South Africa faces mass skills exodus – with 90% of graduates wanting to leave

 ·5 Oct 2023

Crime and corruption, lack of job opportunities, failing infrastructure, and the rising cost of living in South Africa have driven the desire of 90% of university students to seek employment opportunities abroad.

This is according to the 2022/23 Student Confidence Index conducted by the Professional Provident Society (PPS) for Professionals, which focused on the major concerns of university students about life after graduation and what that would mean for their career prospects.

The survey involved over 2,400 participants, which included undergraduates and postgraduates studying at a public or private university towards a profession-specific degree such as engineering (civil, chemical, securing and network), medicine, law, accounting, business management and psychology.

Of the participants, the survey found that 78% rated crime and corruption as the topmost worrying factors about living in South Africa, with 65% citing unemployment, 66% the failing infrastructure and 52% the cost of living/poverty and the economy.

This led to 90% of students, especially among younger black students, wanting to live and work overseas – compared with 39% recorded last year, noted the report. The majority of respondents cited a lack of local opportunities and the hope that the overseas market will allow them to gain experience in their profession.

When it comes to their job prospects and the likelihood of finding employment within three to six months after finishing their degree, 53% of students felt unsure. This is slightly lower than the 2021/22 results, which showed 55% were uncertain.

Out of those who lacked confidence, 88% believed the reason was the high rate of young people without jobs, and 57% thought they were at a disadvantage because they didn’t have good connections and, at times, couldn’t access the resources needed for job applications and interviews.

The results of this report are unsurprising as many experts have warned of South Africa’s skills crisis as the country is losing many of the skilled professionals it produces.

Institute for Security Studies founder Dr Jakkie Cilliers told Newzroom Afrika, “The situation is terrible. If we want to grow the economy, then we must attract and retain skilled people.”

“We are losing a significant number of skilled people, and yet, they make all the difference to an economy by creating jobs, investment, and transferring knowledge,” Cilliers said. South Africa is a large exporter of skills to more developed nations such as Canada, the UK, the US, and Australia.

He further noted that business in South Africa is severely impacted by this directly through the loss of skills and indirectly through decreasing foreign investment.

Cilliers explained that the country is not only losing skills but actively deterring foreign skills. “We have a situation where Home Affairs and Labour are actively working against the Presidency, or the Presidency is not working with them to solve this issue.

This has resulted in South Africa taking a punitive approach to immigration. “We literally do our best to make it as difficult as possible to enter South Africa,” Cilliers said.

He gave the example of a German company which sold its South African subsidiary as it could not get a work permit for a German executive.

“South Africans do not believe that skilled foreigners benefit the country. They believe foreigners come to threaten locals and take their jobs when the opposite is true – they bring in skills and create employment,” he said.

Despite South Africa’s skills crisis, The PPS index also noted that 67% would consider returning from abroad to contribute to the economy, with their love for South Africa and their families after working abroad being key drivers that would motivate them to return home.

This is a little more optimistic than broader research by industry experts – such as Angel Jones from HomecomingEX – which noted that recent studies showed around 35% of South African expats intend on returning to the country, while 22% are undecided.

Read: This country hosted a festival for South African expats – which now make up 10% of its population

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