Brain drain shows signs of reversing

The “brain drain” of highly skilled professionals from South Africa is showing signs of reversing, according to employment figures recently released by workforce management company Adcorp.

Adcorp’s January employment report estimates that, since the global financial crisis of 2008-09, approximately 359,000 high-skilled South Africans have returned from foreign work assignments.

“This is a sizeable number, representing 18% of the total pool of managers and professionals in South Africa and 12% of the total pool of graduates,” Adcorp said in a statement.

Adcorp labour market economist Loane Sharp said this indicated that living standards in South Africa had remained relatively high compared to other English-speaking countries where emigrant South Africans had taken up residence, and that South Africans who had emigrated prior to the 2008 financial crisis “were possibly over-confident about the security of their jobs in foreign countries”.

The South African economy’s demand for high-skilled workers has remained relatively stable over the past decade, according to Adcorp, with a consistent shortage of high-skilled workers amounting to around 829,000 unfilled vacancies.

Over the same period, the country’s unemployment rate for high-skilled workers has remained roughly constant at around 0.4% – compared to an unemployment rate of 37% for the workforce as a whole – while the average real wages of high-skilled workers has increased from R265,680 per annum in 1997 to R423,730 per annum in 2013 – an above-inflation increase of 5.1% per annum.

In money-of-the-day (i.e. pre-inflation) terms, Adcorp estimates that the wages of high-skilled workers in South Africa have increased from R112,966 per annum in 1997 to R423,730 per annum in 2013 – an increase of 11.2% per annum.

“At the same time, the supply of high-skilled foreign workers has been negligible due to strict immigration measures adopted by the Department of Home Affairs in 2002, which were further tightened in 2008 and 2010,” the company said.

Sharp said this clearly indicated that South Africa’s skills shortage “is substantial and is not being met by the local supply of high-skilled workers. Therefore the restrictions on foreigners living and working in South Africa should be relaxed.”

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