South Africa’s failing workforce

 ·2 Oct 2013
South Africa flag

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has released its Human Capital report, which shows that South Africa ranks poorly when it comes to the skill and capacity of its workforce.

The Human Capital Index ranks countries according to their “human capital endowment”  – the skills and capacities that reside in people and are put to productive use.

Of the 122 countries analysed by the WEF, South Africa ranked 86th, overall – the poorest performance of all Brics nations.

In order to compile the rankings, the WEF measures countries according to 4 main pillars, namely:

  • Health and wellness – indicators relating to the population’s physical and mental well-being;
  • Education – indicators relating to education across primary, secondary and tertiary education levels in both the present and future workforce;
  • Workforce and employment – quantiffying the experience, talent, knowledge and training of the working population;
  • Enabling environment – legal framework and infrastructure.

According to the index, the top 10 countries in the world for human capital are dominated by Europe – with Switzerland taking the top spot.

Finland (2nd), Netherlands (4th), Sweden (5th), Norway (7th) and Denmark (9th) round off Europe’s domination.

Singapore (3rd) is the only Asian country in the top 10, in large part to it strong education levels, as well as strong scores across all pillars.

Human Capital Index Top 10

# Country Score
1 Switzerland 1.455
2 Finland 1.406
3 Singapore 1.232
4 Netherlands 1.161
5 Sweden 1.111
6 Germany 1.109
7 Norway 1.104
8 United Kingdom 1.042
9 Denmark 1.024
10 Canada 0.987

Regionally, North America shows the source of the strongest human capital, while sub-Saharan Africa shows as the region with the poorest form.

WEF Human Capital Report - Regional

WEF Human Capital Report – Regional

Across the sub-Saharan countries, South Africa ranks 4th of the 21 countries listed; but that said, the region has the lowest scores for each pillar, except for the Workforce and Employment pillar where it ranks fifth, ahead of the Middle East and North Africa.

Mauritius (47th, overall) is the highest–ranking county in the region and the only country from the region in the overall top 50.

South Africa (86th overall) ranks 42nd on the Enabling Environment pillar, its highest pillar score by a significant margin, the WEF said. The country ranks 92nd to 105th on the other pillars.

“In particular, its Collaboration and Legal framework sub–pillars have strong results, but the Infrastructure scores are pulled down by a 104th place rank for the Domestic transport indicator,” the WEF said.

“South Africa’s very poor scores for unemployment, youth unemployment and labour force participation drive down the rankings for the Workforce and Employment pillar.”

Despite good scores for staff training, South Africa has one of the lowest scores on the ease of finding skilled employees and pay relating to productivity indicators, the report said.

WEF Human Capital Report - Sub-Saharan Africa

WEF Human Capital Report – Sub-Saharan Africa


South Africa’s poor performance in human capital extends further when looking at the Brics nations.

According to the WEF’s index, South Africa is ranked far below India (78th), Brazil (57th), Russia (51st) and Brics leader, China at 43rd.

Despite falling to the bottom of the list – South Africa ranks top out of the Brics nations for its enabling environment. However, it ranks far below the other countries in every other pillar.

WEF Human Capital Report - BRICS

WEF Human Capital Report – BRICS (Click to enlarge)

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