Doctors, engineers and other top professionals join the rush to leave South Africa

The number of skilled professionals committed to a career in South Africa is declining according to the 2019 PPS Graduate Professional Index (GPI) published on Wednesday (April 22).

PPS, a mutual financial services company that focuses exclusively on graduate professionals, conducted an independent survey of 5,837 members at the beginning of 2019 to gauge their perceptions on a number of issues affecting their professions, both now and in the near future.

Graduate professionals working across the accounting, dental, engineering, legal, medical, pharmaceutical and other sectors were polled, and the findings of the survey shed light on the state of South African professionals.

While the majority of respondents (68%) felt confident about the future of their profession over the next five years – with accountants (86%) leading the pack – due to financial viability (35%) and regulations (23%) in their professions, many were concerned about political issues (43%) and economic conditions (27%).

“According to our survey’s results, South Africa’s skilled professionals – doctors, accountants, lawyers, engineers, corporate employees, and successful entrepreneurs – are giving more consideration towards emigrating due to their being qualified to do so and having the financial means,” said Motshabi Nomvete, head of technical marketing at PPS.

“This holds many implications of a professional migration trend on a developing nation.”

The majority of respondents (71%) would encourage matriculants to enter their respective professions, particularly accountants (89%), engineers (80%), ‘other’ professionals (79%), pharmacists (59%) and medical professionals (56%). The main reasons are that the skills are needed in SA (51%), and that the profession is personally rewarding (35%).

When asked about the state of youth employment, 36% of respondents thought this was a government problem which they must solve, and 30% believed that their professional associations were also looking for solutions.

Main findings for each of the professions:

  • Lawyers – 84% of respondents were concerned about how state governance could impact the future of the legal profession over the next 12 months;
  • Doctors – 73% of respondents felt that a large number of medical professionals are depressed and suffering burnout, due to long hours (38%) and poor working conditions (23%). 72% did not think that the National Health Insurance (NHI) will improve the sustainability of the profession;
  • Engineers – 78% of respondents thought there had been a decline in engineering project opportunities. And 76% were of the opinion that the government’s strategic integrated projects programme not being realised had affected them a great deal;
  • Dentists – 54% of respondents were of the opinion that the NHI will increase access to dental services, and 58% thought they could be under threat from big corporates offering dentistry. 55% thought there was a skills shortage facing the industry;
  • Pharmacists – 66% of respondents thought that access to pharmaceutical services had improved over the past 20 years, but 62% thought there was a skills shortage facing the industry. 86% did not think the NHI adequately addresses pharmacists;
  • Accountants – 35% of respondents were of the opinion that the current reputational issues are negatively impacting their profession. 59% did not believe that graduates are adequately equipped for the job and require further training, and 69% believed that there are adequate training opportunities for accountant graduates.

“Skilled professionals play a critical role in the working environment and in shaping SA’s future.

“They are usually the highest earners, and therefore the most significant contributors to the country’s tax revenue. As the pool of top talent contracts, so too does the revenue obtained by SARS. The long-term effects of this ongoing erosion of the country’s human resources and endowments should be of considerable concern to every citizen who wants to build a sustainable future,” said Nomvete.

However, she said that a window of opportunity exists right now for South Africa to turn things around before it’s too late.

“If government and business can work together to create a mutually beneficial and viable platform for opportunity and success, then we will increasingly see more skilled professionals wanting, and choosing to stay. And once we reach a tipping point, not only will we stop the brain drain, it could actually start reversing,” Nomvete said.

Read: The biggest reason why skilled professionals are leaving South Africa – and why some are coming back

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Doctors, engineers and other top professionals join the rush to leave South Africa