Digital workers in South Africa have joined the ‘great resignation’ – here’s where they want to go

 ·13 Jan 2022

IT workers and digital talent in Africa lead the pack in their willingness to change jobs and relocate for better career opportunities, with a significant number keen to switch roles.

This is according to a new report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) which focused on digital workers – people with jobs in information technology, automation, analytics, or digitalisation.

The survey of almost 10,000 employees in digital roles found that 73% of employees working in digital fields globally are expecting to leave their current role in the next two to three years, and as many as 40% are actively job-hunting – putting them at the forefront of the emerging ‘great resignation’ trend.

“Workers in digital roles emerged from the Covid-19 crisis relatively unscathed and as companies across all industries digitise, they are more in demand than ever,” said Rudi van Blerk, principal and recruiting director at Boston Consulting Group, Johannesburg.

“Salaries for tech talent have also skyrocketed, and a good digital candidate may have as many as 20 to 25 offers. However, our research shows that money isn’t everything—employers can still be attractive to digital talent with the right workplace culture and values, and the learning and skills training they offer.”

First reported in mid-2021, the ‘great resignation’ is a phenomenon that describes the record numbers of people leaving their jobs as the Covid-19 pandemic begins to wain. The trend was initially reported in the US and Europe as the extended lockdown gave employees time to re-evaluate their careers and leave their jobs in record numbers.

Recruitment experts reported a similar trend in South Africa in the second half of 2021, with skilled workers considering new jobs, semigration and emigrating overseas as they reconsider their careers.

Appetite for learning, skills, and relocation

Digital employees in Africa differ significantly from their global counterparts in what they value, with a good work-life balance continuing to be the most valued aspect of their job for digital employees worldwide.

For digital employees in Africa, learning and skills training are the most important aspects of their job. That only ranks seventh for global digital talent, Boston Consulting noted.

Digital employees in Africa are also significantly more willing to relocate to another country for work, with 76% saying they would move compared to 55% globally. The top countries that digital workers in Africa would like to relocate to are the US, Australia, and UK.

“This willingness to relocate is in stark contrast with the trend of decreasing mobility both globally with digital talent and with South Africans in a BCG study in March last year,” said van Blerk.

The Decoding Global Talent, Onsite and Virtual study showed, for instance, that only 59% of South Africans were willing to move to another country for work, which was down from a 72% willingness level in 2018. This matches what digital talent globally revealed: the number of employees in digital fields who said they are willing to move to another country for work has declined to 55% from 67% in 2018.

However, 68% globally would be happy to work remotely for an employer without a physical presence in their country, significantly higher than the 57% of non-digital workers. The African average is even higher, with 80% willing to work for a remote employer, the report found.

The US, UK, and Australia also top the list of countries where digital talent would look for remote jobs – both for global and African digital talent. “Digital talent in Africa have shown that they are very open to working remotely for a foreign employer because it offers opportunities for workers to advance their careers even with international companies without needing to relocate,” said van Blerk.

Embracing flexibility

Although the Covid-19 crisis did not impact technology employees’ working patterns to the same extent as the general workforce, fully remote working increased significantly for employees in these roles, reaching as high as 76% worldwide by the end of 2020, compared with 41% in 2018.

Ninety-five percent of digital employees would like to retain some of that flexibility by working at least one day a week from home, although only 25% would like to work fully remotely, Boston Consulting said.

The trend is the same for digital talent in Africa, with only 24% wanting to work remotely five days a week. The majority of both African and global digital employees agreed that they want flexibility in when they work, with 47% and 46% respectively preferring a combination of fixed and flexible hours.

“The pandemic shifted the power dynamic between employers and digital workers. Employers must adapt and develop a comprehensive strategy for digital talent in order to remain attractive to this highly sought-after segment of the workforce. Once they understand workers’ current and future needs, employers can develop a digital talent strategy that directs whether they should build, buy, or borrow to enhance their digital workforce,” said van Blerk.

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