On 18 February, the Department of Home Affairs gazetted an invitation for public comment on the draft Critical Skills List that was compiled in 2020.

“It is crucial that employers who depend on internationally sourced talent provide prompt feedback,” says Marisa Jacobs, Managing Director at Xpatweb, a private firm that contributed data and expertise towards the list’s compilation. “This will ensure they are not denied business-critical skills that are scarce in South Africa.”

Interested parties have until 16h00 on 31 March 2021 to submit their comments in writing. So what should organisations be aware of?

What’s missing

According to Jacobs, several skills that did not make it onto the draft list might be cause for concern.

The first is corporate general manager. Multinationals and large corporates who wish to expand into Africa or globally often need C-suite executives with international experience. Inevitably, they recruit this expertise from countries with whom they wish to do business. So its exclusion may prove to be a strategic disadvantage.

Foreign language speakers were also missing from the list. South Africa’s thriving call centre industry is just one place where workers who speak their clients’ home language are essential to local companies growing their international business relationships.

Certain artisans are not mentioned. Although it may be argued that the country has an abundance of artisans, several highly specialised trades not on the list can only be sourced from outside our borders. Yet, more commonplace technical professions, like fitter and turner, found their way into the draft.

“I’m interested to see how local business will respond to these omissions,” says Jacobs.

Survey data

Jacobs’ comment is related to her company’s own Critical Skills Survey, through which employers indicated that the competencies mentioned above are indeed in high demand.

Xpatweb has hosted its independent survey annually for the past five years and was the only private sector firm invited to contribute to the development of the national Critical Skills List. This speaks to the quality of the data collected and the research methodology the company employs.

“It was an honour to work with the Department of Higher Education and Training, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Labour in realising the ultimate goal of Xpatweb’s survey, which is to make a meaningful impact on the country’s economic growth,” says Jacobs.


Jacobs reports that the DHET has asked Xpatweb to collect a more detailed dataset from future Critical Skills Surveys. So its currently running survey asks more in-depth questions, like the specific role name, required experience and professional qualifications associated with each nominated skill.

She also suggests that because the survey has established itself as a trusted source of data and feeds into the national Critical Skills List, it benefits businesses who participate in it. “Our survey gives them early access to the list development process and ensures their needs are considered long before public comment is invited,” she says.

The 2021 Xpatweb Critical Skills Survey ends on 1 March and can be accessed through the company’s website.



Marisa Jacobs