Skills Summit: Sharing knowledge, technical training and exchanging talent crucial for tackling skills shortage


Confronting the ever-growing skills gap, paying top rand for talent and motivating senior employees to take up the mantle of training younger recruits are some of the many challenges that South Africa’s top HR professionals are dealing with in their respective industries.

During the recent CHRO South Africa Skills Summit held at Melrose in Johannesburg, various HR professionals gathered to discuss HR hot button topics.

Chief among the topics for discussion during Skills Think Tank sessions were the challenges titans of industry face in terms of skills. However, the Think Thanks served as more than just a sounding board for skills challenges facing various industries: they also served as an opportunity to share innovative ideas on how to tackle talent management.


Prioritising practical skills

When asked what the most pressing skills challenges are, Lindiwe Sebesho, managing director at Remchannel, Old Mutual, said recruiters are seeing an increasing trend for applicants who are highly qualified regarding degrees, but lack the technical skills to do the job. “It’s very interesting, because we are actually getting interns, and most of them – because of the thinking that they need to do a master’s and further studies – are so focused on the theoretical, but they lack the practical skills,” she said.

“We need more talent that can write a report and if it’s in a technical environment they need to go out there, look at the machine and learn how to drive it and fix it. Whatever it is, we need to move beyond theory to practical application. It’s not an innovative solution, but I think we need to prioritise practical training over the glamorisation of theoretical knowledge and degrees.” Lindiwe added.

Bongani Phakathi, HR and public affairs executive for Assore, added that there was a need to create technical schools that are dedicated to training artisans in a given industry with the necessary skills.

“There has been a lot of chatter about the green economy, but no one is talking about the artisans that need to be trained to work in that environment. Having institutions dedicated to technical training is imperative,” Bongani said.

Knowledge transfer

The transfer of skills from more seasoned employees to younger recruits was highlighted as one of the more pressing challenges for the HR professionals in attendance, with some agreeing that the ageing workforce sometimes sees incoming talent as competition rather than an opportunity to become a mentor.

“In the technical space, there is an ageing profile, and therefore there is a gap between the skills that older staff have in comparison to new recruits. Knowledge transfer is a huge issue, because I find with some of my clients that the older workforce hold onto information because they feel that they need to protect their space. The fear of being replaced is real,” Tesantha Naidoo, career consultant at Mercer, said.

Phindiwe Gida, portfolio head of human capital and corporate services at the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), echoed Tasenda’s thoughts: “If you look at the amount of youth unemployment, we cannot afford to keep an ageing workforce in place. We need young people to come in, and we need to incentivise old workers to transfer their knowledge.”

Zayd Shaikh, head of talent at BMW South Africa, added that HR professionals need to take a more proactive role in facilitating the process, saying, “Skills transfer doesn’t happen when it’s not measured and rewarded.”

Innovative solutions

While using each other as a sounding board for the various skills challenges they are facing, the HR professionals came up with innovative solutions to deepen the skills of their existing workforce in addition to incoming recruits.

One of the more interesting solutions involved talent swaps, where organisations can exchange specific employees for a number of months. The basic idea is to have the individuals learn from the partner organisation and fill in any skills gaps that cannot be addressed within their specific organisation.

Bringing the session to conclusion Sungula Nkabinde, community manager for CHRO South Africa noted, “This type of innovation is needed especially when we want to stem the tide of poaching top candidates.”


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