Where, oh where has the talent gone?

It's those specialist skills that are bringing all the companies to the yard.

Read time 7min 10sec

Skills. The skills shortage. Few skilled employees. These terms are often heard echoing across the halls of many South African organisations, especially within the highly specialised areas of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Finding people who have the right talents and abilities is becoming increasingly complex, and often CIOs find themselves fighting over the same people for the same positions in the same markets.

...the space that sits between the requirements and the people able to fulfil them is increasingly looking more like a chasm.

There are not enough people with the right skills and experience to fill vital roles, a fact confirmed by the 2014 South African HR Recruitment Survey by MCI Consultants, which found that skills shortages and recruitment are ongoing problems for the beleaguered business.

"After years of strong economic growth across the continent, African organisations face an enormous demand for skills to keep expanding their businesses," says Anja Van Beek, HR director for Sage VIP and chief people officer for Sage AAMEA. "A recent survey from EY shows that 70 percent of African firms are recruiting, yet many report that they're taking longer to fill vacancies and are experiencing higher staff turnover."

Technology continues to evolve at an exceptional rate and the space that sits between the requirements and the people able to fulfil them is increasingly looking more like a chasm. Employees with the requisite capabilities are shrinking as rapidly as the skills demand grows. That said, however, not all organisations prioritise skills when selecting a candidate.

An elusive beast

"Our mantra is always to hire first for culture fit and second for skills," says Brent Haumann, head of Development at Striata. "This is especially tough when you're only seeing one suitable candidate every couple of weeks and you need five resources, like yesterday. But every time we've prioritised getting a scarce skill over whether that person will find a home at Striata, we've regretted it. Culture is what makes a business work and the wrong person can break things, regardless of how talented or experienced they are."

It makes what the business is looking for a far more elusive beast than simply the ability to handle the role. Many organisations believe that a cultural fit should sit at the forefront of their decision-making process.

"Employers look for a specific set of skills relative to specific job requirements, but cultural fit and alignment to company values is key," says Linda Fine, Human Resources executive, Dimension Data Middle East and Africa. "Also, client centric individuals who are able to articulate business value to clients are always high on the list of individual skills requirements. As is a good team player and someone who can solve problems, build relationships and collaborate."

Lara Green, branch manager at Network IT Recruitment, adds: "The demand for IT professionals has increased drastically as IT departments in large organisations have gone from being support to becoming a critical part of the business. Experience outweighs qualifications as these become a 'nice-to-have' with the exception of certain certifications needed for specific roles."

In demand

Most in demand

What skills are most in demand, which will have employers banging down your e-mail? Here's what the experts say:

1 Management - project management, management skills and people skills
2 Developers - software, object-oriented programming, platform architecture, feature design, test-driven
3 Data scientists - science, big data, analytics
4 Architects - enterprise, pre-sales solutions, solutions
5 Cloud and mobility consultants
6 CIOs
7 Engineers
8 Technicians
9 Network administrators
10 Sales and advertising specialists

(These statistics were pulled from the lists provided by each interviewee and graded according to listings provided.)

So what skills are the most in demand? It turns out that in spite of a varied industry, the answers are all very much the same. A person with highly developed social skills, experience and technical capabilities, collaboration skills and business nous as well as the emotional intelligence to cope with the challenges of corporate life is the ideal.

"Fundamental social skills include a strong ability to work in a team, the desire to guide more junior members, the ability to build consensus with peers and collaboratively solve problems and allow for the best ideas to come to the surface," says Dale Humby, CTO at Nomanini. "We struggle to find female developers and engineers as it's still a very male-dominated environment. Teams with a more balanced male/female split have a more diverse way of approaching and solving problems."

For recruiters and organisations alike, there remain capabilities that are hard to find. For Humby, it's technical skills - those with the experience and ability are most likely already employed and not looking to change job any time soon. For Van Beek, leadership and technical skills are in short supply, while for Haumann, it's finding people who are capable in the older programming languages of Perl and C++.

"People who have a good foundation of technical skills and a good blend of strong interpersonal, leadership and management skills are proving difficult to find," says George Honiball, senior manager: Talent at Neotel. "Project management is also becoming very important from a budgeting and timing perspective."

A trend in the hand

Catching the right people has also become something of an art form. Social media has transformed the traditional space and is being used by internal and external recruitment agencies alike. Some companies have really stepped up the game to attract the talent to their halls, while others are relying on the skill sets of specialised organisations as well as word of mouth.

The HR Recruitment survey highlighted three very specific trends within this space. The first is that most organisations initially look to internal talent before casting their eye outside their doors, an impressive 88 percent of those surveyed. The second, at 70 percent, use social media to recruit their new employees. The recruitment agency remains in the game, with 52 percent of organisations using their skills. What's interesting is that organisations felt the best candidates were those who were supplied via the agency or found internally, while print scored the lowest.

"Current trends point to candidates wanting to use the latest and greatest technologies and they want to work for organisations that use these," says Ryan Proksch, MD for Kelly Professional Assignments. "Companies that can offer this are far more likely to attract strong candidates."

Catching the eye of top talent

What does it take to get the attention of top talent in a crowded market? How can the CIO make sure their business' voice is heard over the roar of all the other organisations shouting for the same pieces of the pie? Well, some companies challenge the status quo and other such tedious clich'es through the use of games, food, music, broken cars and even social media to woo their prospective employees.

Many organisations believe that a cultural fit should sit at the forefront of their decision-making process.

Indayi Communications, an advertising, marketing and branding agency, launched its job hunt over social media. The adverts were bright and cheery and engaging, encouraging candidates to apply on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The short list was then invited to a day at the office that included game-playing, networking with existing employees while listening to good music and finger nibbles. It gave the prospects a chance to assess the culture and style of the business and allowed them to relax before the final interviews took place.

Upworthy is one of a number of companies to use the open-ended job description. No list of demanding skills or necessary personality traits, just a question - does this business excite you? Skills can be taught, passion cannot. Another exceptional example of taking recruitment to the next level is what Ikea Australia did. It hid the job description inside every box of furniture the company sold. The campaign cost little more than the paper and glue, but the results were impressive. It had over 4 000 applications and nearly 300 new hires and the applicants delivered the job specs to themselves. In Germany, Volkswagen's hunt for skilled engineers saw it distributing damaged cars at repair shops across the country. Underneath each car was a job ad. While you're down there, might as well get hired...

This article was first published in Brainstorm magazine. Click here to read the complete article at the Brainstorm website.

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