SA’s e-commerce boom fuels demand for skills

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 14 Jan 2021

The explosive growth of the e-commerce sector has led to increased demand for online retail skills in SA.

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the role e-commerce plays in SA’s retail sector, fuelling a dramatic increase in the uptake of online shopping.

According to industry insiders, the online retail industry is playing a significant role in fast-tracking demand for critical digital skills, with e-commerce-related careers being rated among the top jobs that are in demand at the moment.

While many South African companies have halted their recruitment processes during the current economic downturn, critical occupations essential for running an e-commerce business, such as digital trade specialist, data analyst, Web designer, online order clerks and stock clerks, among others, are high growth occupations and are forecast to be among the top jobs of the future.

A Mastercard study on consumer spending found 68% of South African consumers are shopping online more since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Warrick Kernes, founder of Insaka eCommerce Academy, told ITWeb that with more businesses turning to e-commerce channels in recent months, there has been an increase in demand for new recruits who have experience in the world of online selling.

“However, the challenge which soon appeared was that the supply of people with this skillset wasn't nearly enough to cater for the sudden increase in demand. This has left many companies upskilling internal staff through various training programmes. This demand presents an opportunity for anyone who has gained experience in this field, as they will be incredibly well positioned for fast career growth,” he notes.

The Insaka eCommerce Academy, which has trained over 10 000 South African entrepreneurs in e-commerce skills since 2017, says it has seen an increase in registrations since SA introduced the nationwide lockdown last year.

While there are a handful of locals who have over a decade of e-commerce experience, Kernes points out the industry is still very young and significant growth is inevitable.

“We have seen a lot of e-commerce and support services, such as couriers and payment gateways and software suppliers, battling to keep up with the demand. The skills that SA needs to grow this industry are being developed as we speak by businesses that are embracing the online opportunity and learning how to grow successful businesses along the way.”

Warrick Kernes, founder of Insaka eCommerce Academy
Warrick Kernes, founder of Insaka eCommerce Academy

Globally, US-based recruitment giant Career Builder says e-commerce jobs are forecast to increase by 14%, propelled by the COVID-19 pandemic, with occupations such as shipping, receiving and traffic clerks and customer service representatives being the most sought after skills in the industry.

Jake Willis, CEO at local youth employment engine Lulaway, believes e-commerce jobs will be in high demand in the next decade in SA.

“Among the top digital jobs that will be in high demand are e-commerce jobs, digital marketing specialists, marketing strategists and IT specialists. SA is the 37th largest market for e-commerce, with a revenue of R46 billion in 2019. Since the start of lockdown, e-commerce has grown 40%, and will continue to rise – a potential indicator of a steadily growing medium- to long-term enthusiasm for e-commerce by more South Africans,” notes Willis.

As the Internet plays an even more significant role in consumers' lives, he highlights the significant shortage of specialised skills in the local ICT sector.

“Unemployment in SA remains an alarming issue. To add to the challenge, we are facing the rapidly changing skillset that is required by businesses. Therefore, it is imperative to identify skills needed and ensure that the reskilling process matches the accelerated pace of digitalisation in the workplace. Formal education and training at all levels should also match the immediate needs of the economy, as technology-driven skills increase in demand,” urges Willis.