Creating your own talent pool.

Author:Swaniker, Fred

Across Africa, a common refrain by the corporate sector has been that they simply cannot find the talent they need. Blame has been placed on a variety of causes but in fact, corporations themselves have the most effective solution to this problem. Elsewhere, "academies" run by corporations appear to have solved the dearth of talent issue. What can Africa learn from this?

Sometime in the mid-1950s, Ralph Cordiner, then president of General Electric, was convinced that the single biggest thing holding his company back was lack of talent. The company was growing and moving outside traditional geographies and product lines and he needed his employees' skills to grow with them.

His solution would be a historical one; Cordiner established the Crotonville Management Training Centre in New York in 1956, popularly known as the world's first "corporate university". This was an integrated training academy within GE with a dedicated faculty and a curriculum that reinforced the skills required to achieve overall company strategy.

Today, at least 4,000 companies worldwide have corporate "universities" of their own. They are seen as industry's answer to the widening skills gaps and the need for companies to take matters into their own hands instead of leaving the main responsibility for training employees to external bodies like universities or vocational institutes.

Some examples include McDonald's historic "Hamburger University" and global nuclear giant Areva's training campus in France, which creates the talent that supplies much of the country's energy. These corporate institutions of learning are responding to the singular need to more clearly align employees' skills with company needs and institutional culture.

In Africa, corporations are desperately looking for appropriate skills, from entry-level to the C-suite. Entry level skills desired include an aptitude for critical thinking, communication, leadership, project management and data analysis.

Further up, managers and executives need effective leadership, management and financial skills; an understanding of the markets they operate in and an aptitude for complex decision-making. Beyond this is a nuanced understanding of how best to engage with government and how technology can be used to drive productivity.

Traditionally, these African firms have trained employees through short internally-run seminars and by sending senior managers to prestigious business and management training institutes. The...

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