Cape Town CHROs reveal why the war for talent is the wrong battle

Executives reveal that HR needs to focus on developing and retaining existing talent in their organisations.

On 23 June, leading HR professionals in Cape Town gathered amid the skyscrapers of the inner city to talk about sourcing talent, keeping it and letting it go during the war for talent.

The CHROs watched as the Cape Doctor brought showers of rain over the Atlantic Ocean, Table Mountain and the bustling business district from the 180Lounger at the top of The Terraces.

At the end of the evening, the attendees were all sure of one thing: Fighting the war on talent is the wrong battle. “Africa has talent. We have to believe that, on a continent that is home to one billion people, there is a lot more potential,” said Maersk HR head Mechell Chetty.

She explained that the war for talent is a battle over a very small pool of people. However, there are one billion more people with potential out there. HR professionals just have to see it.

“We’re all looking for ready ‘now talent’, particularly in technology and digital fields. But we’re all fishing in the same pond and stealing from each other, which is only pushing up the price of the talent, not increasing the supply thereof. So we have to think differently,” said Capitec HR executive Rizwana Butler.

Developing new talent

Rizwana explained that, for example, HR professionals have to look at the talent that’s already in their organisation, identify their potential to grow, and then help them to evolve. “We have to tap into our existing talent pool and their potential, and train for the skill we’re looking for.”

Rectron chief of people Kutlwano Rawana, however, believes that the skills gap is not at a tertiary level, but at the very beginning. “One of the reasons I am in Cape Town is to scout for schools around the Mother City where we can develop STEM skills as part of our CSI initiatives. As a tech distribution business, it’s difficult to get the right skills, like drone tech skills for example. The only way to close that gap is to address the problem at a grassroots level – schools.”

She explained that Rectron plans to give school kids the right programmes and labs to learn science and tech subjects, to foster their interest and skills at an earlier age, and to broaden the future talent pool in the process. “We can’t leave it to the government and tertiary institutions, we have to find a way to start developing these skills that we need sooner.”

Sanlam group HR director Jeanett Modise agreed that HR needs to talk about developing skills, not just attracting it. “It’s important to partner with people and organisations in your ecosystem to become stronger. Competitors can work together to grow their industries respectively.”

Echoing this, Rizwana added that thinking differently in terms of acquiring and developing new talent is going to take partnerships. “How can we partner with the education system of the country to get it to the standard that we require? This will take collaboration across companies, industries, government, universities, colleges, and more.”

Retaining talent

Rizwana explained that South Africa is spending R10 billion on international skills because there aren’t enough in the country. However, that money could be used to develop the potential talent that exists instead.

She also added that many organisations have CSI programmes, and that they should use that to create the skillsets for the future. “Invest that money in South Africa, because we believe in South Africa.”

Agreeing, Floatpays chief people officer Andisa Liba said: “We’ve got a massive unemployment rate in the country, while other countries are picking up our talent from our streets. What are we not seeing?”

She explained that the absorption rate of the talented youth in the country into the corporate world is poor. “Perhaps in setting up the structures at the point of entry in our organisations, we haven’t done it right. We’re making it impossible for youth to get into the corporate world, that’s why other countries are picking them up and creating superstars out of our talent.”

She added that, until corporate South Africa can fix that problem, the world will continue to thrive on the talent of Africa, while our own country goes to war.

Rewarding talent

Sanlam head of group reward Julia Fourie said that there has been a rising theme of kindness over the last couple of years, but explained that organisations and HR leaders need to walk the walk when it comes to their talent and staff. “At Sanlam, doing the basics, doing it consistently and delivering on the promises we make has helped us to retain our talent.”

During its employee survey, one of the things Sanlam’s staff said they wanted more of, was to be thanked. As a result, Sanlam has built “Applause”, a reward programme where people can send points to their peers for following or showing the organisation’s values. Employees can then use these points to spend at partner retailers.

Echoing the theme of the evening, Julia said: “If you don’t grow your own timber, then all you’re doing is creating a prized ox. We have to put holistic programmes in place across our organisations to not only reward young upcoming minds, but to give them the security that they will have career paths, mentoring and visibility in the workplace.”

Creating a future mindset

In between drinks and mouth-watering canapes, attendees were taken through an interactive session with leadership and transition coach Graham Fehrsen, during which they had to tell each other what they’ve had to “learn, relearn and unlearn” in the last two years.

Author and strategist Abdullah Verachia also told attendees how they could equip themselves to be future-ready CHROs, and how to disrupt the HR function. “Covid-19 has created a cognitive rewiring of human behaviour,” he explained. “People are the real superheroes. We think the role of people management belongs to HR, but it belongs to everyone. If people are the heart of the organisation, HR is the veins.”

He encouraged the attendees to create a future mindset. “How can you infuse your mindset with the oxygen of creativity, empathy and curiosity? You can’t change an industry if people aren’t thinking outside of the box, empathising with each other and ready to explore the unknown.”

This event was made possible by executive partners Mercer, Sanlam, ServiceNow, and Workday, as well as associate partners Floatpays, SkillsTown and The Strategist.