Working with South Africa's employment services employers' experiences

A study on employers’ experiences and attitudes to the Employment Services of South Africa (ESSA) recommends the introduction of a far more sophisticated online ESSA platform and better coordination with the Department of Labour, writes Fabian Arends.

Public employment services (PES) represent key labour market policy instruments that governments all over the world use to facilitate employment. Their core function is to match job seekers with employers by facilitating access to and information sharing between organisations with vacancies and people seeking gainful employment.

In South Africa, the Employment Services of South Africa (ESSA) have been designed to play this vital intermediary role.

In a recent study, we analysed a survey which canvassed employers’ attitudes to, interactions with and experiences of ESSA. The survey was supplemented by interviews with managers of ESSA labour centres and a brief desktop study to place the South African experience in an international context.

Employers’ use and perceptions of ESSA

In terms of the scale of use, a number of salient results emerged from our survey. For recruitment purposes, employers use ESSA as one of several channels, ranging from the formal to the informal.

A slight majority of respondents (50.6%) do not post all their vacancies on ESSA. Employers also perceive ESSA to be mainly a source of information about intermediate and low-skilled workers. Public entities, which are required to list all their vacancies on ESSA, predominantly need to recruit high and intermediate-skilled workers, but ESSA has limited capacity to respond to this need, as the majority of work seekers are at intermediate and low-skilled levels.

In terms of the effectiveness of job matches, we observed that the majority (56%) of successful matches made through ESSA result in long-term placements.

In terms of employer perceptions of future improvements, employers who participated in the survey were accustomed to accessing ESSA services online via labour centres. However, employers signalled the need to improve the system through assisting work seekers to prepare for job searches and interviews. According to the employers, this can be achieved through programmes to improve employability, and by screening of candidates.

These trends lead us to explore how these patterns of employer behaviour impact on the quality of ESSA’s administrative data and, by extension, its utility for skills planning.

Value of employment services for skills planning

Our research suggests that the ESSA system should remain committed to low-skilled worker hires. The system already has a preponderance of low-skilled vacancy registrations and work seekers, and has proven less effective in addressing medium or high-skilled vacancies. A focus on job placements for those who are most vulnerable is a critical role for ESSA.
If ESSA generates quality data in this regard, it can inform skills planning for the unemployed — a dimension that is often neglected in favour of a focus on forecasting, shortages, scarce and critical skills.

To ensure more effective data, the introduction of a far more sophisticated online ESSA platform is highly desirable. Many ESSA clients have access to the technology necessary to utilise such a system, which could also create substantial savings in transaction costs while improving the ability to monitor employment data.

It is however, important to note that many potential users do not have access to computers, and few labour centres have their own workstations that clients can use. It is critical, therefore, that information generated at labour centres is captured electronically on the ESSA electronic platform.

This will ensure the consistency, accuracy and validity of labour market information generated through the ESSA platform.

Greater coordination with the DoL is also desirable. Cooperation between DoL and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) institutions would add value to ESSA services. Areas for cooperation could include a shared strategy for the ESSA system, and plans for the sharing of employment data generated through ESSA, which could help to identify appropriate target groups for skills upgrading.

Finally, ongoing research on ESSA trends would be valuable. Future research should monitor changes in the employers who use ESSA, their employment needs and their opinions on services rendered.

Going forward

Public employment services such as ESSA should generate potentially valuable and relevant administrative information about labour market demand and supply that can be used for skills planning. The quality of service that ESSA offers depends on the integrity of the captured data. Ideally, high-quality service and data will improve rates of matching which will, in turn, attract increased employer and worker participation consequently improving national skills-planning capacities.

Authors: Fabian Arends, senior research manager, Education and Skills Development (ESD) research programme, HSRC.

The full report, Fabian Arends, Sybil Chabane, Andrew Paterson (2015) Investigating Employer Interaction with the Employment Services of South Africa (ESSA), is available on