Employment slump in SA’s ICT sector

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 10 Apr 2024
The employment rate across telecoms, broadcasting, and postal sectors declined in 2023, reveals State of ICT Sector report.
The employment rate across telecoms, broadcasting, and postal sectors declined in 2023, reveals State of ICT Sector report.

While considered a greenshoot for employment opportunities, South Africa’s ICT sector saw a decline in employment numbers in 2023, according to the State of the ICT Sector in SA report.

Data from the report shows employment across telecommunications, broadcasting, and postal sectors collectively decreased by 5.6% in 2023,mirroring SA’s overall unemployment challenge.

Released annually by regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), the report examines performance and developments in the ICT sector, focusing on three sectors under its jurisdiction – broadcasting, postal services and telecoms.

The data used to compile the report was obtained through a customised questionnaire distributed to key stakeholders covering the period from 1 October 2022 to 30 September 2023. It details the assessment of factors, such as financial, employment, subscriptions, on the ICT sector.

For this latest instalment, ICASA received 98 responses from the Electronic Communications Service and Electronic Communications Network Service licensees, 29 responses from television and radio broadcasters and seven responses from postal service operators. All the big operators responded to the questionnaire.

According to report, the total combined employment for the three sectors was 49 689 in 2023, down from the total of 56 709 employees recorded in 2019.

This, it notes, reflects the fluctuations within the broader employment landscape, indicative of varying industry challenges and economic influences.

“Over a five-year period, the total employment for the three sectors decreased by 3.25%,” the report says.

“Telecommunications decreased by 2.23%, broadcasting employment decreased by 4.59% and postal service employment still shows a decline in terms of growth as it decreased by 5.73% for the same period.”

Compounded by a weakening economy, South Africa’s joblessness has continued to rise, with the official unemployment rate at 32.1% in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2023. Youth aged 15-34 years remain vulnerable in the labour market, with the total number of unemployed youth increasing to 44.3% in Q4 2023.

Total employment for the three sectors, as of 30th September each year.
Total employment for the three sectors, as of 30th September each year.

Examined individually, the report indicates that between 2022 and 2023, there was a decline of 4.39% in total employment within the telecoms sector.

According to ICASA, the employment data used in this report only focuses on its licensees. Telecoms employment refers to persons employed in full-time equivalents, meaning the total number of persons in full-time equivalent units, employed by telecommunication operators in the country for the provision of telecoms services, including fixed-telephone, mobile-cellular, internet and data services.

In 2022, the telecoms sector employed 32 280, decreasing to 30 862 in 2023, the report shows.

Additionally, the proportion of female employees relative to the total workforce saw a decline from 11 943 in 2022 to 11 665 in 2023, marking a 2.33% decrease. Over a five-year period, the telecommunications sector’s total employment decreased by 2.23% and female employment increased by 2.62%.

Employment of top management – commonly referred to as exco members – rose by 16.34%, climbing from 299 in 2022 to 331 in 2023. Similarly, top black management employment increased by 22.12%, reaching 119 from 81 in 2022.

Additionally, top female management employment experienced a growth of 20%, increasing from 40 in 2022 to 48 in 2023. For a period of five years, top management increased by 3.63%, top black management increased by 10.09%, and top female management increased by14.42%, according to the report.

Vodacom SA last month announced it has introduced an operational review and cost-cutting process that will potentially impact a minimum of 80 jobs.

Last year, MTN SA announced it will be opening voluntary severance packages and voluntary early retirement for eligible employees, as part of its ongoing focus on cost-efficiencies and streamlining. Similarly, telecoms firm Rain indicated that transforming of its Johannesburg office would impact a “minimal” number of jobs.

Persons employed in the telecoms sector breakdown from 2019 to 2023.
Persons employed in the telecoms sector breakdown from 2019 to 2023.

Broadcasting also witnesses a reduction in the total number of people employed, with the sector employing a total of 3 524 in 2023, down from 3 562 in 2022.

Based on the report, from 2022 to 2023, the employment composition within the broadcasting industry underwent changes, namely skilled employment rose marginally from 2 629 to 2 633; semi-skilled employment declined from 537 to 522; the number of individuals with disabilities decreased from 95 to 90; and unskilled employment decreased from 95 to 64 positions.

“These figures illustrate the shifting dynamics of workforce distribution within the sector over the specified period, reflecting alterations in demand, skill requirements, and possibly organisational restructuring initiatives,” states the report.

Exco member employees in broadcasting increased from 82 in 2022 to 89 in 2023. Top female employees slightly decreased from 25 in 2022 to 24 in 2023. Black top management employees decreased from 56 in 2022 to 43 in 2023.

Like broadcasting, the postal services sectorsaw a reduction in the number of persons employed during the period under review.

The postal sector witnessed a slight decrease in employment by 1.07%, the report shows. The employment for postal service sector decreased from 16 792 in 2022 to 15 303 in 2023, it states.

“The number of semi-skilled employees decreased by 13.26%, skilled employees decreased by 33.99%, and unskilled employees decreased by 18.59% in 2023. However, during the same period, the number of employees living with disabilities increased by 29.03%.”

The national postal service the South African Post Office (SAPO) is undergoing a business rescue process that will potentially see up to 6 000 employees lose their jobs.

Last week, Business Day reported that 4 700 SAPO employees have been issued retrenchment letters.

However, the SAPO shareholder, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, remained mum on how many people will end up losing their jobs as part of its ongoing business rescue plan.

Once considered a key institution, mismanagement and outdated systems have brought the post office to its knees. The state-owned entity is in dire financial straits, with liabilities totalling approximately R12.5 billion, as at 31 July 2023.

Furthermore, it’s been revealed that its previously large branch network will shrink to just 600 branches nationwide.

*All graphs sourced from ICASA's 2024 State of ICT Sector in SA report.