Excellent CHRO Skills Summit reveals the best ways to curb the skills crunch


On 21 February, the country’s most sought after HR minds gathered at 39 Melrose Boulevard in Melrose Arch. The focal point of their gathering? A pressing concern for HR leaders everywhere: the persistent challenge of skills scarcity.

The night kicked off with a Skills Think Tank where HR executives had the opportunity to soundboard their ideas and challenges with each other.

Deemed to be the ultimate talent management strategy sounding board, leaders in attendance were posed with two questions as the basis for the discussions:

  • What is the most pressing skills challenge you are currently facing?
  • What is an innovative approach that you have adopted as part of your talent management strategy?

Lindiwe Sebesho, managing director: Remchannel at Old Mutual, started the discussion with a key observation noting, "Solving the skills gap is about getting back to the basics. It's not an innovative solution, but it's a thing we need to prioritise. Prospective employees have put too much focus on knowledge, but we need to prioritise practicality over theory."

Bongani Phakathi, HR and public affairs executive at Assore, agreed, adding that there is a new social dynamic where white-collar work is being glamourised while blue-collar work (more skilled-based work) is being demonised online. “You don't see TikTok videos of a young man in overalls going into a hole and I think that plays a role in the skills gap," he said.

With regards to innovative approaches, CHROs shared a few, including talent swops, centres of developments where employees can acquire new skills and even out-of-the-box concepts like a talent Tinder!

Following fruitful peer interaction, the executives were officially welcomed by CHRO South Africa community manager Sungula Nkabinde, who gave a brief background on how the summit topic came about.

“After many conversations with our community members, we realised that the skills deficit was an ongoing issue in many organisations. The tried-and-tested build, borrow and buy method wasn’t producing desired results anymore and many needed a platform where they could think outside the box and share great ideas,” he explained. 

Chris Jardine, CEO of workplace management solutions group Tsebo Solutions, was next on the podium, to share his thoughts on skills development and the responsible use of AI adoption.

According to Chris, there is a growing situation where organisations find themselves with a particularly high level of technological developments but, on the flipside, a low level of adaptable skills.

“As organisations we have to consciously decide to strike a balance between the rapidly developing high-tech and the low level of skills available. This will in future create a more future fit workforce," he said.

Chris added that HR chiefs are in a unique position to make a change in organisations and in the country as a whole.

“Integration of tech into our ways of working is a journey that we all have to make. My challenge to you is to find ways to embrace tech without it being at the expense of our people, our communities and most importantly our humanity.”

After some networking and refreshments to lighten the mood, attendees were privy to a gripping panel discussion with Enid Lizamore, HR director, Heineken; Portia Thokoane, Nestle’s HR director for East & Southern Africa, the head of delivery enablement at Sasol Bramley Maetsa and Lindiwe Sebesho, managing director: Remchannel at Old Mutual

The quartet explored talent management hacks that enable HR practitioners to operate more efficiently and effectively.

Enid said companies should have foresight when it comes to talent acquisition and strategy.

“There is a lot of foresight that goes into the way we approach talent. Retention is about keeping your best people engaged and stretched. Put your best people on the biggest business challenge and allow them to develop and grow. We are not afraid to take chances on our talent.” she said.

She added that Heineken’s people practices are built on four tenets: shape, deliver, connect and develop. “Everything we do depends on these four behaviours and that’s what gives our people an edge in terms of evaluating and elevating talent.”

Bramley said, “I look at the bottlenecks and the market trends and I bring in technology that will change the way we work. As part of that, I am implementing the AI strategy for the business.”

According to Bramley, an employee total experience is about extreme alignment between IT and HR. “There is currently a push-pull relationship between the two but what is needed is a much more symbiotic relationship. You need to have the most tech-savvy HR. The challenge is that HR is typically the least transformed function within the business. HR should not be sitting in a cubicle waiting for someone’s email to troubleshoot a problem. HR needs to be a lot more proactive in engaging with IT to enable the technology to be driven by people-first principles.”

Portia took the attendees on a tech journey when she revealed that Nestle is investing heavily in automation and simultaneously developing untapped skills.

“As Nestle, we are investing millions of dollars in creating distribution warehouses of the future. Our warehouses, which are some of the biggest in Africa, feature advanced sorting systems and robotics. As expected there are some job losses, but what we have seen is that people are keen to learn new skills. This works as a switch on button for employees,” she revealed.

The night ended on a high with HR leaders agreeing that the skills crunch dilemma is not one that can be solved overnight, but will need a collective approach with out-of-the-box thinking to overcome.

The night was made possible by the following partners who have thrown their weight behind this summit: Old Mutual Limited, Mercer Africa, Workday, Ayanda Mbanga Communications, Standard Bank Group, and Yugrow.

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