Skills dearth leads to global war for SA software developers

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 15 Feb 2022

South Africa is pitted against multinational corporations, as the growing digital skills dearth leads to a fierce fight for highly-skilled local software developers.

Over 20% of South African software developers are actively looking to move jobs within the next 12 months in search of offshore fortunes, according to talent marketplace OfferZen’s 2022 State of the Developer Nation report, unpacked during a virtual media conference yesterday.

The report provides insights on the state of SA’s developer community, based on a survey of 3 294 local software developers.

The big shifts brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic led to the acceleration of digitisation and remote work, says OfferZen. Software developers are now among the most sought-after talent, as companies continue to take their operations online, and adopt innovative tech to power their services and products, it adds.

The Department of Home Affairs recently published a critical skills list that shows SA continues to grapple with digital skills shortages, with those in short supply including software developers, systems engineers, chief information officers and civil engineers.

As the digital skills gap widens, OfferZen believes the competition for talent will intensify, with the option to work remotely from any country opening a world of opportunities for job-seeking developers.

“South African companies are now competing against the rest of the world for talent…and the talent is very scarce and difficult to create and nurture. Whether we like it or not, our talent is part of the global tech community now, and there are good and bad things that come from that,” said Stephen van der Heijden, VP of growth at OfferZen, giving a presentation at the event.

“So companies need to have inclusivity policies, such as remuneration policies and interesting projects to work on − such as the likes of the tech companies of this world – because these companies are recruiting in SA.

“There is just not enough tech talent even within the borders of European countries to fill the global demand. This means competition will increase and remote work options will allow people to choose where they want to be based, but still be able to work.”

OfferZen is a software developer job marketplace that connects a community of over 100 000 developers to more than 1 000 South African and European Union companies listed on its platform.

According to the report, one in five surveyed software developers are actively exploring opportunities internationally, while the majority, who are not actively searching, noted they are still open to finding jobs overseas.

Senior developers are the most likely to already be exploring new pastures, while tech leads are most likely to stay where they are, across the different seniority levels, says OfferZen.

Unprecedented industry growth

Also speaking at the event, OfferZen co-founder Philip Joubert highlighted some of the key factors that contribute to the increasing shift in developers seeking international opportunities.

“One of the reasons is they want to work on technology that is not based in South Africa, and they want to work remotely as it relates to relocation. Earning more money and an opportunity of career growth are other key factors which are now available without them having to leave the country.”

Over the past two years, SA’s software engineering industry has proven to be a formidable force, added Joubert. Even when entire industries had to fold as a result of the effects of the pandemic, the software industry experienced unprecedented growth amid the urgency for companies to develop innovative solutions.

“In South Africa alone, 89 tech start-ups, including the likes of Yoco and LifeQ, raised funding of over R5 billion together, in 2021.”

According to the study, 92% of surveyed developers in SA currently work in a remote set-up.

While the pandemic has brought a lot of difficulties across industries, one positive to emerge is remote work – with 51% of developers finding themselves in a remote-first set-up, while 41% split their time between the office and home.

A further one in five remote working developers said they work for a company based in a different city, as the shift to remote work opens up new job prospects for developers.

Shifts in salary scale

Since 2019, fintech and cloud technology have continuously been the best paying industries for software developers, with those with four to six years of experience earning an average salary of R45 000, while those with 10 years of experience earn an average salary ranging from R80 000 to R90 000.

However, developers working in retail or e-commerce and telecommunications have seen the biggest salary growth since last year, at an average 9% increase.

Software-as-a-service developers received the lowest salary increase, at 2%, says the study.

Cape Town is still the best place to be for developer salaries, as Capetonian developers have earned the highest average salaries in SA over the past three years.

In Gauteng, however, salary outlooks have changed since last year. Pretoria’s developer salaries have caught up with Johannesburg’s and in some instances are even on par with Cape Town’s from six years of experience onwards, notes the research.

One of the biggest concerns highlighted by the report is that on average, female developers earn 17% less than their male counterparts. This gap has increased by 2% since the 2021 report. At the six- to 10-year experience mark, this gap increased even further from 3.5% to 15.5%.

Female developers with two to four years of experience earn around R38 000, while those with experience of 10 years and more will likely take home about R70 000 – over R15 000 less than their male counterparts.

“The gender pay gap is widest between developers with more than 10 years of experience: here, women earn 19% less than their male counterparts. This is despite female survey respondents being proportionately represented across industries, languages and location.

“We hope that, by providing salary transparency on our job platform and in reports like these, we will equip all developers with the knowledge and confidence they need to earn the salary they deserve,” noted Joubert.