The Talent Factor in Emerging Markets – IFAMA 2014 Session

Karen Kachadoorian

Moderator for the session Karen Kachadoorian, Leader, African HR Strategy Network, Mercer

Article by Louise Brodie

The Talent Factor in Emerging Markets was the topic for one of the panel discussions at the IFAMA and CCA Agribusiness & Food World Forum Conference at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

The panel consisted of top executives from large multinationals answering questions on how to find talent in emerging markets, how to retain and grow the talent within their companies and what students should do to ensure that they could qualify as the talent required for jobs in these industries.

The moderator was for the session was Karen Kachadoorian, Leader, African HR Strategy Network, Mercer.

The panel was composed of the following people:

  • Anne-Magriet Schoeman, Talent/Country Leader, Mercer South Africa
  • Raj Vardham Senior Executive from Olam International
  • Paul Lotter, Head of HR at Standard Bank
  • Thomas Herlehy, Land O’Lakes Practice Manager, Agriculture Productivity and Competitiveness
  • Bayella Thiam, Novus International Executive Manager for Africa

Challenges to finding Talent in Emerging Markets

Thomas Herlehy

Thomas Herlehy, Land O’Lakes Practice Manager, Agriculture Productivity and Competitiveness

This can be achieved through partnering with local HR companies and academic institutions as well as using the company’s own HR personnel. Finding people with the correct level of English and technical skills makes it difficult to find the right people for the job. There are very few countries in Africa where there have been surveys conducted about salary levels. One needs to be flexible with the approach as rigidly sticking to the western approach does not work. Advertising for jobs in Africa in the first world does not draw much of a response, and expats are generally very expensive to employ. Often when the level of person required is available locally they are too expensive to employ. Finding the right people for the job with a limited talent pool remains a challenge as there is often a disconnect between the profile of students available and the type of person required for the job.

The legal restrictions to hiring employees internationally can be a problem and the laws governing work permits can vary from country to county in Africa. Labor law differs in each country. It is important to have the assistance of a good labor lawyer in each country to assist with labor lay as multinational companies could easily inadvertently transgress the labor laws of a particular country.

Bayella Thiam

Bayella Thiam, Novus International Executive Manager for Africa

Often the students that apply have very good qualifications but have not had any opportunity for practical experience. The need to have this experience when appointing them is imperative and they need this experience in order to function properly in the workplace. This is why the recent establishment of graduate school programs are so important in the African context. Growth and career development are very important to industry and companies need to identify top talent and invest in them. It is clear for employer and employee to know what to expect. Line managers don’t always drive this and if this was managed better, performance would be better.

It is very difficult to determine what the opposition is paying and how to pitch salaries. There is often an expectation to be paid in US Dollars. Exchange rates can be difficult if the person employed is from another country and their income is depreciating. This hidden benefit that is sometimes expected of companies can be an unpleasant surprise.

Challenges to retaining talent in Emerging Markets

Employers need to allow people to work in a safe and trusting environment so that they can learn by their mistakes and also help others to learn by their mistakes. Accountability is important as well as performance evaluation and rewarding people accordingly. In Africa it does not work to treat employees with the big brother attitude. Listen to people and talk to them. Introduce technology and allow people to work in teams. Fit into the social fabric. For instance when it comes to family funerals and weddings recognize that there is a cultural difference in Africa. Regional differences and inter-country friction can be problems and tribalism and ethnicity are difficult to manage. It is also important to localize employment. Expats can help set up a company initially but over time it is important to hire local talent. Cross pollination is good for moral in a multinational company, and this can be achieved by sending employees from one country to spend time in the company office in another country. Resolving local issues must happen at local level and not at head office.

Advice to students as prospective job applicants

Find something that you are passionate about and follow that as a career path. Working is tough and often there are frustrations, so make sure you enjoy the environment in which you work. Agricultural students should be happy to work in the field as that is what agriculture is about. Too many of them want to sit in an office job. The bottom line about agriculture is it is about growing food to feed people. Also students should be careful not to become overqualified as they might not find a job. Qualifications are important but in the agricultural industry people need to be practical and street wise in order to get the job done.

Be passionate, persistent and flexible. The more languages you know the more employable you are. Critical thinking is not emphasized and taught enough in educational institutions – where is the “so what” factor?

You need strong writing skills. If you cannot express yourself in writing, you will get nowhere. Learn to be a good public speaker. Toastmasters is a good organization to teach you these skills.

Don’t get into agriculture or anything by default. Follow your passion. If you have studied agriculture, practice agriculture, don’t just get stuck in a desk job.


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