Plumbers, electricians and builders are in huge demand in South Africa – here’s how much they earn

The demand for skilled artisans such as carpenters, toolmakers, fitters, joiners or mechanics grown in South Africa, despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, says Arjun Khoosal, co-founder of Kandua an online marketplace for home services.

However, there is a scarcity of individuals trained and qualified to meet that demand, he said.

Citing data from Manpower Group’s talent shortage survey and the national list of occupations in high demand, Khoosal said that demand for these services is likely to grow because of their evergreen demand.

“This is quite a cycle-resilient market, especially for those artisan-based businesses that serve homeowners or other small businesses. There will always be something broken in need of fixing, or features that need an upgrade”.

“There has also been a definite upward trend in the home improvement sector since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Khoosal. “In the last year, for instance, demand for renovators has doubled.”

Khoosal said that Kandua has seen a 750% increase in demand for home services over the last year, with the most demand for:

  • Movers;
  • Carpenters;
  • Plumbers;
  • Renovators;
  • Rubble Removers;
  • Landscapers;
  • Handymen;
  • Panel Beaters;
  • Welders;
  • Builders.

The vast majority of the services on Kandua’s platform are provided by small businesses or independent contractors, Khoosal said.

Learning a trade is one of the easiest entry points to self-employment and can provide a stable income and decent livelihood with the right support.

“It’s important to recognise that artisan-based businesses have different development needs to other businesses, a crucial one being access to market,” he said.

Trade and vocational professions are also set to receive increased focus over the next five years, as part of a new programme by the Department of Higher Education and Training.

“There is a drive towards adopting a dual system of education and training that will systematically integrate theoretical, practical and workplace learning in almost all vocational programmes offered in a TVET college, over the next 5 to 10 years,” it said in its 2021/2022 annual performance plan..

“The genesis towards an integrated vocational learning approach was already initiated through the Centres of Specialisation, launched in 2018 on 26 college campuses in 13 trades, and is targeted to expand in the coming years.”

Salaries and opportunities

Because of the unregulated nature of trades in South Africa, salaries can vary wildly depending on a person’s qualifications, experience and the task that they will be performing.

Most trade workers also charge an outcall fee when called out to a business or residence for their services.

This is reflected in Payscale’s wage data, with the average salary of a plumber ranging anywhere from a minimum of R69,000 – R338,000 annually.

“An early-career plumber with 1-4 years of experience earns an average total compensation (includes tips, bonus, and overtime pay) of R94,333 based on 20 salaries,” the group said.

“A mid-career plumber with 5-9 years of experience earns an average total compensation of R159,000 based on 17 salaries. An experienced plumber with 10-19 years of experience earns an average total compensation of R195,500 based on 22 salaries.”

Payscale’s wage data for other key trades shows a similar trend, with workers earning substantially more based on their experience and qualifications.

  • Carpenters – R47,000 – R307,000 a year
  • Electricians – R26,000 – R414,000 a year
  • Welders –  R41,000 – R358,000 a year
  • Panel beaters – R66,000 – R350,000 a year

Data from Sable International over the last few years shows that electricians in countries like South Africa earn between R37.02 and R153 per hour.

To be on the higher end of this scale, skills such as plant maintenance, switching and routing, and automation are sure to increase pay.

When it comes to plumbers, they can expect to earn between R20 and R117 per hour. While those who work in residential settings, power plants, factories and water treatment facilities (known as master plumbers) generally earn more.

Trade jobs are also commonly found on shortage occupation lists (SOLs) in other countries, including popular emigration destinations such as Australia and the United Kingdom.

When a job occupation is on the SOL, persons in these roles will find it easier to qualify for a skilled worker visa. While not an employment certainty, a trade job can therefore be used as a foot in the door for South Africans looking to move overseas.

The UK’s SOL published at the end of 2020 features a number of skilled trade professions, including:

  • Painters and decorators;
  • Floorers and wall tilers;
  • Plasterers;
  • Construction and building trades;
  • Glaziers;
  • Carpenters;
  • Plumbers;
  • Roofers;
  • Bricklayers.

The critical skills list for Australia also highlights a similar demand for trades, with the following jobs in demand:

  • Bricklayer and stonemason;
  • Cabinetmaker;
  • Carpenter and joiner;
  • Fibrous plasterer;
  • Glazier;
  • Painting trade worker;
  • Plumber;
  • Wall and floor tiler.

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Plumbers, electricians and builders are in huge demand in South Africa – here’s how much they earn