South Africa's hiring outlook for Q1 of 2020 is the weakest it has been in five years, according to the ManpowerGroup Employment Outlook Survey.
Small and micro enterprises were the hardest hit, with only large employers expecting a steady increase in payrolls in the coming quarter.
Of 753 South African employers surveyed - across five regions and 10 sectors - the strongest labour market was anticipated in the Western Cape, where the employment outlook is +4%.
This was against an overall outlook of +2%, after the data was adjusted to allow for seasonal variations.
Payroll prospects appeared subdued, the survey found. While 10% of employers forecast an increase in payrolls, 8% anticipated a decrease and another 1% weren't sure.
A total of 81% expected to make no changes.
Where are the jobs?
Opportunities for job seekers are expected to be strongest in the Finance, Insurance, Real Estate & Business Services sectors, where the net employment outlook is +9%.
There are also some hiring opportunities in Agriculture, Hunting, Forestry & Fishing, as well as Restaurants & Hotels – though the latter did see a decline of 3 percentage points.
Construction has taken a heavy blow, with a decline of 5 percentage points and its outlook at -9%. Transport, Storage & Communications is similarly bleak with its outlook at -6%.
Public & Social sector employers reported the most noteworthy decline of 6 percentage points, the report said.
The news was slightly brighter for Wholesale & Retail Trade, where employers reported a quarter-on-quarter improvement of 4 percentage points.
However, the report noted, outlooks declined in 7 out of 10 sectors compared to this time a year ago.
Lyndy van den Barselaar, Managing Director of ManpowerGroup SA, said an overall sluggish economy had taken its toll.
"As we move into the new year, the South African economy continues to be affected by subdued economic growth and a sluggish growth outlook. Policy uncertainty and a high unemployment rate remain a deep concern for local businesses who are looking to the new year with caution when it comes to their spending and hiring strategies," she said.
Best & worst regions
Employers in three of five regions surveyed expected to add to payrolls in the first quarter of 2020, with the Western Cape coming up strongest (+4%) followed by Gauteng (+3%) and KwaZulu-Natal (+2%).
Eastern Cape employers reported considerably more downbeat hiring prospects at -5%, while the Free State stood at -1%. Eastern Cape Employers reported a decline of 13 percentage points compared to the previous quarter, and 14 percentage points compared to a year ago.
Outlooks weakened by 5 and 3 percentage points in the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal compared with the last quarter. Hiring prospects were relatively stable in Gauteng and the Western Cape.
Compared with a year ago, hiring plans weakened by 4 percentage points in Gauteng and 3 percentage points in the Western Cape.
What's making the best regions work?
According to Van Den Barselaar, key initiatives - notably in the energy sector - have contributed towards a more positive outlook in certain regions.
"The Western Cape government continues to focus on development in the region through several initiatives, such as one initiative that is focusing on diversifying the province’s energy mix through an uptake in sustainable energy sources.
"This could create employment for those with skills in developing, installing and maintaining these sustainable energy sources such as solar photovoltaic panels, for example."
Collaboration between the public and private sectors also helps, she said.
"Another provincial initiative looks to encourage direct engagement between the government and the private sector, with sectors such as construction, manufacturing, IT, business process outsourcing and transport participating. These kinds of initiatives look to spur growth and promote job growth, which could contribute to the positive outlook for the province in the coming quarter," she said.
Compiled by Marelise van der Merwe