The SAGEA Employer Benchmark and Candidate Insights 2023

Press Release

Leading employers continue to invest in graduate programmes despite caution for the year ahead. Meanwhile candidates increase their focus on personal development, flexible working, long-term job security, and looking after their mental health.

Results from independent research of leading employers in South Africa shows an increasing number of graduate programmes aimed at hiring larger cohorts of students. The SAGEA Employer Benchmarking Survey 2023 is based on responses from 64 of the leading graduate employers in the country. While the impact of the pandemic and subsequent economic turmoil is still being felt, employers continue to employ a long-term strategy for graduate recruitment and are now offering more substantial programmes – the median number of positions on these programmes is 38, which is significantly higher than two years ago. While these employers received thousands of applications, many said there continued to be a shortage of candidates with the right skill set or qualifications. With the increase in data-led graduate vacancies, recruiters are looking for technical and numerate candidates.

The SAGEA Candidate Insights Survey 2023 questioned 2,431 new or future employees about their job hunting and opinions about the job market. Candidates who started their job hunting in their first year at university were most likely to secure a graduate position with their employer of choice. By comparison, students who waited until their final year before starting their job search were the least likely to have received a job offer from one of their top three employers.

The research showed that candidates made an average of nine applications each, and most had secured multiple job offers. Even with this success, candidates are still very concerned with looking after their mental-health and well-being. As a result, many are prioritsing employers who offer flexible working and the opportunity to create strong social networks through work.

Highlights from The SAGEA Employer Benchmarking 2023 include:

  • A third of employers stated that graduates were hired to be part of the leadership development programme, with the view that they will become future managers of the organisation. A similar number of employers were primarily recruiting graduates to fill roles that require in-demand or technical skills, while the remainder confirmed that graduates are hired for entry-level roles, and that some (but not all) will progress to manager level.
  • The accounting and professional services firms were the largest recruiters, with more than a third of all vacancies in 2023. Other major recruiters were banking & finance organisations, engineering, manufacturing & mining companies, or consulting firms.
  • By job function, the most vacancies were found in audit (previously TIPP), which accounted for a quarter of total vacancies available in 2023.
  • The median number of graduate vacancies in 2023 is 38, which is higher than previous years.
  • The median graduate starting salary for 2023 was R245,600. After a noticeable increase last year, it appears the starting salary for graduates has remained steady.
  • The highest starting salaries in 2023 were for investment banking, actuarial work, retail banking, data scientists, mining engineering and geologists – these roles had median starting salaries in excess of R450,000.
  • The median number of applications received by employers was 2,800 which is reducing to pre-pandemic levels.
  • The median number of applications per vacancy was 79, which is similar to last year.
  • A sixth of candidates who submitted applications were successful in reaching the next stage. An average of one in ten offers were accepted and subsequently reneged upon.

Highlights from The SAGEA Candidate Insights 2023 include:

  • The most popular destinations were auditing, technology, legal and finance roles.
  • The five universities with the highest attendance levels accounted for more than half of all survey participants.
  • Due to the pandemic, half had actively applied to employers with flexible working options, while more than a quarter were searching for roles near to their home. One in six said they had to change their views on which industries they wanted to work in.
  • Half of the candidates were going to be working in Johannesburg, while nearly a fifth had secured positions in Cape Town.
  • Some 46 per cent expect to stay with their first employer for more than five years.
  • More than half of candidates felt there were a range of challenging aspects to starting a career including: staying fit and healthy; looking after their mental health and well-being; maintaining or creating a social life; and learning to manage their finances.

Executive Director for SAGEA, Cathy Sims commented:

“I am very pleased to see so many of the country’s leading employers increasing their commitment to graduate recruitment. It is clear that employers continue to recognise the value of hiring high-calibre graduates and the increase in programme size is a clear indication that organisations want graduates to play a key role in their business. There is a shortage of relevant skills in the market, so many employers are having to grow these capabilities from within by looking for candidates with the right potential or passion, even if they don’t currently possess the required skill-set.”

Notes for Editors

1.   The SAGEA Employer Benchmarking 2023 and The SAGEA Candidate Insights 2023 were carried out on behalf of The South African Graduate Employers Association (SAGEA) by the specialist graduate research company, High Fliers Research Ltd.  Research was online, and took place from March to June 2023.

2.   The South African Graduate Employers Association (SAGEA)  is a professional association that is the hub of graduate employment in South Africa.  Through exclusive insights projects, ingenuity and connection to international organisations, SAGEA provides members with access to the latest graduate employment insights, trends, global best practice and resources to help them attract and retain the best talent for their businesses.

3.   The employers who participated in one or both pieces of research include:

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

      Telephone:  087 379 7163   Email: