Around the world, 3-billion unskilled and semi-skilled workers are jobless, with a mammoth 1,5-billion new jobs required.

South Africa, like many emerging countries is facing a major talent shortage, with the latest Talent Shortage Survey 2013 from Manpower Group South Africa showing that engineers are still proving to be the most difficult position for companies to fill.

Interestingly, the number two and three spots – previously held by drivers and skilled trades – have now been replaced with management positions and teachers, followed closely by legal personnel.

Natalie Maroun, chief strategist at LRMG Performance Agency, says that in a country with unemployment hovering around 25% it is concerning that we still have these job shortages.

The survey shows that, apart from technical competencies, brain drain or insufficient job attractiveness are also major factors driving these professions either to other job sectors or out of the country.

Maroun says the impact on business cannot be underestimated. Shortages impact negatively on an organisation’s ability to serve clients as well as their competitiveness and productivity.

“In South Africa we face an interesting conundrum as there are just not the necessary hard or technical competencies to fill the gaps or the right industry-specific qualifications largely due to a lack of available applicants. And even when there are the applicants, the problem is exacerbated by the global skills shortage problem which often sees local skills displaced overseas.”

She says business needs to come to the party to find a solution. “One thing is certain: it is no good to search globally as there is a skills shortage there too. Business needs to adopt a different approach to fill the gaps present in their shrinking workforces. We cannot wait for education departments: business will need to drive skills development,” says Maroun.

Professor Veldsman, head of the Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management at the University of Johannesburg, says it is critical for businesses to ensure that they have the right talent in the right numbers in the right time and place.

He says this intent has to be backed by an attitude of corporate citizenship and social consciousness, which involves building talent and creating the right environment for its materialisation, as opposed to sitting back in the hope it will appear when required.

To this end, the business world should embark on partnerships with academic and training institutions. For their part, educational establishments also have to move away from inside-out perspectives to outside-in, listening to what the market requires when structuring training programmes.

“For business one of the key challenges will then be identifying talent and growing it,” says Maroun.

She says career development plans and continuous learning programmes need to be introduced to drive a culture of learning.