The impact of skills shortages on client satisfaction at Stewart Scott International in KwaZulu-Natal.
A persistent theme over the past year in public discussion has been the state of skills in the South African economy and society (DoL, 2003:1). The DoL (2005:55) further states that the issue of "scarce skills" has become a key government priority. It is now generally accepted that skills shortages in key occupational areas are hindering future economic growth (DoL, 2005:55). Within the civil engineering industry in South Africa recent studies have found that there has been a slow decline in the number of civil engineering professionals since the seventies and early eighties; all sectors in the industry have reported staff shortages, particularly of experienced midcareer professionals; staff utilisation rates are over 90% on average and in excess of 100% in many firms and there is a critical shortage of experienced civil professionals responsible for production work (Lawless, 2005 and SAACE, 2005). Some of the reasons cited for the skills shortages and skills gaps include poor quality of both secondary and tertiary education, inadequate training provided by employers, the overall unattractiveness of civil engineering due to relatively lower salaries being paid as compared to other professions and working conditions and emigration (for various reasons). The primary aim of the study was to investigate the impact skills shortages have had on client satisfaction within Stewart Scott International (SSI), a multi-disciplinary engineering consultancy firm, in KwaZulu-Natal. Thereafter, from the findings of the research, identify specific areas of dissatisfaction ( from SSI's clients' perspective) and develop short to medium term strategies to better manage the situation, it being noted that addressing the root causes of skills shortages and skills gaps requires long term interventions. The research also sought to assess from SSI's clients' whether they believed any decline in their satisfaction levels was as a result of skills shortages in the industry. The data collection instrument used in the study was a structured questionnaire. Questionnaires were sent to clients with whom SSI had been doing business with for at least five years. The study found three areas of concern in SSI's quality of service (which clients' believed were as a result of skills shortages), viz SSI's approach to work, SSI's creativity in proposed solutions and SSI's approach in dealing with problems in relationships with clients. The findings of the research are similar to the findings of the NACI ( 2003) in SA and Mills and Treagust (2003) in Australia. The study further found empirical evidence to support the hypothesis that the levels of skills and levels of client satisfaction are related. The research found that: • There has been a decline in SSI's approach to work • There has been a decline in SSI's creativity in proposed solutions • There has been a decline in the manner and time frames SSI deals with problems in relationships The following are recommended: • More efficient use of resources (short-term) • Coaching and training initiatives be reviewed and formalised (short-term) • Develop a new skills management specification (medium-term) in