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Skills shortage a calamity

Gusti CoetzerThe shortage of skilled executives in South Africa was nothing short of a calamity, a leading recruiter warned this week. And, she added, the belief that expatriates who had left the country would return to reverse the situation was an illusion.

Auguste (Gusti) Coetzer, founding partner with leading executive recruitment firm Leaders Unlimited – Korn/Ferry International, said there was a world-wide shortage of talented people, and South African recruiters were fishing in the same global pool as their competitors elsewhere in the world.

Speaking at the Labour Market 2008 conference in Midrand, Coetzer said the workforce had become globally integrated and executives were now selling their services to the highest bidder on an international basis.

“There is a world-wide shortage of top people, and executives can now pick and choose jobs. While job satisfaction and the quality of the company play a major role in attracting talent, ultimately the remuneration package and how it is structured remains the deciding factor.

“Mobility has created a world without boundaries where top executives can select who they want to work for. To think that South African executives who are working for multinationals are going to come back out of a sense of patriotism is completely unfounded,” Coetzer said.

A more realistic approach to the skills shortage would be to nurture local talent by improving the country’s educational institutions.

She revealed that, in a recent Global Talent Index Survey, South African business schools were ranked 27 out of 30. Behind the South African business schools were those of Iran, Nigeria and Indonesia. More disturbing is that South Africa’s proclivity to attract talent was ranked last.

She said the top issues that senior executives looked at when they were being head-hunted were whether the company:

  • was able to attract and retain skilled staf
  • had a credible board of directors
  • was able to develop new products and processes ahead of the competition where applicable
  • managed risk well
  • was able to increase shareholder value
  • used IT to reduce costs and create value
  • was flexible and adaptable to rapidly changing market conditions

Coetzer questioned the notion that South African executives were overpaid.

“Salaries and benefits like performance bonuses and share options are set internationally. Top men and women in the boardroom and in senior executive positions earn much the same across the world because of the global fluidity of the workforce,” she said.

It was also imperative that South African universities and technikons improve their system of nurturing students to reverse the appalling pass rates notched up in the engineering disciplines.“Recent figures shows that, between 1998 and 2004, of the 50 570 students who were enrolled at tertiary institutions, only 8 900 graduated – a pass rate of only 17,7%.”

She pointed out that only about 700 engineers entered the economy annually, while the demand for new engineers would be about 11 000 by 2010.

The situation with artisans is even worse: It is estimated that only 5 000 artisans are currently taking apprenticeship exams, while the demand is for about 12 500 a year.

While black economic empowerment had generally been embraced, the sector that needed to be commended was in financial services, where 52% of analysts within in the industrial sector are black.

(For more information contact Gusti Coetzer on +27-11-722-1600)

3 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Vusi

    So now I am beginning to understand why I am not able to get a job since looking for the past two years. It seems that I am not talented. I am certainly educated, (MBA and a few postgrad certificates and diplomas) and experienced (worked for almost thirty years with more than 15 years in senior management), gained in both private and public sector. However I am intrigued as to how my lack of talent is perceived when I do not even get interviews. And I am not looking for a job with an astronomical salary either.
    This is one of those great mysteries of the corporate world. We seek talented individuals overseas but will not employ the talented ones at home. I wonder why?

  2. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, Vusi. It is commonplace for industries to express a set of ideals, but not follow through on the ground.

  3. You’ve touched on one of our really big problems here, and its evident everyday how SA is struggling. Education obviously plays a big role, as does creating suitable opportunities and making the people actually want to stay.

    I have another related [and more pressing] concern though – [as a country] how do we attract and retain people who can make this a better country [ie create jobs, innovate, etc] – the creative entrepreneurs! It seems that our corporates and financiers are determined to chase them away [my thoughts here -> This we need to manage carefully, as I believe it holds the biggest promise for SA.


The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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