Outgoing President of the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers (SAIEE), Viv Crone, has called for a rethink on Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) to combat South Africa's spiralling skills shortage.

The Institute is proposing an innovative change to the current point system in light of recent calls for the suspension of affirmative action programmes due to skills shortages.
Crone, whose presidency comes to an end this month, says the government has embarked upon a number of excellent programmes including BBBEE and employment equity.  "However, these efforts sometimes tend to act independently with no overseeing body in place focused on the full picture. This can lead to unintended consequences."      
Crone says in some instances, particular legislation ends up pulling in the opposite direction to national goals.  “
"There are a number of components of BBBEE that function very well indeed, but there are others, in particular circumstances, that do not and it is these elements that detract from achieving the country’s set objectives," Crone adds.
There have been a number of recent articles in the media that have called for a moratorium on affirmative action because of the lack of skills in certain areas.  But Crone says from an industrial standpoint, this is not the answer.
"Industry must comply with the BBBEE codes, as set out by the government," Crone says. "This is a broader perspective than simply referring to affirmative action.
"The current BBBEE scorecard allocates points according to the degree of importance of the issue, therefore, matters like ownership carry higher points than social responsibility. A large number of points are allocated to management control, showing that the emphasis is on senior people and not junior appointments. However, this fails to recognise that, in certain sectors like engineering, there are simply not enough qualified people available to meet the country’s needs.”
Crone says that stress points – caused by skills shortages in specific industrial arenas – are the issue.
"What is needed is a system that focuses on expanding specific skills where there are skills shortages – this is the essence of the problem. In February 2006, the government published ‘The National Scarce and Critical Skills List’ in the Government Gazette. This emphasised the shortage of skills in the science, technical and engineering arenas. In doing so, the government recognised the important role technology and engineering plays in the growth of an economy and a nation.
"The first step in addressing the skills issue will be to utilise this list to identify and categorise companies relying on these scarce skills as Scarce Skill Sector (SSS) Companies. This should be followed by an adjustment to the present distribution of points on the Broad-Based BEE scorecard to emphasise skills development in these companies.
"Moving some of the points presently allocated to management and employment equity areas, to skills development would achieve this," Crone says. "Thus, companies whose success hinges on particular scarce skills would be significantly incentivised to ‘grow’ more of these skills internally without threatening non-BEE skills already in place."
Crone goes on to explain that the SSS categorisation would remain until government and industry determines that skills are no longer an issue in a sector. At such time the BEE scorecard would return to its original structure for that industry.
"Consequently, we would have a system that addresses the key area of skills, enhances progress towards meeting national goals and is compliant with legislative requirements," Crone says. "Such a system would underscore the need for currently highly qualified people in our country to mentor and assist with skills development. It would also help to dispel demoralisation of spirit due to the perception that there is no future for incumbent skilled people such as engineers. The latter has fed emigration and the serious drain on SA’s technical base.”
Crone says that the SAIEE strongly endorses the government’s BBBEE approach.
"Our organisation stands fully behind the governments initiatives. However, we wish to add value to the situation by suggesting that flexibility and creativity be applied to the current system, to maximise the resources available and to address the skills shortage and motivate companies to meet the national goals."