These ‘semi-skilled’ jobs are disappearing in South Africa

Statistics South Africa’s latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) shows that almost one out of every five (19%) semi-skilled jobs that existed before Covid-19 are currently lost.

In an analysis of the data, professional services firm PwC said that semi-skilled jobs include the aggregates for sales staff, craft and related trades, clerks, plant and machine operators – as well as skilled agricultural workers.

The biggest number of jobs lost, a net loss of 600,000 between Q4 2019 and Q3 2021, is in the category for sales and services. This group includes, among others, jobs like travel attendants, restaurant service workers, shop salespersons and demonstrators.

“It is understandable how these jobs have declined over the past two years given how Covid-19 and the July 2021 unrest has impacted retail and hospitality,” PwC said.  “For example, Stats SA data shows that inflation-adjusted restaurant sales were nearly 25% below pre-pandemic levels by October 2021.”

The data shows there were 2.7 million South Africans working in the informal sector during the third quarter. Informal employment includes workers who are not entitled to, or receive, basic benefits (such as pension or medical aid contributions) from their employers and who do not have a written contract of employment. These jobs carry a greater risk of income variability than formal jobs.

There are approximately 3.52 million skilled jobs, a drop of -7.6% (3.81 million), compared to before the start of the pandemic.

An underemployment problem 

Even where people have contracted jobs, some are working less than what would be considered full-time.

In Q3 2021, there were 846,000 underemployed workers in South Africa, defined as persons who were willing and available to work additional hours but whose actual total time worked was below 35 hours per week.

PwC attributed this to uncertainty in the private sector, with employees hesitant to bring on workers for longer.

“The private sector is facing a myriad of local uncertainties that are keeping it from retaining workers or utilising them at 100% of available capacity. Companies build relationships with employees, partners, regulators, and the public on a foundation of trust, and if that foundation is shaken by job cuts, these relationships can risk losing investors and customers – and more talent.”

While organisations can rarely reduce their people risks to zero, many struggle with the speed and nature of response to risks that arise, PwC said.

“Stakeholder communication, active change management, and embedding a people-centric approach to workplace culture can help organisations gain clarity around specific aspects of their people risks, including the human resources function, policies, procedures and processes.”

Read: New case tackles mandatory vaccinations at work in South Africa

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These ‘semi-skilled’ jobs are disappearing in South Africa