How to win the talent war

By liamarus, 31 October, 2013

Three billion unskilled and semi-skilled workers around the world are jobless. A mammoth 1.5 billion jobs need to be created globally for the world to win the war against unemployment. This was the message from the 30th International Pan Pacific Business Conference which was hosted by the University of Johannesburg (UJ) earlier this year.

South Africa, like many emerging countries, is facing a major talent shortage. The latest Talent Shortage Survey 2013 from Manpower Group South Africa shows that engineers are still proving to be the most difficult position for companies to fill. Of interest, however, the number 2 and 3 spots – which were previously held by drivers and skilled trades - have now been replaced with management positions and teachers, followed closely by legal personnel.

In a country with unemployment hovering around 25%, it is concerning that we still have these job shortages. The survey shows that apart from technical competencies, brain drain or insufficient job attractiveness are also major factors driving these professions either to other job sectors or out of the country. The impact on business cannot be underestimated.

What is the result of these skills shortages?

Shortages impact negatively on an organisation's ability to serve clients as well as their competitiveness and productivity. In South Africa, we face an interesting conundrum as there are just not the necessary hard or technical competencies to fill the gaps (or the right industry-specific qualifications) largely because of a lack of available applicants. And even when there are the applicants, the problem is exacerbated by the global skills shortage problem which often sees local skills displaced overseas.

So what is the solution?

One thing is certain: it is no good to search globally as there is a skills shortage there too. Business needs to adopt a different approach to fill the gaps present in their shrinking workforces.

Unfortunately, South Africa's vulnerable talent pool is also a tragic testimony to our political past and we are now feeling the immediate problem. We cannot wait for education departments and business will need to drive skills development.

You need to be in the right place at the right time

Prof Veldsman, head of the department of industrial psychology and people management at UJ, says it is critical for businesses to ensure that they have the right talent in the right numbers in the right time and place. This intent has to be backed by an attitude of corporate citizenship and social consciousness, which involves building talent and creating the right environment for its materialisation, as opposed to sitting back in the hope it will appear when required. 
Business has to form partnerships with academic and training institutions

For their part, educational establishments also have to move away from inside-out perspectives to outside-in, listening to what the market requires when structuring training programmes. For business, one of the key challenges will then be identifying talent and growing it.

Career development plans and continuous learning programmes need to be introduced to drive a culture of learning.  When the skills aren't readily available, we need to employ those with potential and then find a way to try and close the skills gap. The partnerships outlined by Prof Veldsman will help facilitate this.

Ultimately, businesses need to build a brand geared towards retaining and enhancing talent. They need the appropriate programmes in place to do this and they need to understand the employee drivers to remain and grow within an organisation. If a company can build strategies around those requirements and be innovative in their retention strategies, they will be able to leverage the high immigration and resultant brain drain to their advantage.

This post first appeared on HR Pulse.



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