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South African graduates may be mostly employed, but skills and jobs often don’t match

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Source: Nombulelo Precious Mncayi, The Conversation, 13 April 2021, photo credit: Urban Institute

Labour markets around the world are undergoing significant changes – particularly in non-tech sectors. South Africa hasn’t been spared from this wave of change. The country has high unemployment rates by global standards, both at national level and among the youth.

According to some theories, higher education leads to better labour market outcomes and improves future income through better career paths. But these theories have been criticised in countries with high rates of unemployment, where even graduates often struggle to find employment. It seems higher education is no longer a guarantee of a job.

In 2019, South Africa had the largest share of mismatched workers, with skills mismatches of more than 50% and the lowest productivity levels compared with 30 countries including India and Russia. Other studies have found the incidence of educational mismatch to be similarly high in South Africa. A quarter of the respondents were over-educated and 27% were under-educated for their occupations.

Yet many students continue to enrol for qualifications with low employment prospects. According to the 2019 Post-School Education and Training Monitoring report, between 2010 and 2016, the field of humanities accounted for the biggest share of graduations (6.6%). This was followed by science, engineering and technology, business management and education – with graduation rates of 5.5%, 5.2% and 1.8% respectively.
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