QES Q1: 2021 - Business services and trade sectors shed most jobs

Posted on July 8, 2021

The numbers of the Quarterly Employment Survey (QES) for Q1 of 2021 are grim, showing a net decrease of 9,000 jobs between Q4 of 2020 and Q1 of 2021. Most of these job losses were incurred by full-time employees. This category experienced a net decrease of 63,000 jobs in the same period.

Even more concerning, the most recent Stats SA Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLSF), published at the beginning of June, revealed that South Africa is suffering the worst youth unemployment rate in the country’s history.

The effects of unemployment on the economy and the psyche of the current generation of young job-seekers are dire. Unemployment leads to reduced productivity and lower gross domestic product (GDP), it increases both economic costs for the country and deepens a reliance on social grants. Then there are the psychological costs of broken spirits and disillusionment.

Movement by sector

There was a total year-on-year net decrease of 552,000 jobs across the employment landscape from March 2020 to March 2021 – highlighting the chaos caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The trade sector shed the most jobs quarter-on-quarter for both full-time and part-time positions, with a total net loss of 40,000. This was mainly due to decreases in employment in the retail trade, hotels, and restaurants exacerbated by lockdown regulations. The kinds of jobs that have been lost in the sector include chefs; waitrons; baristas; restaurant managers, retail managers, sales assistants, retail supervisors, cashiers, HR consultants/managers, etc.

Year-on-year, the most affected sector was business services, which showed a net decrease of 192,000 jobs. The quarterly decrease of 19,000 employees or (-0,9%) in the business services industry was mainly due to decreases in employment in the financial intermediation (i.e., banks) except insurance and pension funding; business activities n.e.c; and real estate activities.

Since inception, 55% of YES’s total work experiences have been created through the negatively affected business services and trade sectors (see below).


150 YES work experience programmes have already been created through innovative collaborations with corporate partners in both the trade and business services sectors since January 2021. YES, through its internal placement model, has youth working in thousands of jobs across all sectors. Through its sponsored host placement model, YES focuses on placing youth in NGOs across ten sectors, including digital, healthcare, early childhood development and conservation. This means that youth not only get to learn and earn, but they are involved in building their own communities across South Africa.

Full-time vs part-time

With a decrease in permanent work, there was (thankfully) a net increase of 54,000 part-time employment gigs in Q1. The increase in part-time jobs comes predominantly from the community services sector, mainly due to the appointment of teacher assistants in provincial government in Q1:2021.

The increase in part-time jobs could illustrate the potential safety net a gig economy can form if used to the country’s advantage. However, with the recent Level 4 lockdown restrictions, the trajectory of those working part-time gigs, especially in the restaurant, entertainment, education and beauty industry, could be derailed. Providing access to the internet and digital skills could help our workforce not only ride out the uncertainty of harder lockdowns, but create alternative income streams that do not require a person’s physical presence in a given location.

YES has been implementing online courses before COVID-19 propelled the popularisation of digital learning. The courses get youth work-ready and include modules on entrepreneurship. Each YES Youth receives a phone preloaded with mobile applications - zero-rated by Vodacom – that train youth in crucial soft skills, and monitor and evaluate the youths’ work experiences and their behavioural shifts throughout the programme. Interacting with the phones alone acclimatize youth with working and learning through digital platforms – a necessary intervention considering only 41% of South Africans have smartphones, and only 8% have desktops. 

The digital delivery, through which YES has logged over 8.9 million learning minutes, ensures that youth in townships or rural areas outside of formal corporate settings can access the same content. YES has youth all over the country, and through the phones and zero-rated apps, each benefits from the technological progress leading South Africa into the future world of work.

YES has seen a significant increase in companies wanting to train youth in future-fit skills through our digital implementation partners. This trend illustrates the increasing demand for digital and tech skills in the workforce.

YES is a win-win-win for country, company, and youth. Organisations are rewarded for creating work experiences through YES by receiving one or two full B-BBEE level ups. For business, being able to gain B-BBEE levels makes them more competitive in the South African economic context. For the country, thousands of jobs mean new taxpayers, new skilled employees, and new customers. Thousands of jobs could mean a new, more inclusive South Africa.

Become a part of the movement. Calculate your YES target and co-create a future that works.