Local financial and distribution solutions specialist, Ability, has launched Ability Outsource, an independent company geared to service the urgent need for technical and professional skills for primary sector projects in southern Africa.
Ricky Douwes, MD of the new entity, says southern Africa is poised for a mini industrial boom as South African and international companies are drawn to the region by the many projects expected to come on stream over the next couple of years.
Ricky Douwes, MD, Ability Solutions
"Many of these companies are looking for a turnkey outsourcing solution to cover their onsite financial systems and operating procedures, including books of accounts, debtors, creditors, invoicing, distribution and stock management.
"Ability Solutions is superbly positioned here with its existing financial and distribution solutions. We, however, have identified an opportunity to dovetail these services with a human resources outsourcing unit. Now, companies that are working on a project in southern Africa, but do not have a physical presence in the region, are offered a complete turnkey solution.
"Ability Outsource can provide the necessary hardware, systems and persons onsite seconded to the client on a turnkey basis and costed either hourly, monthly or weekly according to individual requirements."
It is this turnkey approach that Douwes believes will give Ability Outsource the edge in what is sure to become a competitive skills sourcing environment.
"Clients are looking to buy a skill," he says. "They are not looking to become part of the employment contract or relationship. Ability Outsource will arrange for the mobilisation, demobilisation, medevac, life insurance, payment and benefits of the required skilled worker. That's where we add value."
In addition, Douwes points to the fact that industry, and engineering in particular, has been undergoing a much needed clean-up as far as labour practices are concerned since August last year.
"Clients, labour brokers and outsourcing companies are now facing joint and several liability in terms of basic conditions of employment and the like and, hopefully, this will serve to disqualify companies that do not operate correctly," he says.
"Ability Outsource is not simply a body shop. We second our employees to the clients where they fulfil a role or function and we assume full responsibility for them. While our association with Ability Solutions ensures our strength in the financial arena, we carry more than sufficient weight in the technical and professional fields. This coupled with our ability to offer a complete system makes Ability Outsource an attractive option indeed."
Skilled professional and technical project recruitment, Douwes adds, is an active rather than passive process. "Simply taking out a recruitment advertisement for, say, a contract manager does not work.
"Ability Outsource has the resources and up-to-date databases to ensure that it can have suitable personnel referred to it within 48 hours of the original request. If you cannot turn an enquiry into a submission within a 10 day period, you are not in the game."
Fast turnarounds is what is required. Douwes estimates that the number of people required for capital-based projects from mid 2004 to 2007 could result in a skills shortage of the magnitude last experienced in the late seventies with the Sasol Secunda project.
Projects like Coega in the Eastern Cape, the Turbo project in Secunda, and the greenfield compliance drive in the petrochemical industry are all set to come on stream simultaneously.
"We believe that in mining, power generation and petrochemicals alone, there could be a labour shortage in the region of 15 000 people. While training and re-skilling could reduce this figure to around 8000, it is certain that there is going to be a huge need for skilled people - people who work on projects rather than in continuous employment programmes," Douwes says.
Ability Outsource has brought in a number of core people with relevant expertise to supplement its existing infrastructure. The company is currently establishing a presence offshore, targeting countries like Australia and Canada - which are similar to South Africa in terms of professional development - and India and the Philippines - where there are similarities with regards to technical requirements and working conditions.
"We are confident of placing in the region of 500 people by June next year," says Douwes, "and, if there are positive developments in countries like Angola and Nigeria, Ability Outsource will be well positioned to participate in what could turn out to be a boom period."