An impending war for talent is necessitating HR transformation strategies across the region. Christopher Page, regional CEO for Aon Talent, Rewards & Performance, discusses the approach his consultancy is taking when advising clients to brace for change
How are businesses in the MENA region prepared for the upcoming highly skilled labour crisis that many analysts have been predicting for the coming years?
This is an area of opportunity for MENA. Unless local capability is built, it will be increasingly difficult for organisations to ‘import’ sufficient levels of talent they will need, for both the rapidly evolving digital environment, but also industries requiring highly skilled resources.
An obvious area of opportunity is to see more progress in collaboration between the private and government, to support the development of local capabilities for the highly skilled labour needed. For example, developing more industry specific degrees, apprenticeships and internship programmes, as well as career awareness experiences (before tertiary education), which have all been employed successfully elsewhere around the world.
Do you expect that there will be a price war for talent in the local economy?
Coveted roles that are difficult to fill will clearly command a premium in the market. Organisations should be more pro-active in determining what their future pipeline for talent needs look like and build relevant strategies around it. For instance, should you build or buy? What is the related compensation and reward philosophy?
What working environment, performance management and competency models, will you need to build for the new digital worker environment? These will all be significant inputs into helping organisations determine the most appropriate ‘build versus buy’ strategy and where globally, the best talent can be sourced, at a price that works for the organisation in question.
Generally, what are businesses in the UAE approaching Aon for support with, given the current macro-economic climate in the country?
Earlier this year, the accountancy and finance body ICAEW reported that the GCC’s economic growth in 2018 is expected to be the fastest since 2015, with continued growth well into 2019.
Against this, much of the support we’re providing for organisations is around organisational and people efficiency improvements, as well as capability building to make the most of the returning market.
In addition, both the public and private sector are understanding, now more than ever, the strategic importance of human capital development, both as an enabler of business and operational efficiency and as a critical component required in the delivery of overall growth and strategic objectives.
We’re supporting businesses in building more ‘fit for purpose’ organisational structures, compensation and reward landscapes, and improving HR functionality through HR transformation, which not only covers improving HR systems, functions and processes, but also in developing the effectiveness of HR teams.
Other significant areas of interest from organisations are around developing higher impact talent acquisition outcomes through the use of more innovative technology in the selection process. Organisations are also finally making the link between ‘employee engagement’ and better business or organisational outcomes.
The appetite therefore for surveying employees has significantly increased, with a growing trend to move away from the ‘once a year’ snapshot, to the need for more continuous dialogue, gathering feedback more broadly across every point of the employee’s lifecycle (from onboarding to exit) and at much more frequent intervals in between those points in time.
Are these concerns echoed in businesses around the Gulf as well?
Yes, for the private sector, these are themes very much seen across the GCC as a whole, as businesses realise that to make the most of the returning improvements to the macro-economic environment, investment needs to be made in these areas, especially as most organisations we work with compete in global markets now.
In the public sector, huge reforms being driven by KSA’s Vision 2030 require the significant development of Saudi’s government and quasi government entities.
In addition, all GCC governments are placing significant emphasis on building the capabilities of their national talent. This is needed as an employment driver and to both ensure the development of skillsets needed for the current and future work environments, as well as to build the potential business leaders of tomorrow, in their respective nations.
Would you agree that the current trend within businesses to cut costs by trimming staff numbers has created a crisis of morale in some organisations?
Doing more with less is an oft used demand given to managers. However, where efficiency or productivity levels, as compared to international benchmarks are lower, arbitrarily trimming staff numbers can lead to significant capability gaps that have an even more serious impact on business profitability.
While realistic and timely manpower planning should be a discipline all organisations adopt, driving employee engagement, capability building and a more strategic application of employee compensation spend, help better manage morale maintenance, even in difficult working environments.
Besides that, what are some practices that organisations and leaders here need to improve to maintain an efficient and motivated workforce?
A conscious effort to invest in people and talent strategies that enhance the work experience reiterates that the bottom line for businesses must be to understand their top engagement focus areas and identify the best interventions to elevate the employee experience. The throughput of this directly links to increased performance. The decisive factor in this is the need for continuous dialogue, as well as keeping a mindful eye on emerging trends that are fast-evolving in today’s digital era.
What are Aon’s plans in the region?
I’m always saying to my team that we should constantly be looking for ways to increase our relevance to our clients and the region as a whole. We look to build long-term partnerships with the organisations we work with, which requires us investing the time to truly get to know them. The better we understand the organisation, the more impactful and valuable the outcomes we deliver are.
In regard to technology and innovation, Aon continues to heavily invest in some of the leading tech-based HR solutions. Our recent acquisitions include Cut-e, a global leader in online talent assessments, and Modern Survey, an employee survey and talent analytics solutions provider.
Both bring leading innovations that have been and continue to be, successfully deployed in the region, to better help our clients drive business performance through people.
Overall, our growth will be determined by innovation, the quality of our data and being recognised in region for delivering the very best HR related business outcomes for our clients that positively impact performance and growth.