Each LMIP Briefing is an evidence-based contribution to informing the development of a skills planning mechanism for South Africa. Briefings showcase our cutting edge research and aim to highlight key trends and potential implications from LMIP research projects.

LMIP Briefing 11

Mechatronics trade worker in the automotive sector of the country: Artisan, Technician or Professional?

Mechatronics is an emerging field of practice, which in addition to being a professional qualification, has recently been recognised as an artisanal trade. This opens up opportunities for participation in a multi-disciplinary field at the vocational level, which in turn, tests the traditional boundaries between occupational groups. Findings from a recently completed empirical case study provide data and information on occupational boundaries in a specific field (mechatronics) and sector (automotive). The research shows that in a highly automated ‘mechatronics-driven’ production environment:

- Mechatronics trades workers are not yet employed in a new formal occupational category that reflects their responsibilities in the workplace.

- The majority of respondents argue that a mechatronics trade worker should be accorded technician or even higher occupational designation

- Occupational boundaries between professionals and artisans are strongly established.

- Occupational boundaries between artisans and technicians are heavily contested.

A much higher-level artisan is needed, effectively at the level of technician in respect of theoretical knowledge and analytical capacity, but still sufficiently competent, experienced and skilled to work with their hands. Occupational structural change is thus evident in relation to intermediate skills needs in this field of practice and sector. The occupational groupings associated with particular levels and combinations of skills need to be taken into account when planning to address skills needs in specific fields of practice, and in relation to specific sectors.

Exploration of private sector firms’ use of labour larket data

Labour market studies cannot ignore employer behaviour which is vital in answering questions on skills gaps and skills needs, and the factors that drive them. This LMIP research study thus focuses on the ways in which private sector firms use labour market data for the purposes of skills planning, and provides an insight into the ways in which employers operate in the labour market.

The study found that many factors prompt the need for firm-level skills planning: global and local business cycles expose the need for skills in some sectors  or retrenchment in other sectors; BBBEE or Employment Equity legislation mandate the employment of targeted groups with specific skills, creating shortages; globalisation increases competition for skills; technological changes require up-skilling, retraining or competitive bidding for skills;  and skill  shortages, particularly in industries requiring science, technology, engineering and mathematics qualifications, require  long term planning.

Firms generally use the available data to inform strategic planning to address their unique skills needs. However, the evidence suggests that skills planning at the firm level is not as systematic and structured a process as may be expected. The labour market information that firms need is often inaccurate, inaccessible or fragmented. Employers reported, for example, that they were often unable to access information on graduates from universities. As a result, firms reshape the data they do have access to, in ways that are perceived as useful to make skills planning decisions (for example, a news article about low maths and science pass rates explains, for one firm, the subsequent shortage of food technologists). Firms rely on a combination of sources, ranging from formally produced data from agencies such as Statistics South Africa, to informal sources such as radio interviews or internet blog articles. DHET and key stakeholders could address the challenges that firms encounter in the quest for reliable and useable labour market information by facilitating access to quality data such as sector studies, labour market trends analyses and graduate lists, for more effective skills planning at firm level.