The rapid rate of change is making many skills redundant within as little as two-and-a-half to five years, leaving employees overwhelmed, says director at Deloitte, Ursula Fear.
In this environment, youth unemployment in South Africa has become a “ticking time bomb” while fragile sectors like manufacturing are running out of time to put effective plans in place to meet today’s and tomorrow’s advanced manufacturing requirements.
“Technology is outpacing the limited supply of talented workers and the pipeline of talent isn’t deep enough or being developed quickly enough. Innovation and human capital are keeping CEOs awake at night,” says Fear.
What is becoming clear is that technology and business complexity is raising the bar for organisations to get far more involved than they ever have in ensuring staff are skilled to meet the demands of the 21st Century workplace.
“The responsibility to prepare workers for future challenges has never been more complex,” says Fear.
Deloitte’s 2015 Human Capital Trends Report for South Africa, which generated 151 responses across all industry groups, cited culture and engagement as the number 1 priority globally as well as in South Africa, followed closely by leadership which was the number 1 issue last year.
Learning and development features as the third most important challenge globally and for South Africa. Globally the percentage of companies that rated learning and development as very important has tripled since last year.
According to Fear, 32% of South African respondents rated themselves as “Poor,” meaning they have tremendous challenges and work overload in their current situation and “could be doing much more”. As many as 13% of respondents said they just have no focus in this area.
“The biggest challenge we have is that we are in a very result-driven environment and are moving into an area where knowledge and resources are everywhere – its awakening the way we learn that is becoming important,” she says.
“We are seeing signs of overwhelmed employees because they are effectively connected 24 hours a day every day of the year – people are burning out and falling over,” cautions Fear. “We are also seeing that purposeful or meaningful work is significant and is a major contributor to employee engagement. Additonally, leaders are also under pressure as leadership needs to constantly evolve and transform to keep pace with the business of tomorrow.”
Businesses and tertiary institutions need to look at how they build competencies, like engineering and specialist skills, while vocational qualifications like fitters and turners and technicians must not be ignored either as the apprenticeship and vocational training side desperately needs to improve the way these skills are developed.
“We are right at the bottom of competitiveness reports and GDP is slowing even further. We are sitting in a fragile position and the timing has never been more pressing to get this right,” says Fear.
She says sophistication and technology is having a “major impact” and workers who don’t keep pace with change will find the shelf lives of their skills dissipating far faster than they would ever imagine. Another challenge, especially for a sector like manufacturing, is that it is not being regarded as a viable, or “sexy” career option by younger workers.
“There is an opportunity to rebrand a sector like manufacturing to drive home that it is cool to be involved in the high-tech side of, for example, making a car. It must be seen as technology driven, fast moving and exciting for millennials. That is getting to the bottom of the retention problem – the perception of manufacturing can be a lot sexier than many perceive it to be,” she says.
According to Fear, HR departments also need to adapt to the times. “There is a need to re-skill the HR function too. They need to have the ability to understand what the business is about and be at the heart of the business as a strategic support function,” she says.
A Deloitte Review of the Manufacturing Sector in the US raises similar concerns to the ones in South Africa. The report says manufacturers need to ramp up recruiting and talent development efforts and turn a watchful eye to finding “hyper-skilled” workers who have the requisite skills to keep up with today’s dynamic manufacturing environments, and who also possess traits that indicate adaptability, such as creativity, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking skills, to meet future needs.
If this is not done, technological change and innovation will likely outpace the limited supply of skilled workers with the talent profile needed.