Unemployment continues its upward trajectory
Increasing pressure on finding critical skills

The latest unemployment statistics released by Statistics SA for the second quarter of this year paints a very dark picture of the state of South Africa’s labour market.

According to the statistics there has been an increase of 1.4 percentage points in unemployment from the first quarter of this year. This means that almost 7 million people are unemployed and just over 16 million people have a job.

A recent critical skills survey by Xpatweb shows several sectors in the economy are experiencing critical skill shortages. The sectors experiencing the most pressure include information and technology, engineering, finance and health.

The Critical Skills list is currently under review by the Department of Home Affairs and a new list is expected to be released before the end of 2019 for public comment.

However, the Xpatweb survey shows that the country is currently in desperate need of the following skills:

  • ICT Specialist
  • Engineers
  • Artisans
  • Senior Financial Executives
  • Health Sector
  • Executive Managers
  • Specialists & Academics
  • Mining Executives
  • Risk Managers
  • Foreign Language Speakers

IT specialists and engineers remain top of the list of skills that are most difficult to find. Occupations in high demand in terms of the health sector, artisans, finance and ICT specialist have all increased this year.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), South Africa has an average of one doctor and one nurse per 1,000 patients. Hospitals are crowded, but understaffed, as shortages of skilled professionals in this sector continues to be an issue.

IT Specialists are becoming a highly sought-after resource in the wake of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). In a report published by the World Economic Forum over one-third of skills (35%) that are considered important in today’s workforce will have changed over the next five years.

By 2020, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will have brought us advanced robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced materials, biotechnology and genomics.

Government revealed in 2017 that South Africa has a shortfall of about 40,000 qualified artisans. This forced it to import skilled artisans from various countries to complete time sensitive projects.

The Xpatweb survey results show that this still remains an issue, with 14.15% of the respondents indicating that it is difficult to find skilled artisans. This represents an increase of 45% from last year.

There is little doubt that skills are essential to economic growth, job creation and the future prosperity of South Africa.

It is a growing challenge worldwide, affecting industries from ICT to manufacturing to finance, with jobseekers lacking the required skills, and those with the desired capabilities and experience, in high demand.

Employers have to compete locally and internationally for skilled talent which increasingly places pressure on organisations.

The Xpatweb survey also showed that 62% of participants blamed the visa process as the greatest prohibitor to recruiting internationally.

However, several visa-related reforms are on the cards, which is in line with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Economic Stimulus and Recovery Plan. This includes a review of the critical skills list expected to be published later this year.

Xpatweb is once again conducting its survey and the 2019 results will be submitted to the Department of Home Affairs and Parliament in line with the White Paper on International Migration and Department of Higher Education and Training National List of Occupations in High Demand and specifically to address any occupations not catered for on the new draft list.

The survey offers an opportunity for mobility and human resource practitioners to help shape law. (See link below to participate in this year’s survey).

In order to tackle the skills shortage in SA, it is important that policies such as the Skills Development Plan and the Skills Development Act support job creation and economic growth. It is equally vital that organisations contribute to building local skills, through increased training and development and putting in place succession planning at executive level.

For the youth, it cannot be stressed enough that when choosing a career, it is important to do the necessary research in terms of occupations in high demand and to use the information when making decisions about which path to pursue.


Lerato Mahupela
Immigration Specialist


Unemployment continues its upward trajectory - Increasing pressure on finding critical skills


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