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Stemming the Talent Exodus & Securing SA’s Future Talent Pipeline with Dr Shirley Zinn

"The obligation on corporations extends beyond talent retention within their own walls; it is a shared responsibility for the greater good of the nation." - Shirley Zinn

“The obligation on corporates extends beyond talent retention within their own walls; it is a shared responsibility for the greater good of the nation.” – Dr. Shirley Zinn

Our series of thought leadership discussions continued recently with the great honour of hosting Dr Shirley Zinn. With her wealth of experience in Human Resources, outstanding academic record and as a published author, Dr Zinn facilitated an engaging and thought-provoking discussion with our members on the current talent exodus facing South Africa.

Carike Nel, Director, Deloitte Actuarial and Insurance Solutions (our host and sponsor), shared with the assembled gathering the very real challenge of retaining talent and developing and maintaining a unique employee value proposition in a challenging environment.

A key theme of the afternoon’s discussion was a call to view the situation through a slightly different lens. Is there a possibility to partner on talent and for all concerned to shift the focus from ‘the brain drain’ to engaging in something bigger than ourselves – employing and absorbing talent in a way that is sensible, turning it into an opportunity?

As important, the need to understand the multi-faceted nature of the talent exodus that covers more than just the emigration of skilled talent but, so too, the number of locals employed by international companies due to remote working possibilities. Added to this, the complexity of our high unemployment rate, particularly amongst our youth, that should not be treated as a separate issue but rather factored into the overall picture. We cannot build an economy without well developed and well-placed resources. This, exacerbated by the sobering reality of the knock-on effect on organisation’s succession planning and, so too, the impact on our country’s tax system due to the number of individuals leaving the country.

Dr Zinn shared how, witnessed through her experience across multiple organisations (academia, listed and private business, non-profit, et. al), the stress and pressure on all to build resilient organisations, whilst igniting and fostering hope within our people is immense. This, compounded by the post-Covid demand for increased flexibility as well as significantly higher purpose-driven objectives that are seeing employers needing to embrace and exhibit a combination of intellectual, emotional, social consciousness and impact and even spiritual elements within their organisations. The working landscape has changed. We need to embrace the current world we find ourselves in – one that is driven by changing needs, and both manage our businesses and engage with our employees accordingly.

Against a backdrop of the very real overwhelm of the situation and, at times, a difficulty in knowing where to begin, Dr Zinn welcomed thoughts and ideas from the assembled members whilst stressing the importance of a game plan. We cannot simply say or do nothing! We need to understand what the root cause of this exodus and the hard data behind it is. Do we understand the drivers behind this – inequality, lack of growth, our citizens wanting to earn elsewhere, the energy crisis and political uncertainty, amongst other? And we need to ask real questions – are we investing enough time and effort in the supply and demand requirements to fuel economic growth? Similarly, are we investing enough in education?

A broader discussion with the assembled members heralded several ideas and potential action items to consider – a few included below:

  • Is there possibility for local companies to retain talent when employees emigrate via remote working options?
  • The influence of social media. Our social feeds are, at times, filled with success stories of those who have left and settled elsewhere. What is the impact of this on our youth living in South Africa? Do we have a counterbalance to that?
  • This, backed by the development of a value proposition for staying in South Africa. Is there not an opportunity for those of us who have chosen to stay to create something valuable around why we are staying – in our personal and professional capacities.
  • The need for stronger and ‘better’ partnerships between business and education and the need to do more than what is currently being done, particularly at grassroots level.
  • The responsibility on corporates not just to retain talent for their own companies but, for the greater good of the country as well.
  • A relook at various internship programmes and the need to extend placement to allow for more interns being permanently retained by the company post the initial internship period.
  • Utilising all our resources and an increase in awareness of the enormous value neurodivergent employees bring to particularly the STEM related fields within business.

Dr Zinn stressed that, although the world has evolved, we are perhaps guilty of still trying to do things the same way. Yes, organisations need to understand internal challenges. However, it needs to extend beyond only that with an increased focus on every organisation’s role and potential impact on the national landscape as well.

Once again, sincerest thanks to our speakers, sponsors, and members – without whom these events would not be possible. We remain committed to providing opportunities for our members to engage and collaborate with each other, and industry experts, on the many critical issues facing our country as part of our combined goal to foster economic growth and a sustainable future.

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