Plugging the technical skills gap

Issue 7 2022 Training & Education

While the business confidence index in South Africa rose in July, signalling the gradual return of normal business activity, the volatile rand, increasing rates and price pressures across the board are holding many businesses back from investing in crucial skills needed to complete their recovery and grow their business. However, without those skills they won’t grow, and so there’s a need to redesign the process of getting skills into businesses in a short amount of time so that their impact is felt quickly.

Diane van Zyl.

A chronic skills shortage in the technology sector makes this exceedingly difficult. The amount of time and resources that businesses must invest just to find the right candidate, and then retain the candidate in a highly competitive environment, is often more than many organisations can bear. Beyond this, hiring full-time staff may carry too much risk, especially if a new project or opportunity only spans 6 or 12 months.

Only recently, a partner business – much like many other businesses in the country – found itself in dire need of critical IT skills. The irony is that the business was forced to undergo a retrenchment process as a result of the pandemic squeezing the life out of the organisation’s market sector. Today, the business has an opportunity to scale, but is still not in a position to make a long-term commitment.

On the other hand, it’s not only businesses that are recovering which need IT skills urgently. Sometimes businesses just need additional technical capacity to deliver on projects, without the need to create new jobs.

How, then, does one navigate this delicate environment where skills are needed to make an immediate impact, without the burden of embarking on a long-term employment journey?

Solving the dilemma

Of course, companies could engage independent contractors directly or work with recruitment agencies. Technical IT skills, be these data scientists, software engineers or any other specialised position, are notoriously difficult to come by precisely because what a CV says and what a candidate can provide are not always the same. This is not a criticism of recruitment agencies or any other intermediary that assists with sourcing skills, rather, it is a recognition that a thorough technical assessment by in-the-field experts is generally required before businesses can even consider a candidate, or else they could be stuck with contractor churn and wasted time and resources.

Altron Karabina has built a reputation for delivering successful implementations of solutions across a wide range of industries. One of the key drivers behind this has been our recognition that top-tier skills are non-negotiable. With this, we pioneered the Smart Skills Sourcing programme that plugs the gap for businesses that need agility, speed and top skills without the long-term commitment of hiring.

The programme is underpinned by the understanding that IT skills are highly specialised and go far beyond what recruiters can glean from a CV. Beyond that, as consultants, one must also understand that a certain type of candidate would be ideal in a customer-facing role, while others are better suited to backroom work. Harnessing this acute knowledge of the IT industry, in the context of the critical skills shortage, our Smart Skills Sourcing offering provides businesses with an alternative, highly effective and efficient route to filling key roles in their organisations and projects, without the need to onboard and manage the talent – which is all managed by the Altron Karabina Smart Skills Sourcing team.

How does it work?

The team embarks on a strict screening process before a candidate is even shown to the customer. This is obviously done by filtering CVs, but then they embark on a thorough technical interview with senior Altron Karabina staff, followed by a technical test. When we, as professionals in the industry, know that the candidate can do what they say they can and that this would suit the customer, only then do we make the candidate available to the customer for an interview.

This is different from a recruitment agency, not only in terms of the sheer thoroughness of the screening process but also what happens to the candidate if the customer agrees they are the right fit. The Smart Skills Sourcing programme agrees on a rate and a term, such as 6 or 12 months, with the candidate, and manages this before placing the candidate in the customer’s business.

If this candidate decides they need to upskill and wishes to complete a certification to successfully perform in their roles, we handle it – not the HR department of the customer. Similarly, Altron Karabina has done exceedingly well with its People Manager process for its own employees, and so the Smart Skills Sourcing programme has drawn on this experience.

Each candidate works closely with a Contractor Care Coordinator who goes through the process with the candidate and keeps close contact. If there are performance issues, skills issues or any unhappiness, the Contractor Care Coordinator intervenes while updating the customer every step of the way, until the contractor is performing as per the customer’s requirements.

If the customer is not satisfied with the contractor, we will pull them off the job and find a more suitable role for them within our portfolio, and replace them onsite with a more suitable candidate. As is evident, the entire process lightens the load for businesses, from HR to people management to performance review, all the way through to the notoriously difficult and costly termination of services.

The Smart Skills Sourcing programme, fully cognisant of the skills shortage in the industry, is continually bolstering its books with strong resources that we either engage directly as independent contractors or through third-party vendors. This assists with the agility and speed promise of the programme – once a contractor has been screened there is no need to go through the process each time from scratch.

Ultimately, matching talent with a role is a masterful skill, and the Smart Skills Sourcing programme, which we believe represents a key service for those who need critical IT skills, brings Altron Karabina’s wealth of experience in this regard to customers. This includes gauging the commercial astuteness of talent, their critical and strategic thinking, and decision-making abilities – all crucial attributes for an effective consultant.

Economic headwinds and labour law requirements need not paralyse businesses that can’t hire now but need critical IT skills today. By leaning on experience and developing its skills-as-a-service Smart Skills Sourcing programme, Altron Karabina continues to find innovative ways to address the skills challenge in the industry.

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