HR practitioners: take an ‘outside-inside’ approach to skilling for work or become irrelevant – Series 1 of 2

It doesn’t take long for you to work out, at least in Uganda, that the supply side isn’t appropriately addressing the demand side of the labour market. White-collar and to a certain extent the techno-vocational workers aren’t meeting the skill needs of companies. Industries are on the hunt for quintessential staffers, but this is proving elusive. And when they hire the right staff, paying and retaining them are a challenge.

Employers are fighting for the limited ‘right’ and ‘quality’ skills on the market. As a result, they have created a vicious cycle of ‘head-hunting and its twin, ‘poaching’. Indeed, the pressure to address the gap is such that retaining good staff for long is a problem. It’s about choosing to pay a premium to retain or get the best of the staff while they are with you.

If we go by labour market theory, generally speaking, the determination of labour costs is via the dynamics of demand and supply. The latter assumes no government intervention in markets, and having the market determine the price. Sadly, because employers are all fighting to get the limited quality labour, they have ended up creating a ’high demand situation for the limited ‘super labour on the one hand, and a supply gap and a ‘premium’ class of labour on the other.

We see the emergency of an ‘elite’, highly professional, highly productive and expensive class of Ugandan labour. The latter is true for both techno-vocational and white-collar employment. We assume that this class of labour shall, via auto-regulation, influence and create a movement and critical mass of such ’super labourers’ that, with time, they become abundant and affordable.

Of course, we wish that this exceptional labour market situation fixes itself sooner than later. And yes, on this blog, we certainly aren’t your typical nerd economist, but we know the government will go to the State coffers laughing, given the PAYE they would scoop from such a class. While for the investors and customers of these companies, the cost of paying these ‘super employees is passed on to them in higher than usual capital cost and price.

But below is what we consider ironic

Hundreds, if not thousands, of youths completing University/College, are unemployed and looking for work. The mismatch between the skills requirements of the employers and what is available on the market becomes ever more apparent. Uganda may not have many jobs for the taking, but even the few available don’t always have the right people to take them.

The above is a vexing matter. Who is not doing their job right? Is it Universities and colleges getting it so wrong when it comes to choosing the skills they are teaching the students? Is the choice of courses to read at University by prospective employees so wrong and out of sync with the market? Are employers/industries changing skills requirements every other day that it becomes difficult to decipher what they want tomorrow and the medium term? Is skills acquisition more than a university/college matter (for example: should we teach attitude at college or home)? What can be best learnt on the job?

To answer the above, and by the way, pretty relevant questions, we need to ask what skills are required by prospective employers vs what skills are taught, where. And the emerging deficit from this simple analysis may provide clues to what is amiss.

First, the new skills:

We apply the example from the charity sector. The new skills that analysts are pointing to, as critical for this ever-important industry, especially in Africa South of the Sahara:

  • Fluency in two or more languages
  • Fully computer literate
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Excellent writing skills
  • An eye for detail
  • Intercultural management skills
  • Ability to balance competing priorities
  • Innovation and creativity
  • Ability to be a role model
  • Professional demeanour

Is the above taught at Universities today?

Well – we left college over 25 years ago now, but we undoubtedly don’t recall learning too much about the ten above. And that may be because the skills weren’t needed then. But, are the skills taught at university/college today in alignment? We should also ask where else these skills can be imparted?

Conducting a quick inventory is helpful:

  • Languages are taught but may not be emphasised. If any of our children, nieces, nephews chose to read French or Swahili (increasingly relevant in the great-lakes region) at University, their grandmother would have been disappointed, preferring that they study engineering, law etc.
  • Apart from students reading computer science as a major, computing isn’t taught or integrated systematically – especially from the data/analytics lens
  • Communication is taught in specific courses but not as a general life skill. You can conduct a simple litmus test re.: how many of us write well
  • In the traditional university/college setting in Uganda, how do you teach an ‘eye for detail’, ‘ability to balance priorities’, ‘culture and tolerance’, ‘role modelling’, ‘innovation’ and ‘appearing/behaving professional’? Should they even be taught at school?
  • What has happened to the core skills like engineering, law, medicine?

Do we see the gap? What do we do to close the gap? Is this an HR-function problem? If it were – do HR friends have the correct toolbox? Is this HR’s long-awaited opportunity to influence how skilling is done (influence supply and not simply create demand)? What about you and others, if you aren’t the archetypal HR person?

See you next week



Categories: People

Tags: , , ,

2 replies

  1. ABG, this is a very insightful article, an eye opener for every business leader not necessarily only HR practitioners. It is a wakeup call to all resource planners in this country especially the critical one – Human Resources. Training Institutions should survey market demands and supply to the market only required skills.
    A today’s Doctor without ICT skills may not be a good fit in a highly computerized medical facility – picking just one example.

    ABG, the 10 skills you mention in the article are all soft skills. Some can not be taught is school but learned, based on the environment. For example; who teaches attention to detail? Which college lectures interpersonal skills?

    Kati ntemye,

    Seddu Okugga, CPA

    Like

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