Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Managing Talent in the South African Public Service

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Managing Talent in the South African Public Service

Article excerpt

South Africa is in the midst of a skills crisis, with the former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka acknowledging that "nothing short of a skills revolution by a nation united will extricate us from the crisis we face." (1) The skills crisis is particularly disconcerting given the mammoth challenges of dealing with the legacies of unemployment, poverty and inequality left by apartheid. The role of the Public Service in addressing these challenges is brought into sharp focus under the auspices of a developmental state (a term defined below), given the Department of Public Service and Administration's (DPSA) twin responsibilities of improving service delivery and making and implementing employment policy.

The shortage of skills has been identified as a major hindrance to economic growth and creating jobs as means for alleviating the poverty of millions of South Africans. A recent review by the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation noted that the emergence and persistence of extreme levels of unemployment, particularly for less-skilled and younger blacks in south Africa is one of the most disappointing aspects of the country's postapartheid economic performance. (2) The South African government has recognized the skills shortage as a binding constraint on economic growth. In its economic policy, the government states that the most difficult aspects of the legacy of apartheid to undo arise from the policy's deliberately segregated and unequal system of education and its irrational patterns of population settlement. Even though South Africa's gross domestic product is growing, it is evident that the country lacks sufficient numbers of smiled professionals, managers, and artisans and that the uneven quality of education for previously disadvantaged individuals remains. (3) There is a misalignment between the needs of a growing economy and the ability of the education and training system to provide the necessary quantity and quality of skilled workers. (4)

These unsympathetic labour market conditions of high unemployment and skills shortages provide the context for attracting skills to the South African Public Service and retaining them. This article provides an assessment of the capacity and skills requirements of the South African Public Service from the perspective of a developmental state, highlights some of the constraints on existing human resource management (HRM) practices, and emphasizes the importance of talent management as a complementary approach for practically finding workable solutions to managing the skills shortages in the Public Service. The article also presents an analysis of the current trends based on the authors' interactions and involvement in a number of HRM projects in the public sector. Due to relatively recent emergence of talent management, there are too few empirical HRM studies to draw conclusions and to identify areas for further research.

The Developmental State and the Transformation of the South African Public Service

The South African government has set a target of halving poverty and unemployment by the year 2014. (5) This is an ambitious goal given the country's legacies of economic stagnation and racially based poverty, inequality, and social exclusion. Until the mid-1990s, apartheid policies sought to exclude the black majority in South Africa from participating equally in all areas of society while perpetuating a strict racial hierarchy, with the greatest allocation of resources going to people of European descent and Africans receiving the least. (6)

Since 1994, when a democratically elected government came into power, a range of policies have been introduced to transform South African society by reorganizing politics, the economy, and society through democratic and highly participatory modes of governance. The Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) was adopted in 1994 as the basis for bringing about this transformation through government-funded infrastructure development. …

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