Ask any South African what he or she misses about ‘back home’ and you’ll get reasonably consistent answers: the sunshine, the food and a great outdoor lifestyle.

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Of course there’s also a list of things people don’t miss, but one long-running complaint has disappeared in recent years — strong work opportunities.

South Africa has been enjoying one of the longest stretches of economic growth in its history thanks to booming commodity prices, the upcoming 2010 Fifa World Cup, and an emerging black middle class.

This has transformed job prospects, but also exposed a critical lack of talent.

“There’s a major skills shortage,” says Robert Ridout, CEO of headhunting firm The Ridout Group. The country’s newspapers are filled with job adverts for anyone with good qualifications and experience.

“We’re seeing a surge in employment opportunities,” says Penny Chaskelson, MD of recruitment agency The Personnel Concept. “Any candidates with niche specialisations, good academics and experience are in high demand.”

For South Africans living overseas and missing home, this is great news. Prospects are good in everything from education to retail, with the following sectors offering the top opportunities.

Construction and Engineering

Winning the chance to host the 2010 football World Cup has merely added to an ongoing construction boom. Visitors see the evidence first-hand, with new malls, housing complexes and offices popping up everywhere.

Financial and financial sectors

South Africa’s financial services industry is also experiencing a boom, which is financing an upsurge in the housing market and offering services to the expanding middle class. “Retail banking is a very sexy place to be right now,” says Ridout. It’s also the sector that’s the most competitive in the hunt for talent.

The sector’s skills shortage has even led to an increase in firms offering candidates signing-on bonuses. These typically compensate high flyers for any bonuses they might lose out on at their current job — and highlight the fight for skills. Pay prospects are excellent, not just for bankers, but for anyone in finance.

Entry level for financial management accountants is about R400,000, while a group financial manager will be on about R800,000. High-end chartered accountants can expect pay packets of between R1m and R1.3m.

IT and Telecoms

Africa was the world’s fastest-growing continent for mobile phone connections in 2007.

South Africa’s telecom giants are enjoying record growth and, beyond telecoms, a wide range of opportunities exists for IT workers from programming to networking. The money is good and opportunities abound, says Ridout.

IT developers can expect to start on about R180,000, while more senior programmers are looking at R400,000. Management prospects are better still, from R450,000 to R850,000.