Finweek English Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Co­lette Sy­manowitz is Founder/ MD of www.MBA­con­nect.net, a so­cial net­work ex­clu­sively for ver­i­fied MBAs from all busi­ness schools in South Africa and world­wide.

World­wide we’re fac­ing ex­cep­tion­ally high un­em­ploy­ment lev­els. And yet in spite of this, com­pa­nies com­plain that they can’t find good peo­ple. How do you ex­plain this dis­con­nect? And what can we do to fix it?

Ac­cord­ing to Stat­sSA’s labour sur­vey, re­leased in mid-2013, South Africa’s of­fi­cial un­em­ploy­ment rate has risen to 25.6%, with the broader rate of un­em­ploy­ment climb­ing to 36.8%. The num­ber of un­em­ployed peo­ple has in­creased to 4.7m, while the num­ber of de­mo­ti­vated job-hunters has grown to 2.4m. Adding th­ese two groups to­gether, that means that, for the first time ever, the num­ber of South Africans with­out a job has climbed above 7m. That’s a big num­ber.

Else­where around the world, things are not look­ing much bet­ter. In the US, un­em­ploy­ment lies at around 7.3%, while in the UK, it is sit­ting at 7.7%. Across the EU the un­em­ploy­ment rate has stayed at a record level of 12.1%, with the high­est rates be­ing recorded in Greece (27.9%) and Spain (26.3%). No mat­ter how you plot them, the num­bers don’t look good.

With a larger sup­ply of job ap­pli­cants to choose from, surely it should be eas­ier for com­pa­nies to find good peo­ple? But that’s not the case. Or­gan­i­sa­tions still com­plain that they can­not find A-play­ers with the ap­pro­pri­ate skillset. The South African me­dia are full of ar­ti­cles about the short­age of good teach­ers, nurses and web de­vel­op­ers, to name only three in­dus­tries.

So why are com­pa­nies strug­gling to fill their va­can­cies? Ac­cord­ing to tra­di­tional

think­ing, two fac­tors are to blame: not enough good peo­ple in the tal­ent pool, and a fail­ing in the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem to equip peo­ple with the right skills. How­ever, Prof Peter Cap­pelli, the Ge­orge W Tay­lor pro­fes­sor of man­age­ment at Whar­ton School at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia and di­rec­tor of Whar­ton’s Cen­ter for Hu­man Re­sources, isn’t buy­ing this.

In Syd­ney Pol­lack’s film The In­ter­preter, one of the char­ac­ters is fa­mous for say­ing: “… there are no more na­tions any­more. Only com­pa­nies. In­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies. It’s where we are. It’s what we are.” In his book Why Good Peo­ple Can’t Get Jobs, Cap­pelli as­serts that it is com­pa­nies them­selves that have caused the dis­con­nect be­tween un­em­ploy­ment and un­filled va­can­cies – and that only they can fix it.

How so? Ac­cord­ing to Cap­pelli, it comes down to two key, but in­ter­con­nected, causes: the sys­tems that many or­gan­i­sa­tions now use to fi nd prospec­tive ap­pli­cants, and the wide­spread re­luc­tance in many busi­nesses to train new hires.


Where has the hir­ing process gone off the rails? In his book, Cap­pelli de­scribes short-staffed HR teams bat­tling to iden­tify the ap­pro­pri­ately skilled, qual­i­fied job­seek­ers in a moun­tain of ap­pli­ca­tions. This has led to the tremen­dous growth world­wide of au­to­mated re­cruit­ing soft­ware sys­tems like Peo­ple Mat­ter HIRE, Re­cruiter box, Suc­cessFac­tors and iCIMS. What ex­actly is au­to­mated hir­ing soft­ware? Th­ese are com­put­erised sys­tems that stream­line the hir­ing process, or var­i­ous ele­ments of it, from screen­ing to ap­pli­cant track­ing to on­board­ing. They sim­plify the work that com­pa­nies must do to sift out top can­di­dates. With only a bit of com­plex cod­ing the soft­ware can an­a­lyse ap­pli­cant in­for­ma­tion and ma­te­ri­als like CVs for the cor­rect key­words. Once it finds the ap­pli­cant that fits the key­words, the com­pany can in­ter­view them.

On the one hand, if used wisely, au­to­mated hir­ing sys­tems can help com­pa­nies sim­plify the ap­pli­ca­tion process, eval­u­ate ap­pli­cants fairly and thor­oughly, take much of the man­ual bur­den out of re­cruit­ing and cut down hir­ing time.

On the other hand, how­ever, there is a hu­man in­tel­li­gence to the hir­ing process that only real peo­ple can bring, and which can­not be au­to­mated. Au­to­mated screen­ing on its own does not guar­an­tee per­fect hires. Au­to­ma­tion is only as good as its hu­man op­er­a­tor. And this lack of hu­man el­e­ment in the au­to­mated screen­ing process is pre­cisely where the tech­nol­ogy falls down.

To avoid over­step­ping dis­crim­i­na­tory hir­ing laws, cau­tious HR man­agers and re­cruiters may in­ten­tion­ally use vague word­ing in the re­quire­ments sec­tions of their job ads. This, to­gether with the high un­em­ploy­ment lev­els, leads to moun­tains of ap­pli­cants. To re­solve this is­sue, com­pa­nies then use au­to­mated screen­ing soft­ware to sift through the re­sponses us­ing pre­cise re­quire­ments and search terms t hat el i mi­nate most – and i n some in­stances all – of the can­di­dates. Here’s the prob­lem: th­ese sys­tems seem to have been built to re­ject high vol­umes of can­di­dates, in­stead of find­ing the in­ex­pe­ri­enced rough di­a­monds who are ca­pa­ble but need ex­tra time or train­ing to move up the learn­ing curve. Hence the dis­as­trous out­come: busi­nesses ei­ther find the per­fect hire, or no hires at all.


In the past, how did high-po­ten­tial, in­ex­pe­ri­enced hires get into the work­force? Con­ven­tion­ally, they could per­suade a hir­ing man­ager that they were worth the risk, and then they’d spend some time on the job build­ing the skills needed to do it ef­fec­tively. In fact, this is ex­actly how my sis­terin-law, a maths teacher by train­ing, was hired by In­vestec some years ago, ahead of more suit­ably qual­i­fied, ex­pe­ri­enced ac­tu­ar­ial ap­pli­cants. In­vestec took a chance on her and she went on to be­come their head of credit re­port­ing and an­a­lyt­ics to­day.

How­ever, in many in­dus­tries, on-the­job train­ing has be­come an out­dated pract ice. Why? Be­cause com­pa­nies are be­com­ing wary about in­vest­ing time and money to train staff. Staff that com­peti­tors can then poach. This means that work­ers – and ap­pli­cants – must spend their own time and money get­ting the skills that they think em­ploy­ers may want. This sce­nario is a lose-lose for ev­ery­one: For the work­ers, who end up even more cash-strapped in their ef­forts to stand out from other ap­pli- cants. And for the com­pa­nies, who can­not make sure the train­ing is rel­e­vant to their jobs or of high enough qual­ity.

It’s time for com­pa­nies to fix their own sys­tems. It’s time for them to bring back the hu­man touch in the screen­ing process, and to start tak­ing the risk on promis­ing, in­ex­pe­ri­enced hires again, with on-the-job train­ing.

In Cap­pelli’s own words: “The time has f in­ally come for em­ploy­ers to de­velop a more re­al­is­tic sense of what their own in­ter­ests are with re­spect to work­force is­sues, and what best serves both their in­ter­ests and the well-be­ing of so­ci­ety as a whole.” In his best­seller Out­liers: The Story of Suc­cess, Mal­colm Glad­well couldn’t have summed it up bet­ter when he said: “To build a bet­ter world we need to re­place the patch­work of lucky breaks and ar­bi­trary ad­van­tages to­day that de­ter­mine suc­cess – the for­tu­nate birth dates and the happy ac­ci­dents of his­tory – with a so­ci­ety that pro­vides op­por­tu­ni­ties for all.”


In the mean­time, if you’re on the hunt for a job, you can still take charge of your ca­reer path. Don’t wait for em­ploy­ers to fix their bro­ken hir­ing pro­cesses, as that is out of your hands. Ac­cord­ing to the job site Vault.com, there are quicker, more ef­fec­tive ways to jump to the front of the job ap­pli­ca­tion queue. One op­tion is to copy some – but not all – of the lan­guage in a job ad. This will boost your ap­pli­ca­tion’s chances of get­ting past the au­to­mated screen­ing stage into an in­ter­view with a real hu­man be­ing. An­other al­ter­na­tive is to cir­cum­vent this stage com­pletely: do your re­search on the com­pany you want to work for and con­tact the hir­ing man­ager or the boss of the po­si­tion you want.

As la­bo­ri­ous as those work­arounds may be, they work a lot bet­ter than send­ing yet an­other copy of your CV down the au­to­ma­tion hole. And un­til more busi­nesses start lis­ten­ing to Cap­pelli and fix­ing their sys­tems, by­pass­ing it al­to­gether could be the most ef­fec­tive thing you can do.

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