A critical skills survey conducted by Xpatweb highlights the most in-demand ‘scarce’ skills in the country, which has led to businesses seeking talent recruitment from abroad.
The survey was conducted across a wide range of multi-national and corporate firms to assess the level of difficulty organisations face when sourcing scarce skilled individuals and the role of foreign nationals in addressing these shortages.

The number of respondents has grown exponentially in recent years, with a 30% increase in responses from 178 in 2019, to 220 in 2020/21.

Xpatweb managing director Marisa Jacobs highlighted the results of the latest Xpatweb Critical Skills Survey 2020/21.

“The survey has revealed that 77% of organisations have stated that they are still struggling to recruit and obtain critical skills in South Africa for their local and cross-border operations.

“76% of participants further confirmed that an international search will assist the organisation in meeting its business objectives,” Jacobs said.

According to the latest survey, the top 10 skills businesses are struggling to recruit include:

Engineers (18%);
ICT (13%);
Foreign language speakers (10%);
Media and Marketing Specialists (9%);
Artisans (8%);
C-Suite Executives (7%);
Senior Financial Executives (6%);
Health Professions
Related Clinical Sciences (5%);
Science Professionals (4%)
Accounting (1%).
Over the past five years, the skills shortage has persisted with eight categories of skills dominating the top of the list of professionals that businesses find difficult to recruit.

“This has led to many organisations seeking suitably qualified and experienced candidates beyond South Africa’s borders to fill these posts,”  Jacobs said.

ICT professionals and engineers in highest demand

The number of businesses indicating that engineers are difficult to recruit rose from 16% to 18% which could indicate that these skills are being lost to the brain drain as countries like Australia and the United Kingdom compete directly with South Africa for qualified and experienced professionals.

Business expansions into Africa for special projects locally in the oil and gas sectors also tend to attract these in-demand skills.

Mechanical engineers (26%) were most in-demand, followed by maintenance engineers (18%), chemical engineers (13%) and industrial engineers (14%).

The demand for ICT skills remains unprecedented and climbing, as 14% of businesses, compared to 15% of respondents in the 2019 survey now indicate that they struggle to source skilled professionals in this field to drive their operational demand to transition into the digital economy.

The most sought after professionals include IT application developers (11%), data analysts (10%), data scientists (9%), software developers (9%) and software engineers (8%).

“As big data, robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and the internet of things rapidly shape the way of doing business, which often marks the difference between firms that survive and thrive in the transition from the third industrial revolution into the 4IR and those that don’t compete effectively, sourcing these skills is a priority that cuts across all sectors,” Jacobs said.

Executives and foreign-language speakers

Senior financial and C-suite executives remain in demand with the number organisations reporting that it is a struggle to find suitable candidates to fill these key business leadership positions.

Most in demand professions were chief operating officer (24%), chief financial officer (24%), chief executive officer (19%) and chief technology officer (19%).

These skills are most sought after in sectors including business and finance; production and manufacturing; management; information communication; IT and technical services, mining and administrative services.

“Factors influencing the challenges that businesses face in recruiting the right person for these roles include the fact that in a global village, organisations are increasingly seeking professionals with international experience.

“Businesses are not only seeking essential tick box qualifications and experience required for a traditional executive position, but they want professionals who are equipped with niche business experience to lead their expansion and growth across international markets,” Jacobs said.

“Businesses are aware of market dynamics in their various global markets and need to be certain that candidates understand the nuances of their specific focus areas.”

This global expansion of businesses and especially growth in cross-border trade on the African continent has also led to rising demand for foreign language skilled professionals, including the hiring of interpreters.

Some 10% of organisations indicated that they struggle to find people with adequate foreign language skills, a marked increase from just 4% in the 2019 survey.

Foreign language speakers most in-demand included, French (29%), German (18%), Mandarin (14%); Italian (10%), Spanish (10%) and Dutch (4%).

Sectors that are finding a demand for these skills are largely information technology and communication; business and finance; hospitality and tourism and education and libraries.

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