According to reports, one of the most important causes of South Africa’s present economic woes is a shortage of technical and managerial skills. Where can South Africa get the skills it needs to put the country on the path to economic prosperity? Ralph Ruthford, Group Executive: Human Resources, Novus Holdings, investigates how the private sector can help create a formidable skills pipeline.

Government has rightly emphasised that to fill the current skills gap in the country it needs to import skills, as outlined in National Treasury’s recently released economic growth policy paper. This will help SA’s struggling economy.

But corporate South Africa can be part of the solution by developing a sustainable pipeline of skills on home ground. In an ailing economy that struggles to attract new and diverse skills, the private sector has a responsibility to identify talent internally and invest in candidates through advanced skills development and talent growth programmes. A strategic step by business to invest in its internal pipeline can lead to more opportunities and prosperity, which amounts to growth in business, and by default, the economy.

This is echoed in Deloitte’s 2019 Human Capital Trends Report, which finds that organisations should look much more strategically at moving current employees into available opportunities across the enterprise. It found that while an internal hire need not be a “perfect” fit for a role to be afforded an opportunity for growth or skills development, studies show that reskilling an internal hire may take a year or so, but it can be done for as little as one-sixth the cost of hiring an external candidate.

Below are some insights as to how businesses can be more strategic at addressing the skills gap within.

Match promising talent with the business’s growth plan from the very beginning

Making a conscious decision to identify and invest in talent does not necessarily retain talent at the business. If you want to retain your most promising candidates, you need to match your candidate with the needs of the business. If candidates understand their role in taking the business strategy forward, and how their development plan supports that, they become more invested in realising that vision.

One way to do this is by first developing an internal crop of people through psychometric assessments, and then put a plan in place to support and grow them. Give them the training that is required, and let them lead a project critical to the business, and then measure the candidate’s performance against that. Talented individuals need to receive continuous feedback in terms of performance and developmental areas.

At Novus Holdings we have seen a significant step change in the candidates that have been on our early talent management programme. These candidates have shown the potential to deliver on the business strategy, and are today in key positions, having climbed the ranks from junior positions.

The company annually invests millions into skills development and training on employees. The spend is directed mainly at skills programmes, bursaries, learnerships,  and apprenticeships and managerial and supervisory leadership.

Create depth of leadership

While government is currently reviewing the Critical Skills List, a recent survey pitted business and executive management in the top 10 skills required by South Africa to move it forward.

The manufacturing sector can benefit from an approach that continually looks at the business’s skills gaps, and then identifies candidates for management roles internally. These candidates can be developed through soft skills training, learnership programmes or management courses.

This creates depth in leadership, and something we find works. Our current management team is testament to the company paying particular attention to the development of key talent, borne out of a need to attract a specific set of skills to realise our business strategy. For example, as part of our plan to grow the business, we diversified into the packaging industry, and instead of looking outside the company to find this specialised skillset in management, we developed the talent internally.

More than 40% of candidates who are currently in senior management positions were internal promotions , and today, the average age of a general manager at Novus Holdings is approximately between 35 and 40 years old.

This fosters a culture of excellence internally, a “rising tide that lifts all ships”, which has a positive ripple effect throughout the company.

Training and skills development of management is a huge player in the retention of key talent, and we place a high premium on our people.

The importance of technical skills and learnerships

The skills gap phenomenon is one of the most pressing issues faced by the manufacturing industry today, according to a 2019 report recently released by the World Manufacturing Forum.

A good apprenticeship programme that develops the technical skills that the manufacturing sector needs can help plug this gap.

The Novus Academy – which provides apprentices with a set of specialised printing industry technical skills – has achieved excellent results in achieving the goal of ensuring a regular supply of skills for our trade. It has trained more than 226 apprentices since its inception in 2011. Of those who have gone through the Academy, 100% of artisans are employed, making a significant impact on our industry.

Learnerships are also essential to creating a constant learning environment and is an active way of developing staff. It is a shorter qualification than a degree or a diploma, and if the learnership is matched to the candidate to deliver a required business skill, then it can create further competency in the workplace. Since 2018 we have spent more than R3 million on learnerships.

The job to do to get the right skills to take our country forward is immense, especially in the face of an uncertain economic climate. But by promoting a culture of learning internally, and by strategically focusing on developing internal talent, this is one way that businesses can make an impact, and help themselves come out ahead, too.