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Skills-based hiring brings South Africa in line with international hiring trends

coder working on laptop with ai dots coding skills-based hiring

By Jessica Hawkey, MD at redAcademy


As technology continues to evolve at an unprecedented pace and become infused across all aspects of the business, companies are increasingly under pressure to remain competitive by attracting the best tech talent available. However with a shortage of IT skills and limited access to higher education, it is clear that alternative approaches to recruitment and talent development are required, and this includes a greater focus on skills-based hiring.

Promotions within an organisation are usually as a result of skills and experience rather than academic qualifications, so why not use these as the criteria right from the start?

Globally, large multinationals such as Accenture, General Motors, IBM and LinkedIn among others are placing importance on skills when hiring employees rather than focusing on traditional educational qualifications. These organisations are looking for problem solvers with proven experience and a multi-disciplinary skill set rather than someone with just theoretical knowledge. This approach is especially useful for filling modern, technology-based entry level roles in specific industries, such as in software development as an example.

By removing the requirement for mandatory higher degree qualifications from job advertisements, recruiters can tap into a wider range of candidates who possess relevant skills and experience. This not only increases the number of candidates available but also ensures that the best candidate is selected for the position. In a country like South Africa, skills-based hiring can be an effective means of providing opportunities for young people without a university education.

Of course, there is resistance as this is a shift that can upset the status quo; organisations have long relied on academic qualifications as a vetting measure and it can be hard to bring about change. To be clear, we are not disregarding traditional degrees as they still have a vital role to play in certain professions. However, when looking at areas such as technology, traditional educational institutions have simply not been able to keep up with the rate of change – or produce the number of skilled graduates needed.

Businesses looking for tech talent the traditional way first need to look at how many graduates are on the market, then whether they are familiar with the organisation’s technology stack and finally whether there is a culture fit. There’s no wonder why there is a fierce war for scarce talent, while it is also clear that an alternative approach to skills development is needed if businesses are to meet their future requirements.

While there were not many alternatives in the past, organisations such as redAcademy are filling the gap by introducing a skills development and training programme, aimed at fast-tracking the careers of young South Africans in the IT industry. Rather than being bound by academic qualifications, the focus is on attitude – problem solvers who are quick to learn, dedicated, accountable, responsible and take pride in their work.

The programme then equips these youth with software development training and theoretical knowledge before providing them with the practical, real-world experience of working alongside professional developers on projects for real clients, using their specific technology stacks – not unlike work integrated learning. Not only may opting for candidates based on their skills yield more favourable employment outcomes, compared to selecting based on their level of qualification and degrees, but they will be able to ‘hit the ground running’.

Beyond simply providing organisations with entry-level talent, skills-based hiring can also help with building a developer resource pipeline as well as ensure that succession planning within organisations is successful. A talent partner can ensure that sourced candidates have the right hard and soft skills, familiarity with a particular organisation’s technology stack and way of working and can vet them based on acquired refined skills rather than general academics.

It’s important to note, however, that skills-based hiring cannot solely be the responsibility of the HR department. Based on industry insights shared by Insaaf Daniels, Human Capital General Manager at redPanda Software, Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) and other members of the C-Suite must play an equally active role in driving the process forward. They are responsible for determining the organisation’s strategic direction and ensuring that it has the resources it needs to achieve its objectives – and skills-based hiring will be a crucial component as it guarantees that businesses have the right people with the right abilities to deal with any issues that may arise.

What is clear is that in order to remain competitive, companies in South Africa need to adopt new approaches to developing scarce talent while also investing in upskilling their current workforce and integrating learning into their corporate cultures. Slow-moving companies that operate with outdated paradigms will fall behind and risk losing their most valuable resource: Talent.


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