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C-suite execs among critical skills needed in South Africa

C-suite positions and senior financial executives are among the top 10 critical skills in short supply in South Africa, according to a recent survey

|Apr 8|magazine10 min read

Nearly 80% of organisations in South Africa are struggling to recruit and obtain critical skills in the country for their local and cross-border operations, with 76% confirming that an international search is necessary to meet business objective. 

That’s according to Xpatweb’s Critical Skills Survey 2020/2021 , an annual survey of an array of multinational and corporate firms that’s fast become known as a benchmark for business and policy makers.

The survey reinforces the continuing difficulty South African organisations face when recruiting within and highlights the need for upskilling in certain key areas. Over the past five years, the skills shortage has persisted with eight categories of skills dominating the top of the list of professionals that business find most difficult to recruit, including engineers (18%), ICT (13%), media and marketing professionals (9%) and C-suite executives (7%). 

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%)

The survey reveals an increase of 2% since 2019 (from 16% to 18%) in the number of businesses that are finding it difficult to recruit engineers. While mechanical engineers (26%) are most in demand, maintenance engineers (18%), chemical engineers (13%) and industrial engineers (14%) are also difficult to find within the country. 

Similarly, there’s been an increase in the number of firms finding it difficult to source ICT skills, with the most sought-after professionals including IT application developers (11%), data analysts (10%), data scientists (9%), software developers (9%) and software engineers (8%). According to Marisa Jacobs, Managing Director of Xpatweb, “as big data, robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and the internet of things rapidly shape the way of doing business… sourcing these skills is a priority that custs across all sectors.”

C-suite and senior financial executives difficult to find

Executives are in demand with 7% and 6% of organisations struggling to find C-suite execs and senior financial personnel, respectively. The most in-demand senior roles include chief operating officer (24%), chief financial officer (24%), chief executive officer (19%) and chief technology officer (19%) with these positions most sought-after in the sectors of finance, manufacturing, IT and mining. 

According to Marisa Jacobs, Managing Director of Xpatweb, factors influencing the challenges that businesses face in recruiting the right person for the these roles include the fact that organisations are increasingly seeking professionals with international expertise.

“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.”

Such 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 with 10% of organisations struggling to find people with adequate foreign language skills, a significant leap from just 4% in 2019. 

Among the language speakers most in demand are French (29%), German (18%), Mandarin (14%), Italian (10%), Spanish (10%) and Dutch (4%), with sectors most needing language skills including ICT, finance, hospitality and tourism and education. 

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Difficulty due to global competition for skills

Difficulties in finding such critical skills is in part due to South Africa competing on a global stage, the research finds, with the US, Australia and UK critical skills shortage lists virtually mirroring those of South Africa. 

“South Africa has to compete more than ever with the likes of the US, Australia and the UK when considering its strategy to recruit skilled professionals,” says Jacobs, adding that South African policy makers therefore need to consider how to make it as easy as possible for skilled professionals to gain access to work and businesses opportunities locally. 

“Fortunately, the government is serious about this and has updated the critical skills list to stay in touch with the needs of the local economy,” explains Jacobs. 

Full Xpatweb Critical Skills survey
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