What young South Africans look for in a job

South Africa’s young people prefer to work for organisations that have business leaders who are open and honest in their communication with employees. In the eyes of younger generations, transparency has become an important factor that needs to be ensured by employers, in particular on matters relating to the business and leadership.

These are some of the findings of PwC’s Workforce Preference Study issued on Thursday (11 March). The report provides an overview of what young people are looking for from (future) employers in South Africa.

PwC assessed the expectations of students and career starters of all educational levels (age 18–28) as well as current employees.

“The way we work is changing with automation and ‘thinking machines’’ replacing some human tasks and changing the skills organisations need,” said Maura Jarvis, associate director in PwC’s People and Organisation division.

“Increasingly, organisations must have talent that can ‘flexskill’ — the ability to adjust rapidly to new and varied skills and roles. Employees need to constantly learn and adapt. They find themselves in a new era of work, workplace and life.

“In order to keep up and stay relevant, organisations will need to reimagine their current attraction and retention strategies. Rather than building on common beliefs and traditional recruitment practices, organisations can benefit from getting to know the preferences of their (future) employees.

“Once they find out what the future and current workforce prefers, organisations can make data-based decisions and stay fit for the future.”

The survey includes 12 focus areas which can affect the decisions of jobseekers when making their final selections among potential employers.

These focus areas include work and life balance; career; personal and professional development; company reputation; company culture; everyday work; internationality; pay and bonuses; other benefits; people at work; physical work environment; and transparent business operation.

Survey highlights

  • Flexible work schedule and work time: Having a flexible work schedule and ways of working is a highly desired factor across all countries surveyed, including South Africa. The Covid-19 pandemic increased the need for employers to offer flexibility as remote working came to the forefront. It is notable that contracting and gig employment as a preference is also growing in popularity.
  • Base pay: There is still a clear preference for pay and benefits such as pension and healthcare benefits. Greater transparency about pay levels and fair pay is key for employees.
  • Digital upskilling: Across South Africa there is a preference for interesting and challenging work, with digital skills development. Sharing and innovation are also a preferred working style.

“The automation of jobs and digital transformation means that there will be a demand for new high-skilled labour that currently does not exist. Organisations have a social responsibility to upskill their workforce and potential workforce. This is also a requirement from employees,” Jarvis said.

Top 10 work preferences in SA

The top 10 work preferences among young South African workers were:

  • Flexible work schedule and work time (7.2);
  • Base pay (6.8);
  • Work that is interesting and challenging (6.5);
  • Bonus (6.4);
  • Performance based promotion with credible communication (6.2);
  • Open and honest leadership communication (6.1);
  • Work from home (6.1);
  • Pension benefits (6.1);
  • Business/technical skills training (6.1); and
  • Teamwork and cooperation (6.0).

Borderless workforce

Advances in technology and innovation, easy access to vast sources of information and virtual interactive platforms are connecting people across borders.

Young generations were born into this digital world and are borderless in how they interact, what challenges they face and what expectations they have.

International mobility

Participation in training/events internationally, opportunities to work with people from different countries and career opportunities within the company outside of their home country scored relatively low for all age groups as flexible work practices allow for international exposure without having to leave home, PwC said.

The survey indicates that 45% of respondents intend staying and working in their home country, while 11% have plans to work outside of their respective territory. Of those 11% who wish to work abroad, majority of them are people under the age of 30 years.

Other key survey findings:

  • Those pursuing vocational education have a clear preference for work that has a societal impact and sharing ideas to encourage innovation as well as further academic education.
  • High school learners showed a high preference for gaining experience by spending time working abroad.
  • Female respondents have a higher preference for pension and health benefits as well as overtime pay.
  • Males participants showed a stronger preference for business/technical skills training and digital skills development.
  • While males prefer a work environment that has up-to-date technology, females also favour a work environment that promotes wellbeing.

“Disruptive technologies and globalisation both offer vast information and opportunities to young talent. It is therefore advantageous for organisations to build on reliable data when building up their external and internal employer brand,” Jarvis said.

“The findings of our study highlight the need for more data-driven and customised employee value propositions. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to employee value propositions is not going to attract and retain top talent.”


Read: How much it costs South Africans to get to work

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What young South Africans look for in a job