In trying economic times, firm-level skills development initiatives take second place as a result of the austerity measures in place or as their anticipated impacts become real (see for instance TUC, 2009). But what happens to national development imperatives in these times? This paper explores the impact of the 2008 global economic financial crisis on skills development and workplace equity for a selection of South African companies in the manufacturing sector. It reports on the results of a quantitative and qualitative firm-level response to the crisis. In light of the peculiar skills development and equity challenges facing the country, it is argued that national measures and firm-level recruitment trends are not likely to advance workplace equity as the quest for efficiency takes hold in an effort to survive the crisis. © 2010 Published by Elsevier Ltd.