How to bridge South Africa's talent gap

How to bridge South Africa's talent gap

The talent shortage is a difficult, long-term challenge. Success depends on putting the issue at the top of the business agenda and keeping it there.

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How to bridge South Africa's talent gap

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Companies are suffering from a lack of talent. When Bain & Company surveyed nearly 1,000 companies around the globe, we found that less than one-third of them were happy with their ability to acquire the right talent, deploy them in roles where they could have the highest impact, and implement an effective system for evaluation and follow-up.

In South Africa, the situation is even worse and the challenges are well known. South Africa’s education system is near the bottom in global comparisons—it ranks 138th out of 144 countries in math and science education. Despite high levels of secondary enrollment, few students actually graduate from a tertiary institution. Students who do graduate with a degree do not necessarily have the skills required by South African businesses. When companies are able to find and hire the right talent, these sought-after individuals tend to leave either the company or South Africa, a trend reflected in high rates of job switching and emigration by those with tertiary education.

CEOs tell us that they often feel powerless in the face of the talent crunch. But we believe it is possible to not only surmount the challenge, but also make talent development and retention a differentiator that can help companies outpace competitors in growth and profits. The talent shortage is a difficult, long-term challenge. We have found that success depends on putting the issue at the top of the business agenda and keeping it there.

But four practical steps can have an immediate impact and deliver short-term results. Instead of reinventing existing processes, these steps involve focusing on the basics and executing them well.

Develop a clear picture of your talent gap

Many CEOs we talk to do not know the extent of their talent gap and if they do, they don’t necessarily know where it is most critical. Measuring the gap means looking at the challenge from both the talent demand and talent supply perspectives.

As a company’s strategy evolves and changes, so does demand for the number and type of talent. Winners align the organisation’s purpose with its strategy—not only structure and boxes, but the right roles and decision accountabilities to ensure individuals who work in the organisation are clear about what they need to do on a daily basis. On the supply side, winning companies evaluate existing employees—their performance, level of skills and potential for future new roles. Successful talent gap analyses take into account these demand and supply factors as well as promotion and retention rates. They also break down the talent gap by regions, functions, levels and historically disadvantaged South Africans. That way they can focus their efforts on recruitment, training and development, promotions and retention on the most crucial areas of the business.

Find ways to get more out of your scarce talent

That means ensuring that employees use their skills in the area they are trained for, not for administrative or exogenous tasks. A mining company increased engineering capacity and improved job satisfaction when it provided administrative assistants to take over non-engineering responsibilities and also removed non-engineering tasks such as unnecessary meetings and superfluous reports. Another wise move: It provided on-site services such as barbers and dry-cleaning to help engineers make better use of their time.

Put your top talent in roles where they can have a disproportionate impact

Two steps can help ensure that your top talent has an impact. Start by identifying mission critical positions. Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company, systematically reviews its mission critical roles. The company asks: “How much impact does the position have on profitable growth, customer relationship and development of top talent?” Then the company looks at the difference top talent can have on these outcomes compared with other employees. The only roles that are designated as mission critical are those that are important and where top talent can make a substantial contribution. Identifying mission critical roles is the first step. Companies also need to deploy an effective performance management system to identify top talent to fill those roles. That way, it is possible to prioritise mission critical positions, determine where the top talent resides and redeploy talent from around the company into those critical positions. In our experience, deploying top talent to mission critical roles leads to an immediate improvement in performance.

Make the line managers accountable for talent management—and continuously track progress

Too many talent interventions fail because they are overseen by human resources departments instead of line managers who are ultimately responsible for talent management. Line managers can’t do their part to identify and fill talent gaps without targets and accountabilities. Winning companies put in place people scorecards that track talent management at the line level. The scorecards cover a wide range of indicators, including the size and urgency of the talent gap by critical area, percentage of reviews completed on time and to quality standards, and identities of talent creators vs. destroyers. They also look at bench depth for mission critical roles, employee satisfaction, mission critical roles filled by top talent, win rates for must-have recruits and retention rates for top and mainstream talent.

Such a scorecard allows a company to clearly identify the specific areas where it is falling short and the initiatives it can put in place to attract, deploy, develop and retain the best of the best. More importantly, it allows the company to reward line managers that excel at creating and managing talent and develop those that fall short.

By failing to act, companies risk losing out to competitors that see the talent gap for what it is: a disguised opportunity to pull ahead of the pack.

Tiaan Moolman is a partner and Joachim Breidenthal is a principal at Bain & Company in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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