Businesses in South Africa are desperate for skilled workers – and will have to sweeten their offers to get them

 ·13 Nov 2022

Businesses are on the hunt for workers in South Africa, but employers are finding themselves having to work harder to acquire crucial skills that are leaving the country.

According to expatriate services firm Xpatweb, a new survey from ManpowerGroup for the third quarter of 2022 found that there has been an increase in the levels of talent shortages across the globe – however, this is being felt prominently in South Africa.

“This means more international competition for South African employers desperate to attract critical skills from abroad,” said Marisa Jacobs, managing director at Xpatweb.

The survey indicates that South Africa exhibits the second strongest hiring intention (38%) among European, Middle Eastern and African (EMEA) countries, after Ireland (42%), said Xpatweb.

“However, 78% of local employers reported talent shortages resulting in difficulties filling positions.”

The group noted that the global labour gap also creates greater opportunities for skilled South Africans to emigrate to greener pastures, further eroding the country’s talent base.

Dalya Ketz, MD at Gcubed Boutique Recruitment, echoed this sentiment, noting that highly skilled, qualified workers are not only resigning from their jobs locally but leaving the country entirely in search of better opportunities abroad.

Ketz said this is not a new trend; however, it is particularly worrisome as employment opportunities abroad have increased dramatically, particularly for skilled workers.

“To stay competitive in today’s labour market, companies have to offer more than just a high salary, especially if they depend on specialised skills.”

Flexibility and upwards progression within a company have become hot incentives for employees to stay at a firm. Andrew Sykes and market research firm Atomik Research showed that 14% of workers would be willing to sacrifice 5,000 pounds (R100,448) of their annual salary in exchange for a flexible working schedule.

Recent research from financial services firm PwC found that in the wake of the pandemic, employees feel more empowered by their circumstances and are ready to ‘test’ the market where their salary expectations and working arrangements are no longer met by their current employers.

“The truth is, employees with specialised skills and training are in demand — and they know it,” said PwC.

As a result, South African companies on hiring sprees are becoming more employee-centric, said PwC, which is leading to a permanent shift in how they determine salaries and benefits.

The way forward

According to Xpatweb, companies that identify foreign talent must act quickly to hook them and cannot afford to be held up by bureaucratic immigration processes that delay entry into the country.

It has become more important than ever that employers actively involve themselves in the development of legislation around critical skills to prevent the build-up of unnecessary red tape.

Regulations should be fair to South Africans but also pragmatic about the availability of specialised professionals locally. New bills, like the Employment Services Amendment Bill 2022, seek to regulate the hiring of foreign nationals more closely while acknowledging the need to accommodate critical foreign skills.

This is only possible, however, when the needs of critical skills employers are well known to policymakers.

“By making their voices heard, employers can be instrumental in a more meaningful and streamlined process for importing foreign talent,” said Xpatweb.

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