Skills Crunch

By Caron Perkins, CEO, SBI

South Africa’s unemployment rate is nearly 27% and education and training are critical to the continued growth of the country and the eradication of poverty. The country faces a skills shortage, worsened by the Fourth Industrial Revolution and fast-paced change. In addition, there is a battle for the skilled and the capable as organisations wrestle for the right people.

In this article, we examine some of the issues around the skills shortage, what is causing it and how it can be addressed. We then turn to talent management and examine how to get the right people and how to build a skilled workforce that is both loyal and committed to the organisation.

  • Can you provide some insight into the skills shortage – statistics, what’s causing it and some of the biggest issues and challenges?

One of the challenges in the ITC sector is that quite often people enter the industry via a non-technical route. They could have come into a Call Centre, as a PA or Admin staff, even on the Compliance side. They may or may not have a formal tertiary certification or degree, or they may have completed 1 or 2 years at University studying one of the ‘soft’ sciences – Human Resources, Marketing, Accountancy etc. With the ITC industy’s reputation for fair employment and the perception of higher salaries, ITC companies have been targeted as ‘dream companies to work for’. Not the least of these perceptions is that ITC companies are known for investing in their people, and that these are organisations where one can plan a career.

Entrants may have ‘dabbled’ in the gaining of knowledge, or been on a couple of programming or similar courses. Even school leavers have dreams of a career in IT but with little practical or formal training.

If they manage to get into a telecoms, software, hardware or other company in the sector, as, say, a sales or admin person, the knowledge, jargon and acronyms are hard to pick up and really understand. This can prevent personal progress and career building. Companies always hope they will attract the right talent and want to be seen as an employer of choice.

  • How can these be addressed – what needs to happen and what is happening?

There are several approaches often used by ITC companies: a) put them through their own in-house training for the jobs they were hired for; b) when the employee shows more aptitude and desire to learn more and take him or herself along a difference road, but within the company, offer that training; c) put them into a specific job area and hope their managers can manage the whole team to productivity and efficiency.

One of the most impactful areas is that of Youth Development (YD). Some of the bigger companies in the sector are highly committed to investing in YD programmes, with the hope that these individuals will fill their talent pipeline for future employment. Not only does this make sense from a CSI point if view, but it should ensure properly trained talent enters the company with at least a year of learning behind them, but are also familiar with the sponsoring company, its culture and methodologies.

  • How can organisations find the right talent – what steps need to be taken to ensure the right people sit in the right roles?

When hiring staff, from admin to executive level, larger organisations usually depend on hiring or executive search areas. Short lists are drawn up for interviewing, and, having ensured all references have been checked, hiring & induction takes place. Sadly this does always guarantee you have the right people in the right roles. There are various reasons – from overselling the potential employee’s abilities, to real fraud.

Your management should be trained to so they can test the hiree’s knowledge, performance and cultural fit. In some companies this can be a costly exercise, as multiple managers interview the hiree, and even if successful, there may be a poor fit or lack of knowledge.

Sales people, in particular, may have all the performance levels required but fail miserably at the new firm. Training courses, specific to the company’s needs, can go a very long way to them setting out on the right foot.

  • How can you develop and engage this workforce so they remain loyal to the business and continue to support both their skills development and the growth of the organisation?

For many employees, training is really valued. Especially if it meets their own personal desires. Small businesses usually can’t afford staff training, and if you do provide structured training along with personal development, employees when faced with career choices will compare what they are getting now to what might be offered. Especially for staff with no formal tertiary education certification, training is appreciated and becomes a reason to stay with the company.

It’s also important for the company to recognise staff achievements from training courses, especially when accompanied by promotion.
Good training, where understanding is delivered in easy to understand formats, by professional trainers, international certifications and recognition. Is the ‘gift that keeps on giving’ back to the company. Highly trained sales and management employees, for example, will show increased performance and team leadership. Refresher courses in this dynamic industry are essential, especially in technical staff.

Promoting from within the organisation is also much more successful when core produc t knowledge is gained and how your specific technology works, within the industry framework, has been shown to not only increase revenue and productivity, but increase staff loyalty. We see many people who have completed our courses move from pure admin roles to sales and management, as well some technical streams.

Promotion of technical staff to team management or people management is not always successful. Some engineers don’t want to manage people, and this needs to be taken into account.

  • Trends in terms of skills development and staff retention that organisations need to be aware of and plan for?

Customised training can help. When a company includes its products and services into the training, many employees, especially sales, marketing, purchasing, accounting and compliance staff have a ‘light bulb’ moment when suddenly everything clicks into place. It boosts ego, creates opportunities, and “makes my job so much easier”.

  • How is technology changing the skills landscape in South Africa and what can the business do to support skills growth for the children of today so they have the workforce of tomorrow?

Matriculants want to get jobs in the more technical sectors, but many have had limited contact with the technology they are yearning to follow. It is essential that our schools teach everyday computer skills from primary school onward. Very often they know more than their teachers. Today’s youth all have some form of connectivity either in their hands or at school. Investment by tech companies into computer labs, basic networking skills, telecommunications, multi-media is essential. If the government can’t provide these facilities, it’s up to large enterprises to invest not only in the future of these young people, but in the future of their own organisations.

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