By Emma Durkin, Human Capital Head at Altron Karabina.

Retaining employees has become a significant business challenge in the modern business landscape. With companies investing heavily in upskilling and reskilling staff, losing someone to a competitor can have serious repercussions. To address this, business leaders need to start approaching this beyond just financial incentives.

Remote working

It seems throwing more money at the problem has become a common tactic. But this is not sustainable and does not address the fundamental reason why employees leave. For the most part, people pursue opportunities elsewhere because it gives them a platform to grow in more innovative ways.

In a small market like South Africa, finding people with the right ICT skills and experience is difficult. And while this is a common problem, those organisations who position themselves in the best way will be able to attract the right people. Granted, finance will always play an important part in the decision to move or join a business, but a company that uses technology to change how people work will deliver a vital competitive advantage.

This means that instead of being focused on how many hours people clock in, a business should rather look at whether their deliverables have been met. It is especially important when using telecommuting or flexi-time, and hold employees accountable for these deliverables. If a mature workforce is in place and mutual trust is there, people understand that there are consequences if deliverables are not met.

Another example of approaching employee retention differently is how Altron Karabina recently conducted an analysis of where their employees live. With a sizeable portion living in Pretoria and surrounds, the company opened a satellite office in Pretoria East to mitigate the amount of time staff would waste in traffic commuting to their head office in Fourways with the added benefit of having a Pretoria base to grow the Tshwane territory for the business. A similar exercise was conducted in Cape Town where they moved their offices from Observatory to the Northern Suburbs in line with where clients and staff were based. The added benefit here was improved productivity.

Training the young

With the unemployment rate in young graduates in the country sitting at 84%, more clearly needs to be done to find opportunities for those entering the workforce. Graduate programmes are vital in this regard. Even though Altron Karabina is a small company when it comes to its number of employees, it brought 16 graduates – who had excellent marks in maths, statistics, engineering and other degrees but were unable to find employment – on board in 2019.

We upskilled them in our business areas and they are becoming effective consultants for the company. Not only has this positively impacted their lives, but also the people who are reliant on them for support. Now imagine if every company in South Africa does something similar. It is not about staring blindly at the massive challenge of unemployment but rather focusing on an aspect to address the specific problem in more manageable ways. If we all contribute in small ways the overall societal impact will be significant.

Even though other companies might target these upskilled graduates, we see it as an opportunity to provide people with a stepping-stone to get experience in areas such as data science, robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI). To this end, our organisation has put in place an alumni programme where we continue our relationship with our people when they leave. We have seen some employees join another organisation for a year or two and then come back to us and stay for eight years.

Taking charge

But it is not only the company’s responsibility to ensure employees are upskilled. The individuals themselves need to take ownership of their own careers. Self-motivation is an important characteristic to have as well as the desire for learning and self-development. It is unrealistic to expect employers to do this for them.

Part of this entails ensuring young people are ready for the workplace. As such, Altron Karabina has specific elements in its graduate programmes to show them how to handle themselves in a professional consulting environment.

All told, there are many opportunities for those looking to work hard and upskill themselves. But companies also need to come to the party and create an enabling environment for the connected workforce.

As such, it should be a joint effort between the organisation and its workforce. While it is important to find the right people to join the business and fit in with it from a cultural perspective, once there what happens next?

More than just addressing the pressing concern of unemployment, companies can create a digitally-empowered workforce that is capable of meeting current and future demands. By empowering people with the means to upskill themselves, an organisation creates a mindset of continual improvement in the individual. This will result in them striving to always challenge themselves as the technology environment evolves.

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