South Africa is losing these critical skills to emigration

 ·3 Jul 2023

Several major South African companies are on the hunt for professionals with tech skills; however, not only are they in short supply but they are also being lost to emigration.

According to the recruitment platform Pnet, South African companies are searching for science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and IT skills.

Several companies, including those in the banking, retail and automobile sectors, echoed similar sentiments to that of Pnet.

Nedbank, FNB, TymeBank, Discovery Bank and African Bank all said that they are currently looking to recruit those with STEM and IT skills.

Moreover, major grocery retailers, Shoprite and Spar, are looking for IT and STEM professionals.

Discovery Vitality also said that it is searching for cognitive, technological and self-efficacy skills, including Analytical, AI/Big Data, creative thinking, design and user experience skills.

The search for these skills has also expanded into the automobile space.

“Vehicle Electronics, Product Technologies and Automation are key skills that will drive our future. In addition, we are building competencies around Smart Data & Data Literacy, Agile Leadership, namely around Agile Project Management and Cyber Security,” Volkswagen told BusinessTech.

Education and migration

However, despite the big push for these skills across the workforce, many companies said South Africa cannot produce these skills to meet demand.

Many cited the inefficient education system in South Africa for the failure to create these skills.

“Public institutions of higher learning (which are the most affordable option for the majority of school leavers) are not currently able to provide the level of IT skills we require,” Dr Thuli Tabudi, National Human Resources Executive at the SPAR Group, said.

“Private IT institutions are extremely costly and not accessible to many learners/employees, hence there is very little opportunity for previously disadvantaged individuals to access the field.”

Despite many companies also saying that they prefer to hire South African workers, some said that they have to hire internationally.

Donald Khumalo, FNB Human Capital Executive, said the company is a major supporter of offering jobs to South African or African professionals working in foreign markets.

If a skill is in short supply in South Africa, Discovery Bank said it will offer short-term contracts to international experts to help transfer these skills to its local team.

Despite TymeBank breaking the trend and saying that education in South Africa is creating STEM and IT skills, Ayn Brown, the company’s Chief People Officer, said it still depends on international skills as its tech and engineering hub is based in Vietnam.

Additionally, Pnet said it can be extremely difficult to attract foreign talent to South Africa.

“It (immigration to South Africa) is expensive and, despite a promise of lifestyle advantages, there are the concerns of local safety, security, the lack of power and the negative press of State failure. Our labour laws play a big part in not tapping into an overseas market too as, despite the availability of scare skills visas, there are still the Equity imbalances that must be corrected for B-BBEE scoring,” Pnet said.

Moreover, not only are STEM and IT skills in short supply, but South Africans who have these skills are also getting poached by international firms, with the skillset in short supply globally.

TymeBank’s Brown said that emigration and the higher salaries offered by bigger corporates make it challenging for the company to retain these skills and attract new talent.

Discovery Vitality also said it was losing professionals to emigration due to the global demand for the skill set.

Possible solutions

However, many organisations said they are actively working with tertiary education to help introduce these skills.

“Certain skills are scarce and in short supply globally, and it remains a challenge for tertiary institutions across the globe to keep up with the explosion in demand for STEM skills. We continue to leverage close partnerships with South African universities to play our part in closing these supply-demand gaps and readying graduates for integration into the workplace,” Deb Fuller, Nedbank’s Group Executive: Human Resources, said.

Companies are also creating their own methods to help mitigate the problem.

Earlier this year, Shoprite launched its graduate Tech Academy which provides apprentices in domains including Software Engineering, Software Testing, and Cyber Security.

FNB’s Khumalo also said that the company provides a host of funding options, with 250 graduates currently getting necessary work experience in their environment.

Discovery Vitality added that students must be aware of what skills are sought after before starting their tertiary education.

“The Universities have done well with actuaries, data scientists, developers etc.; however, the demand in the market means we can’t keep up. Learners should be more aware of the changing nature of jobs in the market as opposed to the jobs of ‘yesteryear’ tailored around the old curriculums,” Discovery Vitality said.

Read: These are the 11 best universities in South Africa

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