Professional confidence impacted by pandemic amid socio-economic factors, consider their futures says PPS

18 May 2022 PPS

• More than half of professionals surveyed want their voices heard on what their professions hold over the next five years.
• Black 18- to 24-year-old graduate professionals show the strongest confidence indicators compared to other groups.
• Graduate professionals, 50 years of age and older, have the lowest confidence due to concerns around political issues and economic conditions
• Of 3 264 members surveyed, 26% were very confident in the future of their profession, with 33% somewhat confident.
• 12% of professionals have no financial plans in place.
• Over 50% of respondents (66% among doctors) believe the prevalence of depression in the healthcare profession.
• Volatile economic, political challenges and COVID-19 impact are cited as key concerns.
NHI – more policy certainty is needed, and 73% felt that emigration would be the outcome if NHI is not implemented responsibly

South Africa continues to produce skilled professionals equipped with the means to drive the South African economy. However, in the older age groups, the number of graduate professionals committed to a career in South Africa is diminishing. This is as the country continues to feel the rippling effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on an already constrained economy, according to the 2021 PPS Graduate Professional Index (GPI) results released today.

Graduate professionals with an honours level or professional degree greater than four years form part of the membership of PPS, the only financial services company in South Africa that provides intelligent financial solutions exclusively for this market.

With graduate professionals at its core, PPS conducted an independent online survey of 3 264 members in November 2021 to understand their perceptions on several issues affecting their livelihoods and professions, currently and into the foreseeable future.

Graduate professionals working across the accounting, dental, engineering, legal, medical, pharmaceutical, and other sectors were measured. The survey findings shed light on the state of South African professionals’ mindsets.

Of the 3 264 professionals who participated, 26% expressed that they were very confident, and 33% were somewhat confident in the future of their chosen profession over the next five years.

Accountants led the charge, with 43% indicating that they were very confident and 37% saying they were somewhat confident, while the business-related professions such as banking and IT at 39% said they were very confident and 34% somewhat confident.

On the other end of the spectrum, the most pessimistic of their futures were the dental (10% very pessimistic and 32% somewhat pessimistic) and medical (15% very pessimistic and 29% somewhat pessimistic) professions.

Our more senior professional graduates, 50 years of age and older, cited their biggest reduction in confidence and where they believed the efforts needed to be focused the most was around political issues and economic conditions in South Africa.

Over a third of the total participants wanted their voice to be heard on the factors influencing their confidence levels positively in 2021. The accounting professions showed the most confidence, which they attributed to factors such as financial viability (42%) and regulations (38%).

The 2021 survey results, however, showed a substantial reduction in confidence levels with factors negatively influencing confidence such as political issues (47%) and economic conditions (25%) compared to that of 2019’s results, where political issues (43%) and economic conditions (27%) were measured.

“As the main voice of the professionals, PPS considers what is influencing the perceptions of its members as this is a reflection of the wider society of South African professionals,” says Ayanda Seboni, Group Executive: Marketing and Stakeholder Relations.

“While the majority of professionals have financial plans, 12% of professionals do not have any type of financial planning in place because the pandemic has depleted any spare funds they had available to invest, and their primary and current focus is on surviving. They now have to pay more to live than before,” adds Seboni.

“Depression is also rising and more prevalent in the healthcare profession with more than 50% of respondents – and 66% among the doctors surveyed attributing the significant reasons being long hours, the pandemic, financial strain and being under-resourced.”

“An ongoing concern for healthcare professionals is the likely impact of the National Health Insurance (NHI). When canvassed for their views in the GPI 2021 survey, Medical Professionals cited their main concern was still focused on policy certainty and ensuring that the NHI remains uncorrupted by the government.”

With the PPS NHI survey conducted in 2019, to which 2 600 members responded, reflected that the voice of professionals was mixed. While there was overwhelming support for the principles of the NHI and recognition that the NHI could help improve the quality and access to healthcare if implemented in a considered and inclusive manner and within the context of policy certainty. A key concern was the increased tax burden, where nearly 40% of total taxes from individuals include a sizeable portion of professionals. Of PPS’s membership base of 150 000 members, 30 000 are medical professionals.

“Emigration is always a realistic option for the qualified. Each healthcare worker not only represents a skilled worker, but many are also self-employed and pay taxes as individuals, as well as in their business capacity,” Seboni presented to Parliament saying that 73% felt that emigration would be the outcome if NHI is not implemented responsibly.

“What we have observed amongst young professionals is a shift towards migration to further their opportunities to exposure and experience to benefit South Africa in the future, especially in light of the high youth and graduate unemployment levels in our country.”

“We will always see the migration abroad of professionals as they have the qualifications and financial means. However, in the aftermath of COVID-19, professionals are not exempt from the economic strain of the past two years,” adds Seboni

The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely bleak across all the professions, with the built environment, dental and medical professions bearing the worst brunt. These professions saw more than a 20% reduction in their income, further exacerbated by opportunities diminishing in their sector.

The South African inflation rate has further compounded already dire economic circumstances. While the inflation rate has been quite stable for the past few years, levelling off between 3.3% and 4.4%, professionals across the industries believe that the cost of goods and services has increased more rapidly during the past 12 months compared to the official rate of 4.48%.

Main findings for each of the professions:

• Built Environment – 71% of respondents do not think there are enough built environment projects in South Africa due to a decline in infrastructure investment and South Africa’s unreliable energy supply.

• Doctors – 39% of respondents in the medical area (41% of doctors) have done more telephonic consultations than previously, and 56% of respondents (60% of whom are doctors) think telemedicine will become more prevalent.

• Engineers – 65% of respondents said they do not think South Africa’s reconstruction and recovery plan will unlock greater job creation and faster economic growth.

• Dentists – 47% of respondents thought it has not been easy to obtain funding to acquire specialised equipment. Additionally, 53% felt strongly about improving the current situation in South Africa to reduce the professional migration numbers.

• All professions – 74% of respondents believed despite being well educated, and they are not well versed when it comes to money matters. With 79% of respondents agreed with the statement that “people who had a financial plan in place fared better financially during the pandemic”.

“Skilled professionals play a critical role in the working environment and are instrumental in helping to action South Africa’s economic recovery plan. With the primary focus of stabilising the economy, we should not take our eye off the fact that we are losing some of our highest earners and our country’s largest tax revenue contributors due to a lack of job security and stability. We need to be identifying ways and put plans in place to retain our country’s top talent.”

“If government and business can work together to create a mutually beneficial and viable platform for opportunity and success, then we will increasingly see more skilled professionals wanting and choosing to stay. And once we reach a tipping point, not only will we stop the professional migration, it could actually start reversing it,” concludes Seboni.

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