The biggest industries for jobs in South Africa

 ·20 Jun 2024

As of the first quarter of 2024, an intricate examination of South Africa’s employment landscape reveals the weighted contributions from various industry sectors to the nation’s workforce statistics.

The community and social services industry leads employment numbers with 3.79 million individuals, followed closely by the trade sector with 3.47 million, finance with 2.91 million, and manufacturing, which employs 1.60 million people.

Dominating the job categories, “Elementary occupations” command the largest portion of the workforce, employing over 3.8 million people, with sales and services and managerial roles trailing at 2.7 million and 1.3 million workers, respectively.

These figures highlight the crucial roles these sectors and job categories play in bolstering South Africa’s economy, especially against the backdrop of a 32.9% official unemployment rate and an expanded unemployment figure standing at 41.9%.

The detailed scrutiny of these employment figures and the dominant industries is essential to understanding the dynamics of South Africa’s labour market.

South Africa’s employment

The industries employing the most people in South Africa in quarter 1 of 2024 were Community and social services (3.79 million), Trade (3.47 million), Finance (2.91 million), and Manufacturing (1.60 million).

*Note: Total includes ‘Other’ industries. Additionally, due to rounding, numbers do not necessarily add up to totals.

Over the past year, the largest increases in employment were recorded in Trade (+109,000), followed by Manufacturing (+99,000), Private households (+44,000) and Transport (+39,000).

The largest decreases in employment were recorded in Community and social services (-122,000), Construction (-106,000), Finance (-50,000) and Utilities (-17,000) industries.

According to most recently provided data, the South African government is the largest employer in the country, employing approximately 1.3 million people.

This includes employees at various levels of government, including national, provincial, and local government entities. It is important to note that this number may vary over time due to changes in government policies, budget allocations, and workforce requirements.

Looking at figures provided by StatsSA on employment by occupation, the largest occupation is those of “elementary occupations” (normally responsible for routine, often manual tasks) at over 3.8 million, followed by sales and services (~2.7 million), and managerial (~1.3 million).

OccupationQ1 2024
Sales and services2,746,000
Plant and machine operator1,568,000
Craft and related trade1,693,000
Domestic worker869,000
Skilled agriculture94,000
Note: Total includes ‘Other’ occupations. Due to rounding, numbers do not necessarily add up to totals.

South Africa’s overall employment and unemployment unpacked

According to StatsSA, South Africa has approximately 41.16 million people between the ages of 15 to 64 (working age population) in Q1 2024.

Of the 41.16 million people in the working-age population, around 16.75 million are employed. This mean that the absorption rate (proportion of the working-age population that is employed) sits at 40.7%.

The labour force (those working or actively looking for work) is expected to sit at around 24.97 million people, giving South Africa a 60.7% labour force participation rate (proportion of the working-age population that is either employed or unemployed).

The gap between the labour force participation rate and the absorption rate has widened by 5.6% over the past decade.

Source: StatsSA Quarterly Labour Force Survey Presentation, Q1 2024.

South Africa’s official unemployment rate, which includes jobless individuals actively seeking employment or planning to start a business and are available to work, is one of the highest in the world, sitting at 32.9% or approximately 8.2 million people.

The expanded unemployment rate, which extends this to include discouraged job-seekers (~ 3 million) and others not actively searching for employment for various reasons (~ 0.9 million) is 41.9%, or ~ 12.1 million people.

Like the gap between the labour force participation rate and the absorption rate, both of these unemployment figures have increased substantially over the past decade.

Source: StatsSA Quarterly Labour Force Survey Presentation, Q1 2024.

Read: Unemployment rate ticks higher in South Africa

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