Xpatweb has released its 2020/21 Critical Skills Survey Report. “The report data is most used by stakeholders who influence policies around critical skills and the import of foreign professionals,” says Marisa Jacobs, the firm’s MD.

The Top 10

Survey participants indicated the following skills as most in demand but hardest to source locally: engineers (18%); ICT specialists (13%); foreign language speakers (10%); media and marketing specialists (9%); artisans (8%); C-suite executives (7%); senior financial executives (6%); healthcare specialists (5%); science professionals (4%); accounting professionals (1%).

Of note is the increasing urgency for media and marketing specialists, which Jacobs says is probably due to digital advances, the social media marketing explosion, and the growing sophistication of the marketing profession itself.

Respondents are also concerned that the exclusion of Corporate General Manager from the National Critical Skills List will impact their search for executives with international experience. “We anticipated the term would be replaced with specific titles, like CEO or CFO, to avoid abuse but, so far, this does not appear to be the case,” says Jacobs.

Even if their title does not appear on the Critical Skills List, organisations can still bring in foreign executives. Yet, the process involved is much longer and may cause C-suite candidates to favour offers in other regions where painless migration is assured.

Business impact

77% of organisations reported that they struggle to source critical skills in South Africa for local and cross-border operations. 76% asserted that an international search will help them satisfy their objectives.

92% indicated that missing critical skills have an impact on stakeholders within their organisation. The gaps are typically associated with the top ten critical skills above.

Skills transfer and succession planning

South African employers are sometimes accused of overlooking local talent in favour of foreign professionals. However, 81% of respondents view succession planning and skills transfer as a priority for their business.

“Many organisations have exited their foreign nationals after successfully transferring their competencies and responsibilities to local employees,” reports Jacobs. Unfortunately, the demand typically outstrips the pace of transfer.

Experience and education

Although demand is high, employers cannot risk the integrity of their operations by hiring inexperienced employees. 38 percent require three to five years experience while 28 percent demand over five years.

Similarly, 49% seek an undergraduate degree and 23% desire a postgraduate or honours degree.

Professional bodies

Foreign employees entering South Africa on a critical skills visa must first be registered with a local professional body representing their industry. 21% of respondents find the registration process of professional bodies onerous when applying for such a visa.

“While many bodies enable the efficient entry of foreign talent, others need to review their requirements and processes to ease entry while maintaining their professional standards,” suggests Jacobs.

Valuable data

Xpatweb was the only private sector organisation invited to present its 2019 survey findings before  the Departments compiling the new National Critical Skills List.

“We believe this speaks to the quality of our data, the integrity of our research methodology and the utility of the survey report,” says Jacobs.


Marisa Jacobs

Marisa Jacobs