We all know it: we’re losing our skilled workers to other countries. Just yesterday morning, I had coffee with a former colleague who is relocating his family to the Netherlands. In fact, in just one company, in the space of 9 months, 7 senior employees have jumped ship for the international market.
In spite of high unemployment, South African companies suffer a skills scarcity in many sectors. None more so that in the technology space, a space where I would argue we must compete.
But the talent shortage is not unique to South Africa. It’s a global problem and it’s predicted to get even worse by 2030.
Take the United States, for example. In the United States, there are more vacancies than there are job seekers for the first time since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey in 2000.
Global companies aren’t going to sit back and just accept their fate.
If they want to remain competitive they’ll have to take extra care of the talent they already have while fishing for talent in other markets. Like South Africa.
There are many reasons why talent in South Africa is attractive to international companies. We are hard-working, well educated, innovative and English speaking, with the best accents apparently.
The effect of the brain drain is well documented. Although there are many “homecomers”, myself included, South Africa cannot afford to lose more experience and skills.
Not if we want to continue to grow the economy.
This puts more pressure on South African companies to make sure they hold on to their talent…
In the business environment we have to accept the fact that there are things we can’t control. Government service delivery, what politicians do or say, what your competitors do, force majeure – while we can influence, most of these things are outside our locus of control.
However, instead of being passive and waiting for your best people to be lured overseas, identify what is within your control. A good place to start, I’d argue, is with your work culture. Cultivating a healthy work culture takes months and even years, but there are constructive things you can start doing right away:
Companies may not be able to control people or force them to stay, but they can take responsibility for their work conditions. This will make it difficult for employees to want to leave.
Finding talent doesn’t have to be a problem. When only 15% of the world’s full-time employees consider themselves engaged at work, we have – an opportunity!
This opportunity is available to any company who commits to making themselves one of the few companies who put their culture first. Not only will engaged employees drive business performance, but all those people in the Not Engaged and Actively Disengaged columns will want to work for you.
South Africa is a beautiful country, with incredible people. As a country, we have a lot to offer in terms of quality of life. Add a satisfying career and a place where people love to work, and you’ll be able to attract the talent that we need today, from abroad, while we develop the talent that we will need tomorrow.
Would anyone actually want to repatriate after immigrating? A survey done by the Homecoming Revolution in 2015, sent out to their database of 44,000 contacts worldwide, suggests otherwise. More than half the respondents said they wanted to return to South Africa.
The Homecoming Revolution Insights Report 2015 further states that over 359,000 high-skilled South Africans have returned home between 2009 and 2014 alone (Adcorp 2014) and that the ripple effect of this is incredible in terms of job creation. For every 1 skilled person that returns home, 9 new jobs are created in the formal and informal sectors in South Africa (Solidarity 2004). Thuma mina, Mr. President? No need, we are already here.
Are there concerns about returning? Of course:
Again, no company can control crime and politics. At best you can curtail crime if you are a security company or influence policy if you are a business lobbying politicians.
But, you can create career opportunities that compete with the best in the world.
Detractors may say that 2015 was a while ago and a lot has happened since then. I’d argue that if one compares news headlines in 2015 with today, there are more things about which to be optimistic. South Africans have witnessed a change in presidency, stabilised credit ratings and state capture commissions and prosecutions. The latter are courtesy of the heroic whistleblowers and journalists at AmaBhungane and the Daily Maverick.
It’s a gift to have the opportunity to live abroad. And, I recommend it because it significantly changes not only the way we see the world, but the way we see South Africa. For me, it’s the beauty and camaraderie of the average person on the street, and their desire to make this country work for everyone, that gives me hope and makes me feel like I belong.
Let’s do what other countries haven’t completely succeeded at yet.
Let’s create inspiring places where people are psyched to come to work because they bought into the company’s purpose, and they know their contribution matters.
Let’s create places that celebrate not just diversity but inclusivity, places that have healthy teams free of politics and confusion.
Then people will want to stay, because they feel they belong. And those wanting to come back will have one more good reason to do so.