The average starting salary for graduates in South Africa

The South African Graduate Employers Association (SAGEA) has published its latest Employer Benchmarking Survey 2020, highlighting employment trends for graduates in the country.

The survey, which is based on responses from 78 of the leading graduate employers in the country, shows that accounting and professional services firms were the largest recruiters, with more than two-fifths of all vacancies in 2020.

Other major recruiters in 2020 are banking and finance organisations and consulting firms.

By job function, the most vacancies were found in auditing – Training Inside Public Practice.

The data shows that the highest starting salaries in 2020 are for actuaries, quantitative analysts, lawyers, investment analysts, and several engineering positions. All of these offered median starting salaries of at least R350,000.

The median graduate starting salary for 2020 is R220,000.

“Candidates who started their job hunting prior to university, or in their first year on campus, were most likely to secure a graduate position with their number one employer of choice,” SAGEA said.

It noted that students who waited until their final year of university before starting their job search were the least likely to have received a job offer from one of their top three employers of choice.

“Employers are looking for new and engaging ways to interact with students to create a useful dialogue and help them to understand all of the opportunities on offer.

“Recruiters have always been very active on campus – hosting events and attending careers fairs – and are looking to pivot to a more digital offering.”

The coronavirus job market

It is highly likely that some of this year’s planned graduate recruitment will be reduced or postponed, leaving final year students and graduates with uncertain prospects for their immediate future, said executive director for SAGEA, Cathy Sims.

“Their plans and expectations will, of course, be subject to significant change in the weeks and months ahead however many employers still show the desire to have graduates play a key role in their organisations.

“Competition for roles will remain high, however the best candidates are likely to have multiple job offers from which to choose, so employers have to work very hard to help ensure candidates feel connected to both the role and the organisation – this is made even more difficult than normal as employers adapt to more virtual recruitment and selection methods.”

Sims said that many of the candidates who said they have secured a position with their most preferred employer started their job search early – so they had the opportunity to develop a clear understanding of what was on offer – while those who did not join their most preferred organisation were very likely to have left their job-hunting until their final year.

“It is clear that employers remain committed to graduate recruitment, however many are now planning to reduce the number of graduate vacancies on offer over the next 18 months,” she said.

Finding the right talent

Commenting on the survey data, background screening company Managed Integrity Evaluation (MIE), said that news of private sector retrenchments – together with the fact that students have largely not been able to attend classes this academic year – may lead one to believe that graduate opportunities for the remainder of 2020 will be limited.

“However, businesses that offer graduate programmes, as part of their talent management strategy, are likely to continue with their plans for 2020-21, even if it is at a reduced scale. This highlights the need to appropriately assess graduate candidates to ensure businesses can still gain maximum impact from their respective programmes,” said Michelle Baron-Williamson, chief executive of MIE.

“Graduate recruitment programmes are important for fast-tracking employees to a more senior level or bringing in new, young talent, for businesses that take a sustainable view of talent management. And we are still seeing these opportunities arise,” she said.

She cited the SAGEA survey which shows that a third of employers surveyed confirmed that their primary purpose in recruiting graduates is to fast-track them into a leadership development programme.

The survey further qualified that the employers surveyed had on average received up to 2,000 graduate applications for this year, with a quarter of employers receiving more than 5,000 applications, each.

“Attracting the right graduates can often mean screening over 80 applications per vacancy, and selecting graduates that are a good fit from both a skill set, and a corporate culture and values, point of view – which is already a challenge for many businesses,” said Baron-Williamson.


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The average starting salary for graduates in South Africa