Johannesburg, 17 May 2023: Digital skills are separating the haves and the have-nots in South Africa and its time equal access to this critical competence of education is emphasised in urgent economic intervention plans, a leading skills development and placement agency has warned.
The slight drop in South Africa’s employment rate as revealed by Statistics South Africa’s (StatsSA’s) Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) this week can only be a testament to significance of digital skills development and adjusting to the changing working environment in the post Covid-19 pandemic era.
Millions of skilled and unskilled South Africans, including breadwinners and the youth have re-entered the labour market over the last three years with only those with in-demand skills managing to return to employment.
According to the survey, 32,9% of the country’s working age citizens are unemployed as opposed to 32,7% in the previous quarter in 2022. Of the 170 000 people who became employed over this period, 157 000 of them were employed in the finance sector, which also happens to be the largest seeker of digitally skilled workers in recent labour market surveys.
The number of unemployed persons declined by 179 000 to 7,9 million during the same quarter. Additionally, the number of people who were not economically active for reasons other than discouragement decreased by 209 000 to 13,2 million. The discouraged work-seekers decreased by 87 000 in the first quarter of 2023 compared to the fourth quarter of 2022 resulting in a net decrease of 296 000 in the not economically active population.
In light of these developments, Afrika Tikkun Services (ATS), the division of Afrika Tikkun specialising in recruitment, training, placement and corporate transformation calls for business and government to invest in job-creating industries by providing the skills needed by workers to enter and sustain their place in the labour force and the resources needed by small businesses to employ and up-skill them.
The latest unemployment data also reveals that the era of low-skilled jobs making up the bulk of South Africa’s labour force is in its last legs. Industries which have shed the most jobs in the economic aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic have been those traditionally known to provide employment to South Africa’s lowest skilled, and therefore most vulnerable people in the country.
The government desperately needs to save its unstable tax base. In the face of wide-scale job losses, businesses need to revamp their approach to work post the pandemic in order to compete on a global scale and communities are languishing in unemployment and poverty. A massive and deliberate effort to align youth skills development with the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is the ultimate solution to all three of these mammoth challenges,” says Onyi Nwaneri, CEO of ATS.
The government has recommitted to investing in programs that incentivise businesses to take on this task according to President Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the National Address (SONA) earlier this year. Like Ramaphosa iterated in a previous address, the government does not create jobs, businesses do. It is through partnerships between the government, industries and the NGO sector that the full potential of South Africa’s labour market can be used to stimulate the economy.
Last year, other governments including that of Australia announced incentives in the form of tax breaks for small businesses investing in technology and skills. This is what South Africans need, “We need to pour our resources into the areas with the highest potential returns, and at the moment this largely includes the digital economy, manufacturing and agriculture,” adds Nwaneri.
“Although it’s among the largest expenses to South Africa’s hard-earned public funds from taxpayers, Eskom has not been able to provide the reliable power supply the country needs for businesses to grow and for education and skills development to operate and progress with optimum efficiency, Nwaneri argues.
“The private sector needs to lead the charge in the quest for equitable access to electricity. Loadshedding is a deadly threat to the lives of millions of people in a country that rely on public utility services to operate,” she concludes.