Skills mismatch in South African local government

In South Africa, with many government-supported growth initiatives prioritising the creation of low-skill jobs and the development of high-level skills, a 2020 research study by the Local Government Sector Education and Training Authority (LGSETA) has examined the effect of the skills mismatch. This study of local government established that South Africa is faced with a prevalence of under-qualified staff and mirrors a 2019 Department of Higher Education (DHET) study of South Africa as a whole showing that almost one-third of workers are mismatched by their field of study. This mismatch can be addressed through on-the-job training, retraining, and new-skill acquisition.

There is an increase in the number of people with a tertiary qualification but a shortage of key skills in South Africa as a whole remains a problem 

South Africa has a number of legislative and policy frameworks in place to regulate and improve skills in general and at the municipal level.  There has been a definite increase in the level of education and the proportion of people in South Africa with post-school education. Between 2010 and 2017, the DHET study notes that the employed population with a tertiary education increased from just over 3 million to about 3.4 million; the proportion of those employed with higher education qualifications increased by 24.5%; and the proportion of employed people with diploma and certificate qualifications increased slightly to nearly 1.9 million in 2017. However, there is still a shortage of skills, particularly in medium-skilled and high-skilled occupations. There is a shortage in most managerial jobs, and more than 50% of professionals, technicians and clerical support workers are employed in shortage occupations.

Skills requirements for local government are ever-changing

The report also found that the skill requirements of local government are changing constantly.   Skills needed include strong political leadership, networking and decision-making skills; problem-solving skills; ability to manage partnerships of various forms; skills to share and disseminate knowledge and experience; good knowledge of legislation, constitutional and human rights issues; and sophisticated project management skills to manage alternative delivery strategies effectively.  Priority skills were identified as research and policy skills (conceptual, analytic and problem-solving skills for sector decision-makers); financial planning and management skills; strategic leadership and management skills; project and contract management skills; and ICT skills.  The impact of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) means that skills such as data analytics, digital mapping (such as GIS) and data visualisation skills are becoming increasingly necessary for planners.  LGSETA also notes that municipalities need skills to plan and manage growing infrastructure needs, asset management, as well as land and property valuations.

Spatial variations in the required and available skills for local government

There are definite spatial variations in the nature of skills required, and the kind of skills available, across the country.  It is widely acknowledged that many municipalities have high vacancies at the professional and technical level, for professions such as engineering, planning and financial management.  The 2018 national municipal capacity assessment by the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) found a significant shortage of registered professionals in many municipalities.  It outlined the need to improve current municipal skills development arrangements, provide the necessary institutional capacity (i.e. structures, systems, strategies, programmes, resources) and responsive policy framework to support all skills development initiatives.

The LGSETA study recommends that a significant investment in building the necessary capacity of municipal technical staff is required and that a comprehensive framework for local government skills development be developed which underscores lifelong learning, ethical norms, and skills and knowledge improvement. It also emphasises the need for technical staff to acquire the necessary skills to perform the functions assigned to them, as well as a culture of commitment to the cause of the public service.

The employee-household ratio varies significantly across municipalities

The research conducted by LGSETA found that there are approximately 270 000 persons employed by municipalities. The range in staff numbers varies significantly from places such as the Central Karoo with less than 1 000 full-time staff, to metropolitan areas with over 25 000 full-time staff. Standardising these figures through examining the number of households per staff member across the country, the differences become even more significant.  For example, in a Metropolitan area such as Tshwane, there are around 40 households for every staff member, but in Alfred Nzo Municipality there are over 150 households for every staff member.

Retention of skilled staff remains a problem

A review of staff leaving and those appointed by municipalities established that there is a difference in the skills distribution of those leaving and those entering each municipality.  In 2018/19 there was a deficit of at least 338 high priority managers, 84 professionals, and 249 technicians and associate professionals.  This demonstrates that the retention of skilled staff, and especially those in high demand, is not happening.  The skills-related reasons for occupational shortages include unsuitable candidate, relevant experience, equity considerations, relevant qualifications, and location.  Non-skills related reasons include unbailable or insufficient finances, poor remuneration, recruitment process, and political interference.

Engineering turnover rates rank the highest in municipalities

In examining specific professions, engineering professional turnover rates are highest followed by planning professionals.  Each year, South African municipalities are losing around 4,7% of engineering staff, 3,6% of all planning professional and associated staff, 3,5% of ICT staff and 2,2% of finance staff. This is exacerbated through the loss of experienced professionals who may be leaving municipalities due to retirement, medical boarding and the like. Clearly, what these statistics indicate is that there is both a geographical imbalance and relatively high loss of professional staff, both of which must be addressed if we are to create the environments considered to be essential for municipal governance.

Interventions aimed at solving municipal capacity problems have had a limited impact

Numerous initiatives have been undertaken to address skills challenges and build capacity in local government.  However, these have generally had limited impact on the skills deficit. Overall, while these programmes may have filled capacity shortfalls in the short term, assessments show that very little, if any, skills transfer took place for a range of reasons.


Addressing the skills gap and skills mismatch issues in South Africa, and especially those in local government, is clearly a complex and challenging issue.  There is a need for improved monitoring to track the efficacy of skills development programmes. In the context of local government in South Africa, there is a need to balance the current skills mismatch with that of the broader educational context (i.e. the mismatch between an existing incumbent’s skills and those needed to do his/her job effectively, compared to the need to ensure that the education system, career guidance and career pathing are geared to address and reduce the skills mismatch, with people coming into local government). In addition, there is a need to ensure that people are employed based on their skills and competency and not for political or other reasons.

 This article is part of a series reporting on research commissioned by the Local Government Sector Education & Training Authority (LGSETA) (Contact:  


The publication of the Bulletin is made possible with the support provided by the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the Bavarian State Chancellery.

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