/ 6 January 2017

​Labour department struggles to finds jobs for five million

Men looking for work at companies in Protea Glen in Soweto towards the end of last year.
Men looking for work at companies in Protea Glen in Soweto towards the end of last year.

By Statistics South Africa’s latest estimates, there are many more job seekers entering the employment market than there are applicants finding work.

Last year, 587 000 people started looking for jobs and about 239 000 of them were employed.

The labour department said its public employment services division was able to find job placement for 2%, or 100 000, of the five million people on its database.

In September the unemployment rate rose to its highest level since 2004, at 26.6%, as 500 000 matriculants and graduates joined the labour force of 21.7-million workers.

Restructuring in the mining industry and continued job shedding by manufacturing and private household industries also contributed to the regression.

The public employment services division holds a database of people who have approached the department of labour for assistance.

The government employees look for jobs for the unemployed or enrol applicants in vocational training colleges where they would be taught new skills.

The division appears to have largely failed to complete either of these tasks.

The labour department’s director general, Thobile Lamati, places the blame for this on a combination of factors, but primarily on business, which did not contact the department to find job seekers, and on the low level of skills held by the people on its database.

“Most of the job seekers there are unskilled people. The difficulty in placing these people is that you depend on what the employer requires in terms of skills,” Lamati said.

In response to this problem, he said the department would be opening new employment centres in Mthatha and Johannesburg where job seekers would “learn new skills and meet recruitment officers from government funded companies”.

In effect, the public employment services division acts as “labour broker” but does not take a portion of the employee’s salary once the job is secured.

Lamati also believes the success rate is low because companies are not obligated by law to employ people on the department’s database.

By contrast, the percentage of unskilled workers placed in the private employment sector hovers at about 6.2%, according to labour analyst Loane Sharp.

“The average percentages are as follows: unskilled, 6.2%; semi-skilled, 11.1%; skilled, 47.3%; high-skilled, 93.2%,” he said.

He also claimed that the state is trying to get access to the highly skilled database of private agencies.

“The PES [public employment services] is trying to get the candidate databases of the private employment services, because that will obviously boost their placement rate, but there is a question about whether that is what they are supposed to do.

“High-skilled people … don’t usually approach the agency; they are headhunted. At a lower skill level, they might go into a bulk recruitment agency,” Sharp said.

Last year, StatsSA raised serious concerns after a skills audit showed that the percentage of black African managerial, professional and technical workers aged between 25 and 35 had dropped by 2% over 20 years. This means the parents of this generation are more skilled than their children.