South Africa & Australia

Resourcing in a pandemic world

Resourcing in a pandemic world
Connecting Human Potential | Enablers of agile, focused and skilled workforces for the future
7 mins

Many of the resourcing trends shaping our current pandemic world were already in evidence pre-pandemic. The pandemic has accelerated them, but they are not new. Other trends are the result of the pandemic, but even these would likely have come to the fore, even if it was only in a few years’ time. 

Let’s take a look at the global trends that have been fast-tracked as a result of the pandemic and how they relate to our South African market. 

Global Talent

According to McKinsey research, as many as 375 million workers globally might have to change occupations in the next decade to meet business needs. However, automation could free employees to spend as much as 30% of their time on new work.

According the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, experts anticipate that 65% of children entering primary school today will end up working in job types that don’t yet exist (and will most likely be the result of automation).

What does this mean? Should everyone by learning coding and robotics? The short answer – and one that will make most employees sigh with relief – is no. But, it’s clear that employees do need to become more digitally literate and competent in dealing with the digital world.

The WEF’s Future of Jobs report also tells us that the most in-demand specialties and occupations in 2020 did not exist 10 or even five years ago. Technology is playing a big role in this, and we know that the immediate move to virtual work accelerated the need for expertise relating to cloud computing and technology platforms. How are businesses – and employees – preparing for these shifts?

In a new McKinsey Global Survey on future workforce needs, nearly nine in ten executives and managers say their organizations:

  • either face skill gaps already; or 
  • expect gaps to develop within the next five years.

This challenge is exacerbated because while organizations consider it a priority to address skill shortages, most admit that they don’t understand how to equip themselves with the workforce skills they will need most. 

So, what are they doing?

Many of the businesses that McKinsey surveyed are hiring employees in an attempt to prepare for potential skill gaps. But, can we accurately predict which skills a busines will need? Some have made efforts to build skills within their workforces through reskilling efforts, but again, are they the right skills?

Priority versus reality

Most organisations recognize the need to close these skill gaps. For many it’s a top 3 priority.

The problem is that recognizing a need and knowing how to respond to it are not the same thing, and this is where we’re seeing the biggest resourcing challenge. Many companies do not have visibility into the skills of their existing workforce and the effects that these disruptions will have on workers’ roles. If you don’t know what your current skills are or which roles will be disrupted, how do you resource to close that gap? This is a key area where we add value. As a group that includes recruitment, upskilling, IT training and functional outsourcing, we have the expertise to evaluate a business’s skills gap and resource for those gaps. 

These are the questions our clients are asking:

  • Do we increase our staff compliment through full-time resources or contract workers and freelancers to fill our skills gaps? 
  • Do we redeploy workers into new roles?
  • Should we be focusing on training and reskilling?
  • Should we be doing a combination of tactics?

In the US, Europe and the UK, an established way to address the skills gap is through offshoring. This became possible through the improvement in international telecoms capacity and a reduction in global telecoms costs. Since the pandemic, many business services have been digitized and there is a general acceptance that remote work can be extremely productive, which means local businesses are now more comfortable contracting with skilled employees who live on a different continent, such as India, which has invested heavily in local technology and skills development, and has protected its skills to become an offshore hub.

Top Skills in Demand

To understand how to meet future demands, we need to first understand which skills are most in demand and why.

The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by automation. But the good news is that 97 million new jobs may emerge that are more adapted to this new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms. Automation won’t kill jobs – but it will change them. This will also require new skills, which means the skills gaps we discussed earlier will continue to be high.

The WEF estimates that for those workers who stay in their roles, the share of core skills that will change by 2025 is 40%, and 50% of all employees will need reskilling.

Here are the top skills that the WEF predicts most organisations will be looking for by 2025:

  • Analytical thinking and innovation
  • Active learning and learning strategies
  • Complex problem solving
  • Critical thinking and analysis
  • Creativity, originality and initiative
  • Leadership and social influence
  • Technology use, monitoring and control
  • Technology design and programming 
  • Resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility
  • Reasoning, problem solving and ideation

What’s interesting about this list is that some are hard skills, but many are soft skills (highlighted in yellow), and soft skills are either inherent, which means recruiting the correct people is paramount, or they are honed on the job through tailored and targeted training interventions.

The big question now becomes: how long will reskilling take?

In 2018, 65% of business leaders in the WEF’s research expected employees to pick up new skills on the job. This has risen to 94% and is indicative of the types of disruptions business leaders are expecting after the upheavals triggered by the pandemic.  

On the local front, the top skills in demand are generally related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The most in-demand skills tend to be the scarcest, however. According to BusinessTech, the highest demand for skills is in the IT sector – but this is also one of the lowest in terms of supply. We have a big skills gap in this area. 

According to the most recent Critical Skills Survey, the biggest skills shortages are:

  • Engineers
  • ICT Specialists
  • Foreign Language Speakers
  • Media and Marketing Specialist
  • Artisans
  • C-suite Executives
  • Senior Financial Executives
  • Health Care Professionals
  • Science Professionals
  • STEM Teachers.

ICT Specialists is a very broad term, but because of digitization, it’s going to be a critical area – both now and in the future.

The JCSE-IITPSA ICT Skills Survey has given us a much more in-depth view of the sector’s skills shortages within corporate South Africa:

• Software developer 

• Computer Network Technician

• Developer Programmer 

• ICT Communications Assistant 

• Computer Network & Systems Engineer 

• ICT Security Specialist 

• ICT Systems Analyst 

• Web Technician 

• Systems Administrator 

• Programmer Analyst 

• Management Consultant (Business Analyst) 

• Advertising Specialist

• Telecommunications Network Engineer 

• Database Designer & Administrator 

What got us here? In many ways, the seeds for these challenges happened pre-pandemic. In 2017, Accenture, predicted that in five years more than half of consumers and enterprise clients would select products and services based on a company’s AI (bringing us to 2021). As we now know, the pandemic accelerated this. Digital is expected. However, at the time South Africa lagged behind in terms of improving the quality of education, research, innovation and infrastructure required to create an enabling environment for AI adoption. The pandemic accelerated the demand for these skills but not the supply. 

Unfortunately, according to the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA) despite competitive salaries and efforts to build a skills pipeline, the specialised ICT skills gap persists.

We need to create a pool of ICT specialists.  We also need to recognize what ICT professionals are looking for. 

First, let’s look at skills development. We can’t ignore ‘hard’ foundational skills. These must be taught, and as new technologies and digital practices enter the market, they need to be kept up-to-date. More importantly however is fostering a growth mindset – learning in the IT sector never stops, whether it’s new hard skills are leaning how to be agile. Once again, recruiting people who have a growth mindset is essential if you want to build a workforce that can adapt to the future of work. 

Now let’s turn to recruitment. If you are competing for scarce skills, how do you attract them?

The pandemic forced us to reimagine the way we work and live. Its impact has brought about

profound transformations that we did not expect and could not anticipate. Suddenly, we have been compelled to adopt ways of working that were previously unpopular with corporate South Africa. WFH became the reality and its benefits were instantly realised by both the employer and the employee. The ICT sector in particular has managed to invent and innovate processes and practices to adopt WFH as a primary way of working, from the ways teams collaborate to the role of the traditional manager.  

This means that successfully recruiting – and retaining – top talent is not just about salary. ICT professionals are placing great importance on the value of a job. This means they care about the work environment – their autonomy, responsibilities and opportunities to be challenged. They want to know they share the same values as their employer. And benefits and perks play a role too – right down to things like flexitime and free lunches. 

The latest post-pandemic JCSE-IITPSA ICT Skills Survey looked at how the pandemic has provided 

fertile soil in which a “gig economy” could flourish. Interestingly, South Africa has not yet transitioned into a gig economy – but this does not mean it won’t, particularly in a sector such as ICT, where skills are scarce. In these uncertain times and since people are at the core of

the business in the ICT sector, employers are forced to be innovative in how they maintain their culture and competitive advantage. As both are vested in the people they employ, employers are at risk. In an attempt to protect what is important, employers are therefore looking at mechanisms to encourage employees back into the office. The problem is that this tactic might actually backfire. Will employees who feel forced to come back to the office simply quit and become freelancers instead? This tension between employers and employees might just be what is required to break the current balance, making the “gig economy” an attractive alternative. With this will come new ways of working and new skills sets. A middle ground might possibly be contracting with expert teams for specific ICT projects, removing that tension but bringing necessary skills into the business. 

The Solution

The skills shortages are not unique to South Africa, but they do present an incredible opportunity to increase the competitiveness of our businesses, economy and job market if we can address them.

In response to the above insights, Paracon has partnered with Cestasoft to offer on-demand resourcing, both locally and through off-shoring. In addition, our expansion now offers a fully-managed service, project managed through our Solutions division.

In addition to just providing resources as an extension of your team or a fully managed service, we also offer an upskilling or reskilling option through our sister company Torque-IT, which offers fully certified ICT training programmes, or graduate resources through their Skills Academy in partnership with Cestasoft.

It is critical that South Africa focuses on creating a talent pool of local skills. The partnerships we have built are addressing this key need, but it’s important for businesses to make upskilling and reskilling a top priority alongside the best strategies to resource key skills addressing current and future business needs. 

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