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Unemployment rate is at 29%; the key to solving this is education

The results of the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) for the second quarter of 2019  indicate that the official unemployment rate has increased by 1.4 percentage points to 29%.  The number of unemployed persons has increased by 455 000 to 6.7 million. Of the 6.7 million unemployed persons in SA, 57.0% have an education level below Matric followed by those with only Matric at 33.4%.

These numbers paint a very bleak picture for our economic future; we effectively have a workforce that is largely uneducated. With the emergence of the 4th industrial revolution (4IR), which is characterised by the rapid evolution of multiple digital technologies and their integration with each other, skills in information technology, engineering and data science will be of upmost importance. It is therefore imperative to fix the basic education system – ensuring that teachers are qualified and schools possess the tools and infrastructure to support a significant improvement in the standard of maths and science. 

The Giraffe salary benchmark is a report based on actual candidate data from a base of around one million candidates. A representative sample of 131k candidates, with data no older than 2018 was used to conduct this analysis, This report largely excludes high skilled individuals and senior management/executives thus representing the majority of the South African labour force.

Click here to read about the best and worst paying industries in SA 

According to the Higher Education and Skills in South Africa report, close to 47% of youth aged 20–24 years who held bachelor’s degrees or qualifications equivalent to NQF Level 7 came from the highest household income quintile. In comparison, only 7.4% of youth who held qualifications equivalent to NQF Level 7 came from the lowest household income quintile. Our sample is in line with these findings.

It comes as no surprise to find that education is a major influencer of salary growth. The figure below illustrates the difference in average salary for employees with a degree/diploma versus those without. In all instances, employees with degrees or diplomas earn more than employees without degrees or diplomas. In fact, employees with tertiary qualifications (NQF Level 6 or 7 equivalent) will earn on average 72% more than colleagues without these qualifications.

Click here to read about how 70% of working South Africans earn below the living wage



  • Senior employees (age 36+) with degree/diploma are paid best in IT and Technology, Construction, Legal and HR
  • Senior employees without degree/diploma are paid best in IT and Technology, Banking, Accounting and Finance- so these are the best industries for jobseekers to get into if they lack a tertiary qualification
  • There is only 18% difference in salary between call centre agents with degree/diploma and without tertiary qualifications. This shows that these roles are highly accessible to employees without tertiary qualifications, and still pay above living wage.



  • People with degrees earn least in hotels, call centres, retail, healthcare and education
  • On average employees without a degree will earn 72% less than their colleagues with a degree


Industries with the highest differences in salary between degreed vs non-degreed employees:

  • Manufacturing and Supply Chain (95%),
  • HR and Legal (94%),
  • Government or Non-Profit (90%) and
  • Education (89%)


Industries with the highest growth trajectory for both individuals with and without degrees:

  • IT/ Tech/ Telecoms
  • HR and Legal
  • Advertising & marketing
  • Government / non-profit


Some of the other major findings in this report reveal that

  • The average salary for the majority of working South Africans is R6,400 per month
  • 29% of working people earn less than the national minimum wage
  • Retail is the biggest industry (employing 18% of the workforce) but is also one of the worst paying (40% earn below minimum wage).
  • Banking and IT pay some of the highest salaries but employ only 8% of the working population



About Giraffe

Giraffe is a job board that automatically screens candidates so you don’t have to. Giraffe enables South African businesses to recruit medium-skilled staff faster and more affordably than any other recruitment method. Because Giraffe has automated the boring parts of the recruitment process– candidate sourcing and screening– business owners and recruiters can focus on more important tasks like interviewing the best candidates and managing retention. Simply post a job on Giraffe. Let Giraffe automatically screen candidates as they apply. Log in, see which candidates have passed your screening, listen to their voice notes and hire the best ones! 

To post a job on Giraffe click here

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