Pretoria - To help the country address its skills shortage challenge, Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande wants public entities and government departments to play a bigger role in helping young students and graduates to get accreditation in their chosen professions.
"In law and accounting, only private firms are accredited for the purpose of professional training and completion of internships. Why is it that government departments and public entities, despite having many such professionals [in their ranks] not accredited for the purposes of professional training? Why is it that doctors are trained in public hospitals, under proper and professional supervision, yet law students can only be trained through private law firms to be admitted as attorneys?" asked Nzimande.
He was addressing CEOs, registrars and representatives of South African professional bodies on Tuesday in Pretoria. Nzimande was highlighting his performance agreement with President Zuma, the challenges in meeting the targets, and how the professional bodies could help the country produce the required professionals for the economy.
According to research done by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants in 2008, South Africa has a shortage of 5 000 chartered accountants, and a further 17 000 accountants of various technical grades.
The country also has a challenge of shortage in finance, engineering and a shortage of 432 000 technicians, with an additional 12 000 pharmacists in need.
The country has only one civil engineer for 3 166 individuals, compared to one for 120 individuals in Norway.
Nzimande said the department has received reports from certain institutions that students are struggling to graduate due to uncompleted work integrated learning or experiential learning, especially those from University of Technologies.
"The general impression is that professional bodies are not as directly involved in practical work experience prior to graduation as is expected. It is only after graduation when students enter into internship programmes for professional registration that these bodies become involved," he said.
The minister said the department was in the process of developing a policy framework which provides direction for the types of collaboration agreements that should be exist between professional bodies, the quality council, industry and higher education institutions.
The policy, he said, should indicate that a professional body claiming the right to register and accredit a graduate from a certain institution as one of its recognised professionals, should have in place a solid agreement with a providing institution on what its own responsibilities are in helping the institution to produce an acceptable quality graduate.
Senior Executive in Professional Development Transformation and Growth at the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants, Chantyl Mulder, described the meeting with Nzimande as the start of wonderful things to come, emphasizing the importance of working together.
"I believe in consolidation and currently we are working with the universities on how to bring change, we need to work together," Mulder said.
CEO for Engineering Council of South Africa, Dr Oswald Franks, also commended the meeting, saying it will help get everyone to pursue a common goal.
"If we are going to develop skills, it's important to work together as a professional council. We will work together with the department to provide appropriate interventions. We would also like to engage in discussions with our partners ... we need to go beyond our mandate...," Franks said.