Published: 2017-07-12

Recruitment amongst South Africa's leading graduate employers is cautiously optimistic, while competition for the highest-calibre candidates remains intense.

Results from an independent survey of leading employers in South Africa shows that these organisations are set to recruit record numbers of graduates in 2017 & 2018. The SAGEA Employer Benchmark Survey 2017 is based on responses from 99 of the leading graduate employers in the country. It provides encouraging news for students looking for their first job upon graduation.

Competition for the very best candidates remains extremely high. The SAGEA Candidate Insights Survey 2017 – an online questionnaire with 1,960 new or future employees – showed that while candidates made an average of six or seven applications, three-fifths had secured multiple job offers. While most employers received in excess of 1,700 applications, many said there was a shortage of candidates with the right skills and qualifications.

Nearly three-quarters of employers expect to increase graduate salaries in 2018, while a fifth were still to set their salaries by the time the survey took place. Employers continue to look for engaging ways to interact with students to create a useful dialogue and help them to understand all of the opportunities on offer. Recruiters were very active on campus – hosting events and attending careers fairs – and were also present on social networking sites and hosted their own websites.

Highlights from The SAGEA Employer Benchmark Survey 2017 include:

  • Just over two-fifths of employers said their primary purpose for engaging in graduate recruitment was to hire candidates onto a leadership development programme.
  • Graduate vacancies are set to increase by 5.3 per cent in 2018, compared to the numbers recruited in 2017.
  • Employers plan to increase vacancies in 13 of 15 industries that are tracked in the survey.
  • The accounting and professional services firms were the largest recruiters, with a third of the vacancies in 2017.  Retailers, investment banks or fund managers and commercial or retail banks were also major recruiters this year.
  • By job function, the most vacancies were found in audit (TIPP), which accounted for nearly a third of total vacancies available in 2017.
  • The median graduate starting salary for 2017 was unchanged at R200,000.
  • The highest starting salaries in 2017 were for positions in investment banking, data analysts, actuarial roles and retail banking. All of these offered median starting salaries of at least R350,000.
  • The median number of applications received by employers was 1,700, while the median number of applications per vacancy was 67.
  • The median cost per joiner this year was R71,000.
  • An average of 20 per cent of those candidates who submitted applications were successful in reaching the next stage of the selection process. Half of those who make it through to final- round assessment with an employer were offered a graduate position.

Highlights from The SAGEA Candidate Insights Survey 2017 include:

  • The most likely destination for candidates was auditing (TIPP).
  • The five universities with the highest attendance levels accounted for more than three-fifths of participants.
  • 30 per cent had worked with their new employer prior to joining as a graduate.  Most of this experience was gained via vacation work.
  • More than three-fifths of candidates confirmed they started researching graduate employers prior to their final year of university.
  • Candidates made an average of six or seven applications.
  • Training & development, the organisations’ reputation and long-term career prospects were the most important factors when deciding who to apply to, and which job offer to accept.
  • Employers’ own websites and campus events, university careers fairs, people in industry and family & friends were the most widely used sources of information when job hunting
  • Over a third expect to stay with their first employer for more than five years.
  • Remuneration, promotion, international opportunities and training & development were the key factors in persuading candidates to stay longer with an employer.
  • Some 88 per cent want to work overseas at some point in the future, although most recognised it is most likely to occur in 2019 or beyond.

Executive Director for SAGEA, Cathy Sims commented:

“South Africa’s leading graduate employers are cautiously optimistic moving into 2018. They plan to increase the number of graduate vacancies on offer which shows a real commitment from recruiters to attract and retain the very best in early talent. Graduates play a key role in the talent management strategy for employers and while there is a planned increase in graduate positions, the competition for the very best candidates remains as high as ever. We anticipate employers will seek to engage in meaningful dialogue with prospective job hunters, via activities such as careers fairs and campus events, while also looking to connect online with students via graduate websites and social media. The very best graduates often have multiple job offers from which to choose, so employers will be working hard to help ensure candidates feel connected to both the role and the organisation.”

Notes for Editors

  1. The SAGEA Employer Benchmark Survey 2017 and The SAGEA Candidate Insights Survey 2017 were carried out on behalf of The South African Graduate Employers Association (SAGEA) by the specialist graduate research company, High Fliers Research Ltd.  Research took place from February to May 2017, using online questionnaires.
  2. The  South African  Graduate  Employers Association  (SAGEA)  is  a  professional body dedicated to connecting and advancing the graduate recruitment industry. SAGEA is the hub of the industry, making use of synergies, resourcefulness and insights to bring global best practice to our members, and elevate the profession.
  3. The employers who participated in one or both surveys include:
Absa / Barclays Africa
Adams & Adams

Allan Gray Anglo
American Anglo
American Coal

Anglo American Platinum
Ashburton Investments
Aurecon Group

AVI Limited
Bain & Company
Baker McKenzie
Barloworld Equipment
Barloworld Logistics
Barloworld Transport

BMW Group South Africa
Capitec Bank

Clicks Retailers
Coronation Fund Managers
Cummins Africa
Deloitte Consulting
Diageo South Africa
Dimension Data


EOH Mthombo
Fasken Martineau
Financial Intelligence Centre
First National Bank

Genesis Analytics
Global Load Control
Grant Thornton
Hatch Africa
Hogan Lovells

Intelligent Debt Management
Investec Asset Management
Investec Bank

IQ Business
Kumba Iron Ore
McKinsey & Company
Merrill Lynch
Mr Price Group

Nestle South Africa
Norton Rose Fulbright
Old Mutual Insure


PPS Insurance
Procter and Gamble
PSG Konsult

Rand Merchant Bank
RCL Foods
Reckitt Benckiser
SAB – Part of ABInBev
Sanlam Investments
Saratoga Software

South African Revenue Services
Standard Bank
Swiss Re Life and Health Africa
TEACH South Africa
TFG – The Foschini Group
The Boston Consulting Group
The Shoprite Group of Companies
Tiger Brands Tongaat Hulett Truworths
Unilever South Africa
Volkswagen Group South Africa
Webber Wentzel
Werksmans Attorneys

WSP Group Africa

For further information or additional comments please contact:
Cathy Sims, Executive Director, South African Graduate Employers Association.

Telephone: 021 712 6168  Mobile: 083 297 7740  Email:

Recent News