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Social Work as a scarce and critical profession

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Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

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Earle, Nicci


research report



The constraint of high-level skills within the South African labour market is considered by government to be a key obstacle to achieving its target of a six percent economic growth rate. In support of the challenges to address skills shortages, the vision of the National Skills Development strategy (NSDS: 1 April 2005 - 31 March 2010) is to develop skills for sustainable growth, development and equity. Through Objective 1 of the NSDS, the Department of Labour (DoL) commits itself and the SETAs to prioritise and communicate critical skills. In this light, the DoL commissioned the HSRC to undertake research to ascertain the nature of a range of scarce and critical skills in South Africa. Among these is the profession of social work. The aim of this research was firstly to determine from whom the calls of social workers skills shortages were coming, and in what terms this shortage was being quantified. Primary data analysis and examination of various available sources of information to either support or refute public claims and to provide a clearer quantitative picture of shortages should they exist, constituted the second step. Yet skills shortages cannot be separated from the context of their profession and educational milieu, as well as the broader skills development and labour market environments of the country. Thus, having determined in as much detail as possible the nature of social worker shortages, the qualitative context of the current skills crisis is also discussed. Finally, taking both the quantitative and qualitative information into account, this report concludes by outlining the absolute and relative nature of the shortage of social workers in South Africa, before highlighting the three key recommendations out of the range emerging from other research, which DoL's involvement is likely to be most critical for successful implementation.

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