Telecoms skills war

Telecommunications companies are struggling to find and retain skilled employees, which is threatening their profits and longevity.

This is according to Evelyn Vanassche, recruitment cluster head at Workforce Holdings, in an opinion piece published on South African Business Integrator

“The demand for highly skilled professionals continues to outpace the available talent pool, and yet without these skills, businesses will increasingly struggle to remain relevant and sustainable,” she said.

Other telecommunications companies have also expressed how difficult it can be to find and keep talent in the industry.

Cell C’s financial performance has been on a downward trend for years, with the company reporting a loss of R337 million for the six months ending November 2023.

In light of these poor results, Cell C CEO Jorge Mendes presented his turnaround plan at the end of January.

Mendes said he planned to turn the company around by solving one of the core issues Cell C has faced since the beginning of its downward spiral – attracting and retaining skilled employees. 

“I want to have the best corporate culture in the country. I want staff retention and not staff attrition,” he said. 

He explained that retaining talent and having a good work environment would improve key performance indicators and metrics such as revenue and profit. 

“Profits will come as a result of the underlying culture and philosophy at Cell C,” he said. 

Vanassche explained that addressing the skills gap in the telecommunications industry is about more than just hiring the right talent. Mapping out plans for training and upskilling future generations is also important. 

Rapid technological developments are part of what has made talent management so difficult.

“To remain relevant, competitive, and sustainable, it is essential to be able to support traditional technologies while at the same time gearing up for future solutions,” she explained. 

A talent strategy that addresses the current skills gap while also ensuring the right talent is in place to handle the future telecommunications landscape and enable South Africa to compete globally is essential. 

“The crux of this is the ability to understand where you are today, where you want to be tomorrow, and what skills are needed to bridge this gap,” she said.

This requires a broad and deep understanding of the business and the industry landscape to craft a map of skills, knowing what exists in the market and what will need to be trained and upskilled internally.

“The reality, however, is that most businesses simply do not have the time or expertise in talent to achieve this, which is why the right talent partner is essential,” she said.

“Partnering with a specialist recruiter that has a deep understanding of the telecommunications market can be a crucial differentiator when it comes to navigating the skills gap and positioning for long-term growth in the rapidly evolving telecommunications industry.”

South African skills war

The war for talent in South Africa has also been a problem for many South African companies outside the telecoms sector.

Coronation CEO Anton Pillay said that one of the significant headwinds facing the asset management industry in the country is a lack of skilled workers.

In the company’s annual report released in December, Pillay said that Coronation is currently engaged in a “talent war” with other financial services providers.

Coronation’s Chairperson, Alexandra Watson, shared Pillay’s concerns. She was specifically concerned about a “skills exodus” from South Africa due to the country’s stagnant economy and employees finding better opportunities elsewhere.

Momentum Metropolitan warned in its annual report that is becoming increasingly difficult to employ people with the requisite skills, putting it at risk of failing to achieve transformation targets.

“South Africa is facing an acute critical skills crisis, especially African, coloured and Indian skills, due to increased local and international competition and emigration,” the company said.

WBHO chairman Louwtjie Nel said challenges such as crime and corruption are also contributing to South Africa’s skills exodus and causing a significant talent drain across various sectors.

In May of 2023, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana noted that 2,700 individuals earning over R500,000 annually and another 1,100 earning over R1 million have left the country.

Momentum explained that while talent attraction remains challenging, talent retention, burnout and fatigue are all concerns.

“The competition in the skills arena is massive; not only are companies competing for skills, but the skilled individuals themselves are vying for the best jobs,” Vanassche said.

She explained that employers need to offer the best market-related salaries and have an environment that is robust and centred on retention and loyalty. 

This requires the ability to provide talent with an environment that not only meets their financial expectations but also supports career growth and offers effective succession planning.

“When it comes to bridging the talent gap and ensuring you have a pipeline of skills for future relevance and growth, it is essential to take a long-term view,” Vanassche said.

“Training is an investment that should be part of strategic planning, incorporating talent transition and internal growth to expose people to new and evolving technologies and ensure their skillsets are up to date.”

“Understanding the market, understanding your skills gap, and embedding talent transition, upskilling, and growth into business are the keys to success.”


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