News / Africa

Frenzy Over S. Africa Job Highlights Lack of Opportunities

Anita Powell
When 90 people applied for one government job in South Africa, it illustrated a truth that many a job-seeker here has faced: there are not enough jobs to go around.  South Africa’s Labor Department said in a report this week that the nation has too few jobs for unskilled people -- and too few people for skilled jobs.

When Terence Nombembe’s job opened up, there was a flood of applications.  Among the 90 aspirants, officials said, were welders, laborers, a security guard, a secretary and several applicants whose highest qualification was high school.

But Nombembe is the Auditor-General of South Africa.  This high-level post is responsible for overseeing and independently auditing the nation’s finances.  The job ad stipulated that applicants be a chartered accountant or equivalent, have a Masters’ degree and have years of experience.

It’s the latest -- and most public -- example of something many South Africans say they already know: this country, which has a staggeringly high unemployment rate of 26 percent, has too few posts for unskilled and low-skilled workers, and too few qualified workers to fill its skilled posts.

The Labor Department, in a poorly punctuated and grammatically problematic statement released this week, blamed the nation’s poor education system.  A department spokesman said he was not qualified to discuss the content of the statement.

Restaurant industry recruiter TJ Van der Walt said he wishes he would only get 90 applications for a job opening.

“We deal in an industry where there’s no real skill needed, so we get literally thousands of applicants for the positions that we get.  But I think that’s the same through, in the country in a lot of industry, but with us it’s probably as bad as it can get.  There are just so many people looking for work,” noted Van der Walt.

But, he said, good people are hard to find.  He said he spends a lot of time screening unqualified applicants.

“What the guys do is, anybody applies for anything.  They don’t care whether it says you need a certain qualification or you need a certain amount of experience.  People just apply.  And normally if I then ask them, ‘but listen, why did you apply for the job knowing that you don’t have the necessary experience of qualification?’ then they’ll just say, ‘yeah, but I … we know that you’re an agency or you’re a big company, and we thought that if we apply for that maybe you’ll take us in consideration for anything else you have that I might qualify for,’” stated Van der Walt.

Parliamentarian Sejamothopo Motau serves as shadow minister of labor for the opposition Democratic Alliance.  He said the job market is being squeezed on both sides -- and that both skilled and unskilled workers are feeling the pain.

Motau said the root of the problem is in the nation’s struggling education system.  Education has been a major hurdle to South Africa’s development, as the apartheid system gave inferior education to most black South Africans.

Motau said his party estimates that 4 million young South Africans are unemployed.

“And many of these people are university graduates, but they can’t get jobs on the other end of the scale where we have a need for skilled people, because the education that these people have is not sufficient to put them in those areas where those high skills are required," said Motau. "So what it tells us is -- and I think everybody in this country now accepts that -- is that there’s a mismatch between our education system and the products of that system, and the needs, the economic needs, of the country.”

Interviews for Nombembe’s job begin next week.

In the end, the parliamentary office responsible for choosing the next auditor-general divided the candidates into what they diplomatically termed an “A-list” and a “B-list.”

Only six people of the 90 qualified for the next round, with Nombembe’s deputy at the top of the list. A parliamentary committee will review those candidates and choose one lucky person in September.

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