South Africa is facing a ‘talent tsunami’, experts warn

 ·14 Nov 2021

The local job market faces a crisis in the form of a ‘talent tsunami’ and it must be arrested now before it causes too much damage, says Emma Durkin, head of Human Capital at Altron Karabina.

While this is not a uniquely South African phenomenon, the country has been hit especially hard because of the existing brain drain, she said.

“Globally, we are in the midst of a great resignation wave. One of the biggest reasons is pandemic burnout. In a climate where hundreds of thousands were losing jobs, thousands more taking pay cuts, many people simply grit their teeth and took on even more responsibility with longer working hours in a payoff between job satisfaction and income security,” Durkin said.

Beyond this, remote working has left many employees feeling disconnected and unappreciated. Many businesses have struggled to keep the company culture and values alive in a disparate workforce.

As things slowly edge towards a sense of stability, many of these people now feel comfortable enough to start looking elsewhere because, as sectors and economies come back online, opportunities abound, the human capital expert said.

“The result is a massive wave of resignations worldwide. The cost for businesses is profound – just consider for a moment not only the resources that go into training a new employee, but couple that with the cost of losing years’ worth of institutional knowledge.”


Locally, the situation is even more challenging because of the attractiveness of overseas options, said Durkin.

“From a South African perspective, foreign offers are especially concerning and a threat to our economy because US or EU-based companies are able to offer dollar or euro-based packages that are especially alluring in a post-pandemic reality where the cost of living has increased.

“The pandemic proved that geography is no longer an obstacle, which means that by fishing in the gig economy, foreign entities can offer South Africans the opportunity to deliver on projects in Europe or the US but work from home without having to uproot their families.”

While in many instances, the standard of living or the “real remuneration” that people enjoy abroad is quite comparable to what South Africans get in this country, when you take the cost of living abroad into account, the idea of being able to earn in pounds – at roughly 20:1 – and spend in rands, is alluring, she said.

“Beyond this, the brain drain has been well-documented. Many South Africans, though they may feel a deep sense of patriotism, are actively looking to relocate abroad. Job offers such as these could open a door for potential emigration.”

The elephant in the room

The elephant in the room is money, said Durkin. “Let’s be honest – the primary reason people enter into work contracts is to earn money. Companies are also in business to make money.”

This is not to suggest that businesses and people don’t have a purpose, as many do. “It means that the remuneration for fulfilling this purpose is important – and this is where most South African organisations just cannot compete with international companies because there’s a line where HR expenses can affect a business’s ability to produce a profit.”

She added that South African IT skills are renowned and in demand all around the world and while the country is likely to continue moulding and developing young talented people, there is a very real risk that we won’t be able to plug the gaps indefinitely.

“Failure to arrest the talent tsunami could plunge many businesses into crisis, and eventually hurt the economy. There is still very powerful talent in the county, with thousands of bright young people about to enter the workforce.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one of the legacies of the pandemic is a workforce that feels appreciated, engaged, involved and well-remunerated in a country and company with real career prospects. This is how we compete with dollars,” Durkin said.

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