The shortage of skilled executives in South Africa was nothing short of a calamity and the belief that expatriates who had left the country would return to reverse the situation was an illusion.
Auguste Coetzer, founding partner with leading executive recruitment firm Leaders Unlimited - Korn/Ferry International said there was a world-wide shortage of talented people and South African recruiters were fishing in the same global pool as their competitors elsewhere in the world.
Speaking at the Labour Market 2008 conference in Midrand, Coetzer said the workforce had become globally integrated and executives were now selling their services to the highest bidder on an international basis.
"There is a world-wide shortage of top people and executives can now pick and choose jobs. While job satisfaction and the quality of the company played a major role in attracting talent, ultimately the remuneration package and how it was structured remained the deciding factor. Mobility has created a world without boundaries where top executives can select who they want to work for and to think that South African executives who are working for multinationals are going to come back out of a sense of patriotism is completely unfounded."
A more realistic approach to the skills shortage would be to nurture local talent by improving the country's educational institutions.
She revealed that in a recent Global Talent Index Survey, South African business schools were ranked 27 out of 30. Behind the South African business schools were those of Iran, Nigeria and Indonesia. More disturbing is that South Africa's proclivity to attract talent was ranked last.
She said the top issues that senior executives looked at when they were being head-hunted were:
* Whether the company is able to attract and retain skilled staff.
* Have a credible board of directors.
* Able to develop new products and processes ahead of the competition where applicable.
* Manage risk well.
* Is able to increase shareholder value.
* Using IT to reduce costs and create value.
* Is flexible and adaptable to rapidly changing market conditions.
Coetzer questioned the notion that South African executives were overpaid.
"Salaries and benefits like performance bonuses and share options are set internationally and top men and women in the boardroom and in senior executive positions earn much the same across the world because of the global fluidity of the workforce," she said.
Among the prime jobs that Leaders Unlimited is currently recruiting for is chartered accountants employed as chief financial officers, Coetzer said. "There is also a huge shortage of qualified engineers in all of the engineering disciplines. Project managers, supply chain and logistic managers, research and development staff are also difficult to recruit."
It is imperative that South African universities and technikons improve their system of nurturing students to reverse the appalling pass rates notched up in the engineering disciplines.
"Recent figures show that between 1998 and 2004 of the 50 570 students who were enrolled at tertiary institutions only 8900 graduated which represents a pass rate of only 17,7%."
She also revealed that only about 700 engineers entered the economy yearly while the demand for new engineers would be about 11 000 by 2010.
The situation with artisans is even worse: it is estimated that only 5000 artisans are currently taking apprenticeship exams while the demand is for about 12 500 a year.