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Regardless of region or sector, companies are struggling to find the people they need to succeed. How is that possible in a country with millions of unemployed people?

Stefan Lauber, the Managing Director of i-Fundi, blames the current fast food approach to Human Resource Management as the root cause of the problem. “When companies recruit, they are looking for readymade people. Candidates are expected to have a proven track record in a position that was very similar to one that is currently advertised. There is little time to prepare anyone. New staff is needed now, someone may just have resigned or a company may need new employees to fulfil a new order.”

With no time to develop new talent for open positions, there is little else that companies can do but to recruit from the same limited pool of candidates. Company A will poach staff from Company B, only to lose someone else to a competing company. In the long term, this is a zero sum game, everyone loses, he said.

It is estimated that the costs of recruiting and training an entry level person in a call centre can easily be R 20 000, not counting lost productivity and opportunities.  Companies can easily pay twice as much for senior positions not to mention the time it takes to replace senior staff.

Of course businesses try to beat their competitors in the war of talent. Amongst the strategies that companies use, are better pay and the creation of attractive value propositions.

What must companies consider to make their offer stand out? Research shows that potential employees are looking for growth – in terms of learning, being able to apply their skills and the opportunity to advance their career. Benefits and compensation are obviously important and so is work-life balance. Millennials also like an employer that has values with which they can identify.

Paying more than the competition is however not necessarily going to work. If others follow suit it will simply raise the labour costs for the whole industry.

In order for companies to succeed Lauber believes they must design clear career paths that are matched by a corresponding ladder of learning and remuneration structure. “ All too often such plans do not exist and if they do, they are not consistently communicated or implemented. In other words these plans gather dust and fail to either attract or retain staff.”

In order for these plans to work, a company’s senior management needs to lead the charge. “At African Bank, every new employee entering the call centre is on a learnership. From there, outstanding performers, are enrolled on a supervisor qualification. All along, the company’s leadership is visible. This year alone, the CEO personally handed out over 200 certificates, taking a company picture with each of the graduates.”

That solves another problem. There is a saying that employees do not leave companies but that they leave bad managers. Having well trained supervisors reduces attrition and improves performance.But where will a company find the time and budget to train inexperienced hires and develop new supervisors? Workforce planners need to work hand-in-hand with recruiters and trainers. Rarely are they part of the same team. Typically the latter are only brought in at the last moment to react to a staffing crisis. At this point, it will be too late to implement a proactive, lasting solution.

Companies do have funding for such programmes, although they are not aware of it. The first place to find that funding is in the salary budget. New hires are willing to work for less. The second place where they will find savings is in the on-boarding budget. As attrition drops, recruitment and training costs decrease. And finally companies need to take advantage of government incentives, amongst them are the new Employment Tax Incentive, Learnership Tax Breaks and various SETA grants.

“Companies can easily save up to R 50 000 per annum per person by bringing in new talent” Lauber concludes. “All it takes is for companies to become more proactive”