CIO Year End Event reveals that the key to winning the war on IT talent is individualisation


Panellists discuss extreme individualisation and outsourced service providers as a means to retaining top talent.

During the CIO South Africa Year End Event that took place on 30 November at The Westcliff, panellists unpacked the biggest thing on all CIOs’ minds: talent mobility. “There’s a war being waged for IT talent, and no one has the answer,” MD Joël Roerig said.

He was joined by EOH HR director Malisha Awunor, AECI CIO Toni Serra and Momentum Metropolitan group CDIO Dhesen Ramsamy.

“Every conversation in the IT space right now is about talent, and nobody is able to crack it,” said Dhesen. “We ran a very comprehensive survey internally with 1,500 techies across the group, and two thirds of participants wanted to know that they are working on cool stuff.”

He explained that the idea of experimenting with technology very openly, boldly and loudly, is what is attracting new tech talent.

“They also said they want to understand that the company they’re working for has their best interest at heart, and they wanted to know that there are opportunities for them to grow and move internally.”

Extreme individualisation

Dhesen added that no number of big cheques is enough to get the talent you need in your organisation anymore.

Having worked with talent throughout her career as an HR leader, Malisha agreed, saying that organisations need to stop thinking of talent as a billable resource. “People want an environment where purpose and driving social good is important. It’s not just a transaction around pay anymore,” she explained.

She added that the Covid-19 pandemic has provided people with opportunities to relook at what they’re doing and really think about the things that matter. “The cookie cutter approach to employment, interviews and rewarding people won’t work anymore. We need to start shifting the way in which we look at our value propositions beyond the traditional approach.”

Malisha explained that organisations need to adopt the principle of extreme individualism, like Spotify and Netflix, but with their employee contracts. “One of the people I’m working with has an employee who wants to be paid in V-bucks, and why not pay them that way?”

She emphasised the importance of understanding the individual and what drives them, saying that’s the only way you will retain people in your organisation.

No one-size-fits-all approach

Five years ago, AECI found itself with an average staff complement of 20 years of service after inheriting desktop engineers that were over 40 years old. None of them had been upskilled to become technical managers or CIOs, and none of them had pushed for promotions or job changes. “At the size we are as an organisation, we found ourselves unable to provide a proper career for true IT professionals,” Toni said.

They decided to keep a retained organisation consisting of senior people that are responsible for understanding the business strategy, translating it into IT speak, sourcing the solution from the IT ecosystem, and assisting the organisation to implement the solution. “We now have 20 senior IT staff that are no longer just desktop engineers, developers or programmers, but custodians of processes that speak to the finance and supply chain ecosystems of the organisation,” he explained.

None of the desktop engineers they inherited lost their jobs, and instead they were dispersed into new roles in the organisation.

“The nature of the individual we have to plan for in the future are people that are ideally able to become the next FD, senior manager in the procurement departments, or another senior executive, because they can comprehend and understand the business, and are able to speak IT.”

Some of the audience members raised concerns with outsourced services like the one AECI uses, including outsourced service providers always changing the people working on their contracts, and having to retrain new account managers with the right skills to service their specific needs.

“We used to have body shop outsourcing contracts, but we’ve fundamentally changed all of them to service-based contracts, where we hold the outsourced service provider accountable for the delivery of the service. It’s then incumbent on them to ensure that they have the appropriate skills,” Toni said. “We penalise them heavily if they don’t deliver the service.”

Eskom CIO Faith Burn explained that the way organisations go about sourcing should also be personalised, like employment contracts. “While what Toni has done works in their organisation, and perhaps in that industry, it won’t work in my organisation, as we are mandated to safeguard and create jobs within our own ecosystem.”

The panellists all concluded that Faith was right, and that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to talent retention, acquisition and mobility, and that it requires a personalised, individual approach for every organisation, employee or service provider.

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