and the supply, this must include that which we experience at present i.e. the day to day obvious difficulties in locating suitable skills as well as the estimated demand that would arise from future growth policy.

It should not be beyond us to intuitively identify the type of skills we will need to support an industrial or social development policy, or one that in our case should be implemented to reduce the current high levels of unemployment and its looming deterioration.

Government has via its usual unsupported spin decreed that unemployment will be halved by 2014. The problem with that statement is that is has no rational change model to convince me that it will happen. In fact unless there are some radical interventions in education and skills development, I predict that unemployment will in fact get worse, not better.

A major, if not the major, constraint on enabling some fast-track scale up of all technical skills is the lack of the redeployment of the large numbers of retired, retrenched, emigrated and disillusioned engineering resources. Via structured NSF and private sector remunerated programmes we would not only add to the line roles in deficient organizations battling with the location of the perfect candidate, but provide mentorship to the younger resources taken on in a trainee capacity. Here we talk of the proven need for experiential skills transfer.

I experience on a regular basis the rejection by clients of the recommendation to consider an Engineer, Technologist or Technician on the basis that they are "too old” at, for example, the age of 61! Not only is this ridiculous from the perspective of experience and the relevant qualifications, but it begs the question as to who makes this call? Well, Mr Perfect is not, even in the existing less active times, standing on the street corner awaiting your call. He has got a good job, and even if not busy, the smart employer is holding on to them because when the music really starts again, they will not be available. Most good resources only move to better positions. With acute shortages, this can become a sort of revolving door process that rapidly escalates pay levels

If one needs some evidence that the retired generation are well equipped to enhance skills development and in effect help to reduce unemployment, then do no more than study the success that the SAICE Projects team have achieved in providing retired Engineers including Septuagenarians and in some cases Octogenarians to the functions in local government and municipalities to mentor the Civil Technicians and provide line roles.

If we fail to implement this process across all engineering disciplines, then consider this. Time does not stand still. The demographics show a serious dip in well experienced and qualified engineering resources in the 30 to 50 age group. Then consider the numbers of candidate engineering resources emerging at the age 20 to 25. Who is going to mentor those academically qualified candidates who lack experience in the trenches? In the qualified artisan ranks, the average age is about 53. Studies estimate that some 20 % of artisans are less than 40 years old. The same profile exists across most disciplines.

So to those who live with the blinkered view that 60 plus year old Engineers are "too old”, consider that in most developed countries now the retirement age is being raised, not only to extend the use of skills, but also on the grounds that prescribed benefit pension systems have disappeared and working life has had to been extended. The paradigm has shifted.

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