Companies looking for local software engineers might find they have lost them to Europe – without them leaving the country. This is because, while South African developers’ skills are increasingly in demand across Europe, they no longer need to emigrate to land these jobs.

The past two years have been a massive learning experience for everyone, not least of all companies which have discovered that much of the work that they insisted could only be done from an office, could, in actual fact, be done remotely.


Remote isn’t new, but it has changed things

Europe has always been a popular destination for skilled South Africans looking for growth opportunities, increased earning potential and the chance to work for global companies. However, the cost of moving and red tape have always stood in the way. The ability to work from anywhere has overcome this.

“Being able to choose where your ‘office’ is has opened up amazing opportunities for local developers,” says Stephen van der Heijden, VP Community at OfferZen. “Between 2019 and 2022 we’ve seen a 14% decrease in the number of South African developers looking to move abroad and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this number continue to drop.”

For the more than 120,000 developers in South Africa, access to reliable, high-speed internet, close alignment of time zones and familiarity with remote work means that they’re ideally positioned to take advantage of opportunities in Europe.

“Our State of the Software Developer Nation Report found that nine out of 10 South African developers already work in some kind of remote setup: 51% fully remotely, 41% in a hybrid environment, and only 8% still holding down a traditional office job,” says van der Heijden.


South African developers remain in demand

It’s no surprise why South African developers are in demand. Google research indicates that South Africa outranks all other countries on the continent in both the penetration rate and variety of digital skills.

Although African companies are having to compete for talent with their European counterparts in an already competitive market, the benefit for the continent is that these skills aren’t lost to local enterprises forever. Also, while this trend may be causing short term pain for companies looking to beef up their IT teams, governments across the continent are investing heavily into ICT and STEM skills.

“Local companies may have to compete with Europe today but recruiting skills from the rest of the continent presents a real opportunity,” says van der Heijden. “And like South Africans working for European companies, these developers don’t need to be physically in South Africa to meet the needs of their employers.”


The silver lining for Africa

“The shift to remote has changed the way almost every company thinks about how they operate and South African companies need to keep up with the trend. They’re now not just competing with other local companies, but with almost every forward-thinking organisation in the world,” he says.

“This requires a fundamental rethink in how companies recruit and retain staff. Even if someone isn’t looking to move overseas, the ability to work remotely changes their expectations. You can’t have a ‘Cape Town-based job’ anymore. If the person with the skills lives in George, Hammanskraal or Hoedspruit, then that’s where the job will be based.”

If this isn’t how you’re thinking about the future of your company, now’s the time to start, he advises.