Skills shortage crisis needs "creative solutions"

The solution to the skills crisis lies outside the company as much as it does within the company, “more specifically, in interim management”.

Kate Lester, Director of Tuesday Consulting – specialist search consultants say “the challenge of skills development may find its solution in interim management”.

According to Lester “Developing an internal skills pipeline is crucial to a company’s ability to remain competitive. The problem is that the task of growing this pipeline falls to middle managers, who are invariably stretched by a laundry list of deliverables, and have the largest number of staff reporting to them, as well as the largest portion of the budget under their control”.

Over worked managers often tend to underutilize their staff members and run the risk of loosing them, skilled professionals according to Lester are now looking for more than just the salary and perks the company is willing to offer, they are looking for growth opportunities within a company and the need for “balance and flexibility. The current market is the domain of the job-seeker”.

Lester explains “Interim managers are a common feature of business in America, the UK and Europe. They are usually brought into organisations during periods of crisis or growth, either to fill an immediate gap for a critical skill until the company can fill the gap permanently, or to provide expertise in a particular area for a specific period, such as until a special project is complete.”

Interim managers can be well utilized in the South African framework. The skills shortage problem is not an exclusively South African problem; it is a problem that’s experienced in Australia and much of the European Union, it is undoubtedly a global predicament. It is a complex problem that calls for creative solutions like that of adopting interim management in South African companies.

The general notion based on how you interpret the statistics, is that South Africa is currently facing a skills shortage crisis. Much time has been spent debating the degree of the skills shortage and some like Jimmy Manyi president of the Black management forum believe that there is no skills shortage it is rather a euphemism and an urban myth.

South Africa is clearly suffering from a skills shortage, in specific fields; such as charted accountants, engineers, scientists and lecturers. Importing skilled labour from outside the country may not be the best of options when there is an underutilization of staff in the country.

Ironically, companies who have been complaining about the skills shortage have not been doing anything to promote internal skills development. According to stats presented by Manyi 82% of companies are not compliant with skills development.

In June 2007, the Department of Home Affairs estimated that there were 35 000 positions which simply could not be filled because of the skills shortage. This however is still a moderate figure, the skills shortage is growing rapidly and no concrete figure could be attached to it, because of the nature of the problem.

According to Home Affairs, skills such as agricultural economists, civil engineers, foremen, site managers, construction managers, quantity surveyors, bioengineers, mechatronics, autotronic technicians, structural steel and welding trades workers are scarce and South Africans are unable to fill these positions.

Interim management can provide immediate skills that are short and implementation of strategies to fill the gap temporarily until the company is able to find a candidate to fill the position on a permanent basis.

The good news according to Kate Lester is that unlike the skills shortage in the permanent workforce, South Africa has a large pool of prospective interim managers. There is a highly capable skills base at the senior management level, many of whom have left permanent employment to go into consultancy, and those women who have left to take care of household duties.

With a growing economy, we can only anticipate the skills shortage problem to intensify. The Deputy President’s Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (ASGISA) states that in about 4 years time the skills shortage is likely to top 1.2 million.