The head of South African web hosting company 1-grid.com, Thomas Vollrath, says he would rather hire a driven 17-year-old with the ability to learn new skills, than a seasoned veteran.
Businesses in the digital age need to adapt quickly to new technologies, but upskilling to stay ahead of the technology curve can be expensive and time-consuming.
An effective strategy to address this skills gap is growth from within – a strategy that requires savvy management who can spot talent and provide mentorship to high-potential candidates.
“Upskilling young employees is a smart way of ensuring your business remains agile. Employees that take up new learning opportunities are hugely valuable, they have a broader understanding of the business and are more likely to stay with the company in the long term,” says Vollrath.
The relationship between an employee and employer is a two-way street.
“Employees with the right mentor can quickly move up in a company and absorb new knowledge. At the same time, the mentor benefits from their commitment and ability to grow into different roles.”
According to the 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey, 43% of millennials and 61% of Gen Z’s expect to leave the company they work for within two years.
The same survey shows that a company culture that supports flexibility, openness and mentorship goes a long way towards boosting staff loyalty.
Vollrath agrees that a management culture which supports individual employees to achieve their desired career path is the dominant reason behind high staff retention.
Software development, one of the most sought-after skills in South Africa is a case in point.
Unlike traditional professions, the learning content for a tertiary education in IT is often obsolete before the learner completes the qualification.
Many developers skip the four-year university degree and fast-track directly into their career through personal development and peer learning. Vollrath, says he’d rather hire and upskill a driven young person who knows how to code than an industry veteran.
“Most great coders learn their skills through boot camps or online short courses. They enter the job market at a junior level, learning and growing in line with shifts in how software is written.”
Vollrath’s industry is dominated by young people – those who have grown up with the internet, smartphones and cybersecurity threats. It is a generation with skills that are sought after, but one that is particularly flighty when it comes to employment.