Middle Management – A skills shortage phenomenon

21 October 2008 AIMS International South Africa

What has happened to middle management? This is the question being asked by organisations and industries across the globe. The shortage has reached critical point and there is widespread acknowledgement in developing countries that this is potentially the most fatal constraint to accelerated growth. Headhunters worldwide are being retained to head hunt middle management more frequently in recent years, whereas this methodology was previously exclusively utilised to search for executives. Clients are definitely feeling the pinch as middle management elude their hiring strategies and crucial positions go unfilled.

This global phenomenon is a critical trend that was highlighted at the AIMS International Conference held in South Africa recently, where over 50 global headhunters converged to discuss and debate international recruitment issues.

Corporate clientele attended an open workshop hosted by AIMS International where issues were discussed candidly and included insights from Mansoor Mohamed, Executive Director Economic, Social Development and Tourism (City of Cape Town), Petulia Williamson, Talent Resourcing Manager (British American Tobacco SA), Rolf Heeb, President (AIMS International) and Leonie Pentz, Business Unit Manager (AIMS International South Africa).

Rolf Heeb, President of AIMS International, said, “Headhunting years ago, dealt mainly with Executives, but the landscape has truly changed as middle management and specialists form a large portion of retained assignments.”

Highlighting the dire need for specialists and middle management to meet the 2010 objectives and the continued positive transformation of the City of Cape Town, Mansoor Mohamed mentioned, “We need more skilled workers in Cape Town to ensure these objectives are met and foreign skills would be welcomed.”

Alarming statistics affecting skills shortages in South Africa were exposed and include:

  • Every 5 years RSA loses 30% of the executive workforce to Australia.
  • UCT is hoping to produce 12 actuaries at the end of 2008, 7 will leave South Africa and 5 have already secured employers.
  • According to SAGRA, of 100 Students that enrol for first year University BCom Finance, only 25 will pass.
  • South Africa has one engineer for every 3200 people, China and India has 1:150 and Europe 1:250-300.

Employing foreign skills could be part of the answer following the international globalisation phenomenon. It does bring along administrative challenges, but in reality 34825 work permits in 53 occupations were allocated as per Home Affairs Minister (April 2007).

In addition to skills shortages, corporates face other major challenges including:

  • Competitors with strong Employer Branding
  • Affirmative Action/Immigration Laws
  • Baby Boomers retiring
  • Lack of knowledge transfer between generations
  • Leadership crisis
  • A demanding workforce
  • Golden handcuffs

With these harsh realities facing HR Departments, what can be done differently to counter these effects?

Leonie Pentz, Business Unit Manager of AIMS International South Africa, states that clients pay a lot of money for a retained search and if they don’t work with their headhunter, successful outcomes can not always be guaranteed.

“Companies need to collaborate with headhunters to win the war for talent. Gone are the days where the demand for jobs exceeded the supply of positions. There is indeed currently a serious skills shortage,” said Petulia Williamson, Talent Resourcing Manager, British American Tobacco SA.

The conference also highlighted ways for HR to increase their success rate in the hiring process, which included:

  • Building a trust relationship with your headhunter.
  • Stop wasting the candidate’s time.
  • Do not rely merely on advertisements rather consider an integrated approach.
  • Know your industry.
  • Influence line management (be in charge of the process).
  • Stop merely sorting CVS and start recruiting.
  • Play a pivotal role within this process, lead line management and set the stage for a positive result.
  • Listen to feedback.
  • Listen to the market and act decisively on strategies.

Petulia provided insight of British American Tobacco’s successful hiring philosophies.

“We do not only identify skills, but identify potential. We focus on all angles that compliment the employer brand including partnering with educational institutions, pro-active resourcing, heeding globalisation, continued networking and aggressive staff development initiatives. We are continuously testing market perceptions of our employer brand through surveys and action responses accordingly. Ultimately, BATSA has become synonymous with leadership and development”

“Really listen to the beating drum of South Africa and global markets,” she advised.

As “search” has become an inevitable consequence of middle management skills shortages, choosing a headhunter is critical to define your future success.

“When choosing a headhunter you need to seek out integrity, knowledge, conscienceness and effectiveness. A headhunter should build knowledge of your organisation and departments and spend time with the line manager. Beware of headhunters that take a spec by email – this is a no-no. Your headhunter should be renowned for the highest level of integrity as sensitive information is often shared. Ultimately your search partner should work for you and should give you 100% attention, providing you with market insights and constructive advice,” suggested Leonie.

Petulia mentioned, “British American Tobacco seeks quality service, innovation, ability to demonstrate a successful track record, ability to build long term relationships, acting as an ambassador to the company and providing valuable feedback. We go it together with the headhunter, every step of the way.”

So what is the ultimate conclusion moving forward?

Yes, there is a skills crisis and yes, we do need to welcome foreign skills at these levels and ensure they pass on their valuable expertise to South Africans.

To attract local and international specialist skills organisations need to build a sexy employer brand, implement an effective hiring process and relay a healthy respect of great minds.

The beating drum of South Africa tells us it is time we enter the globilisation era, reaping its rewards and minimising any negatives.

South Africans may leave our shores in search of international exposure, but this does need to mean the end, but may be a beginning. As a country we need to find a happy medium between “brain drain” and “brain gain”. Let’s move into the globalisation era with open eyes and embrace its benefits.

Let’s build our middle management and specialist skills through collaboration, smarts and being attractive employers.

An experienced and knowledgeable headhunter will guide you – they are in tune with the beating drum each and every day.

Quick Polls


Do you believe this is the toughest period for financial advice in many years?


Yes, it’s hard to navigate the challenges and difficult to adapt. I’m struggling.
No, I have managed to navigate the challenges and have adapted. I’m good.
50/50. I just feel like whether we like it or not, we have to ready ourselves for change… be resilient and scale for the future. It’s not about survival of the fittest anymore but survival of the quickest. We just have to move on with life.
fanews magazine
FAnews October 2021 Get the latest issue of FAnews

This month's headlines

IFA nuggets: Prospecting for clients
FSCA weighs in as universal life policy premiums rocket
No short cuts for the short term broker
Investment lessons worth sharing
Tightening of policy wordings… likely in the future?
Subscribe now