Companies must stop poaching each other's business analysts and instead develop new talent, says Ziaan Hattingh, MD of IndigoCube. Poaching leads to a merry-go-round of lost skills, skills acquisition, acclimatisation periods, and artificially inflated salaries.

Professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, have to focus early in their careers. From the moment they leave matric and enter university they need to focus on their chosen career. Some meander a little at university, but ultimately they focus on the core subjects they will need to enter the court or operating room, for example.
Those professionals also have a bridging phase that follows university. Doctors become interns at various hospitals around the country, lawyers serve their articles at an established firm – both learn from experienced professionals who have been in the industry for some time.
Business analysts cannot walk those avenues.
Internships, articles, apprenticeships – which fast-track the development of young people – are where the professions got it right. They set up the infrastructure to draw in young talent, nurture it and rapidly develop people into full-blown professionals.
With the current shortage of business analysts, it's up to the industry to get prospective business analysts to focus on the career as they leave school and develop a bridging mechanism to fast-track their development, like an apprenticeship for professionals.
Left unchallenged, the current shortage of business analysts will maintain the merry-go-round of skills acquisition and loss. Every time a company hires a business analyst with the current market shortage, it does so at the cost of another organisation. T
he newly hired business analyst leaves a vacuum in their previous company. That company then hunts for another business analyst, creating a vacuum somewhere else in an endless cycle.
Besides the obvious problems associated with losing and hiring experienced people, salaries go up, making it more difficult for companies to acquire the few available business analysts.
For example, I recently looked at the CV of a talented young man studying computer science at Unisa. He has five years of experience as an IT technician, he has completed one year as a junior business analyst and he's earning R30 000 a month. That is too much for someone with only one year of experience in business analysis. While that's bad news for businesses looking to hire business analysts, the bad news for him is that he's probably hit a salary wall that is likely to result in some frustration for some time to come. Nobody wins.
Many companies right now are taking the short-term view that they need business analysts to fill positions, but the reality is that they find them immediately but suffer in the long term. Six to 18 months down the road, many analysts will leave the company, which puts them back to square one.
Besides better salaries, one of the major reasons that business analysts are quick to leave their employers is that they have no proper career path. They need meaningful work.
Most organisations view their business analysts as having a single skills set without distinguishing maturity. The reality is that business analysts range from junior to intermediate to experienced. By ignoring reality, most organisations use interesting projects to attract experienced business analysts, but 18 months later, when the project is complete, the business analyst is reassigned, possibly to do some less challenging work.
When that happens, business analysts start looking around and they never have to look very far.
Developing career paths for business analysts also helps to induct juniors. At the entry level they experience a focused programme that develops their skills in the right direction – instead of the typical corporate induction programme today that briefly introduces graduates to several departments, divisions and business units and then asks them to make a decision about their careers.
Focused induction programmes would take prospective business analysts from university – people who have already made the career choice – and rapidly develop them in the context of the organisation.
Skills development goes beyond straightforward training. It means acquiring knowledge, skills and developing behaviour. Behaviour can only be developed within the context of the business.
But organisations are not going to go down this route because they need to vent a philanthropic desire.
Firstly, they do it because they need the people with the right skills. Secondly, they do it because they need to reverse the current situation that sees business analyst salaries and fees constantly escalate.
The most important factor here for most organisations is the cost-effectiveness of this approach.
For example, an organisation can hire seven business analysts and contract in one coach who is an experienced business analyst to mentor them and still come out ahead of hiring several experienced business analysts.
In a typical scenario, a business pays an average monthly salary of between R12 000 and R14 000 to the graduates under development. Adding the cost of recruitment at 15%, and the additional cost of training and mentoring the total monthly cost per person will come in at between R30 000 and 36 000 for a comprehensive 12-month professional development programme. This is still more cost-effective when compared with hiring seven experienced business analysts at a monthly package of R30 000 to R36 000 plus the industry-standard 15% recruitment fee.
The situation becomes much more attractive in year two when the cost of training and mentoring has been absorbed and falls away. After the first year and for several years to come, the young graduates who have been trained and mentored as part of a focused professional development programme similar to that used by the recognised professions will continue to cost the organisation much less than the recruited alternative.
Some may argue that it will take the experienced business analysts only six weeks to adjust to a new organisation's methods and practices while it will take graduate business analysts three months. But the business, with a proper induction programme and appropriate mentoring, benefits financially for a far longer period and rapidly makes the graduate business analysts productive, and with sufficient increases and a maturity model to develop business analysts' career paths, establishes a productive, loyal and cost-effective workforce while addressing the skills shortage.