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Finding Solutions To SA’s Brain Drain

  • 5 min read

South Africa’s “brain drain” continues to pose a significant challenge for businesses nationwide. Recognising the need for fresh perspectives and actionable strategies, the global Employer of Record (EoR) platform, Playroll, recently hosted an exclusive roundtable discussion.

The panel included Mandy Wiener as moderator and a panel of HR experts and business leaders including Simonetta Guiricich COO from Playroll, Elsa Tshatedi Group Human Resources, from Nedbank, Leonie Pentz Head of Sustainability from AIMS South Africa, and Vanessa Raath, Global Talent Sourcing Trainer. The event aimed to shed light on the options available to businesses to retain the services of their best people amidst the ongoing talent exodus being experienced in South Africa.

Setting the scene for the discussion, Simonetta Guiricich from Playroll, highlighted the extent of the talent exodus from SA, citing a recently produced Playroll white paper which mentioned that there were over 914,901 South Africans living abroad in 2020, up from 786,554 recorded in 2015. “Of particular concern for SA, is the steady, and increasing, number of departures by young, highly skilled individuals,” Guiricich said, “with projections indicating that the country could lose up to half of its university graduates in the coming years.”

Remote work is changing how the global workspace operates, not specifically in South Africa. The shift to location independence means more companies will start hiring talent anywhere in the world. Increasingly, companies are seeking to build a distributed workforce – so while, historically, relocation of talent signalled the end of the employee/employer relationship, this no longer needs to be the case. A firm overarching message of hope ensues from the roundtable.

Guiricich explained further, “Employer of Record platforms like Playroll serve a pivotal role in retaining critical business skills, by providing a tool to empower employers with a solution to hire and retain talent anywhere in the world. Talent looking to move abroad can now theoretically take their job with them when they move, a solution that Playroll has become particularly adept at implementing for a growing number of leading SA companies ensuring compliance to local and global employment regulations and requirements.”

The growing challenge of so-called virtual emigration, poses another unique challenge, particularly to SA’s tech sector, as an increasing number of developers and data scientists – already a scarce resource for the country – choose to work remotely for global companies, leaving local businesses to grapple with ever-increasing talent gaps. However, despite the challenges, viable solutions exist to mitigate the impact of the brain drain on businesses. The panellists shared their on-the-ground experiences and discussed some of the strategies they have implemented within their organisations to help prevent talent loss.

Three key themes emerged in terms of practical retention solutions that businesses can implement to stem the outflow of organisational talent, namely skills development and transferworkplace flexibility and meaningful support of key employees’ personal and professional ambitions.

The value and importance of a renewed focus on skills transfer and employee training as a cornerstone of effective retention strategy require constantly upskilling employees at all levels, companies can build a deeper talent pool containing vital skills, and thereby minimise the disruption caused by emigration.

Leonie Pentz from AIMS South Africa highlighted the value of workplace flexibility as a means of attracting and retaining key skills. “In an era where workplace flexibility and fluid employment arrangements are top priorities for workers, companies that offer such flexibility stand a better chance of attracting and retaining rare talent on a global scale. As responsible leaders, we need to ensure we’re looking after our staff from a mental health point of view, as well as a personal one. Today, people want to work for companies they feel they are aligned with personally.”

Vanessa Raath, pointed to the imperative for enhanced support of key talent, with a particular focus on leadership engagement, support and appreciation as vital ingredients in any successful talent retention recipe. “What companies need to realise is that it’s not always a monetary kind of reward. A smaller company can offer more, a 4-day working week, and more flexibility about working from home [or abroad]. The companies that I’m working with that are thriving from a global perspective are the SMEs, because they are meeting the needs of each individual and what they want. So I think that’s the sweet spot, the retention, is far more achievable.”

Previously, for employers to retain talent who were looking to move or to source exceptional talent from abroad, the process was both cost prohibitive and operationally complex, as they’d need to create a local entity, learn about local labour laws, run local payroll, validate compliance and contract terms with local attorneys; now with agile solutions like Playroll – employers can run business as usual with a global infrastructure of local talent that supports their needs. Feedback from roundtable attendees showed that the thought-provoking discussion delivered its objective to move the brain drain conversation forward by surfacing actionable strategies that HR leaders can implement to keep their top talent and retain essential skills.