Gabazira's blog

The Effectiveness-Lab

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

Do we see the skills supply vs demand gap? What can we do to fix it?

We assume that you recognise the gap between the products on the labour market In Uganda (supply) vs skills (demand) sought after by employers. While we still need and continue to study traditional skills at college, they are like a commodity now. Engineering, legal, and accounting skills are a mature commodity; like Coca-Cola, You can get such skills anywhere. So much so that you can even get tutelage in these once sacred subjects via the internet. It’s no longer the exclusive right of college Professors to impart such knowledge.

Yet, skills like law, engineering, medicine, architect, etc., continue to be the primary knowledge domains at tertiary institutions. Indeed, we apply to colleges to study this regimen of skills. The skills have been taught for hundreds of years.

Now – employers are increasingly silent on traditional skills when hiring. Such skills are getting less and less space in labour market discourse. They are commoditised. At least in the development industry example that we shared in series one, those seeking to hire or buy labour aren’t seeking engineers or doctors. After all, they can buy the specialist engineer’s time on a need basis. The latter is not valid for the super-10 abilities that are in demand in the context of the development industry.

Professionals are putting to the side traditional skills mastery, as acquired at college. We have interacted with a top McKinsey senior who studied biology, a PhD, but managed business consulting teams. In hindsight, it’s apparent this McKinsey person weren’t using the traditional skills they got at college, but many from the super-10 we saw in series one. For example, analysis, communication, attention to detail, managing and helping others manage priorities, etc. We dare write on this blog that given a choice of the two skills sets, we would go for the soft super-10. The latter is required every day at work and isn’t for picking off the labour market shelf whenever you want such a set.

The ‘hard’ traditional skills are rarely applied, especially at the management/leadership level. But also, isn’t it true that automation is eating into routine non-management jobs? The technical knowledge domain is today stored and accessed as and when needed, via computer hard disks and CPUs.

In summary – institutions are training for skills that the labour market may not consistently rank number one on the demand continuum.

Can we show the gap between supply and demand?

Well, could the below be the manifestations of the supply vs demand gap?

  • I have excellent paper qualifications, via a high-grade average, but poor hands-on skills. May it be for this very reason that employers increasingly want “quality at the gate…”?
  • I’m not technically competent, but extremely short on the super-10 skills? I’m an able engineer, but I don’t write well, and I can’t manage my task-bank well. I struggle to co-create outside my school textbook theory. I was taught to take but not question or add to content/status-quo.
  • I’m highly educated, a graduate from a renowned University, but comfortable doing lesser, near clerical tasks, and I need hand-holding.
  • I cannot put together/deliver a holistic package of tasks, especially when I need to apply: analysis and critical thinking skill sets. Have the schools and education system condemned me to permanent professional ineptitude? Is my thinking code flipped? As others move to the right and forward, moreover, with maximum Tsunamic-brain-waves, I regress left and backwards. Why do I struggle when tasked not to think hard but ‘smart’? Of course, I know I have a brain and do think, but to what end?
  • According to me, the only REAL work is a white-collar job; even if I run businesses on the side, that bring me over and above my income from the white-collar job.
  • Are my bosses carved out of the same wood as me? After all, it seems like we went through the same school system? Have they and me created a critical mass of a professional labour-product that needs flashing out? Can they and I flash out self?
  • I’m starting to think that this is a systems challenge – right? Akin to the deep-state, but this time, for matters labour. Have we, and unawares, in perpetuity, created a dysfunctional yet closed labour market?

And what is the fix?

Well – simple answer. The fix is at three levels:

  • Labour market collaboratives – stakeholders (Like the HR community of practice) creating a movement that works with industry to impart relevant skills. This skill imparting is outside the ordinary. Employers and Industry bodies need to guide University and colleges skilling processes. Co-define and design curriculum. Universities don’t always have to manage the skills supply. They should accept a higher role of skills certification, even when they haven’t done the teaching. It’s time to consider non-traditional approaches to skilling, including not always going to university/college. Our son/daughters can learn farming from our family farm and skip going to the agricultural college. Your offspring can learn computer code online via Google and MOOCs Academies. Skilling can happen via job apprenticeship schemes. Even our African forefathers, primitive as they may be perceived, had more effective skilling mechanisms. They effectively addressed the demand and supply dynamics of the then archaic market. Skills were passed on from generation to generation.

Also read: New skills dilemma – the 4th revolution.

  • Policy change – In the immediate – Uganda should do two things: improve the quality of teaching and learning by providing a better classroom experience for the student and teacher. Also, provide education that is student and not teacher-centred. Essential teaching and learning outcomes: Students can ‘think’ and have attained relevant regional/global skills. Parents can do something about this. Speak up in disdain of Uganda’s obsession with exam grades and take your child to a school that will help them improve and grow their competencies. An education system where exam grades are secondary. Search for evidence of creativity/critical thinking skills show-cased via class-based projects.

Also read: Uganda’s education system a poverty factory.

  • And the generational solution – The contemporary architect involves prospective house owners in the design of home spaces that they will spend most of their adult lives in. Companies should either engage staff or consider generational psychosocial drivers when developing structure. What worked for the Baby Boomers may not work for the Millennials and Centennials. Millennials are a different kettle of fish and are forcing OD practitioners to rethink the configuration of organisations. They thrive on positivism at work and obsession with themselves. A study by PWC points to unusual characteristics of the Millennial generation. Employers can’t just disregard what Millennials and future generations want from work – i.e., loyalty ‘lite’, treasuring personal development and work-life balance, and always techno-savvy and not very interested in face-time.

Also read: is your organisations structure now a generational affair.

The HR community of practice should get out of its box and lead this revolution or die with it.


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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