Words by Musonda Kambikambi originally published in Nkwazi Magazine
“To win the market place, you must first win the workplace.” – Doug Conant, American Businessman
In a world where strategic plans and technological advancements are abundant, the legendary business author Peter Drucker advances that “developing talent is a business’s most important task.” Although his words are over three decades old they still ring true as most organisational assets hinge on the availability of people to make use of them. The need for people to create and implement compelling business strategy in an ever-changing volatile global landscape has created a ‘war for talent.’ In this war businesses compete for the absolute best and brightest to create and innovate under their banner.
Given the global economic importance for organisations to cultivate a skilled workforce,since 2014 the Institute of Management Development (IMD) has studied how 61 countries are faring in the war for talent. For eight years and counting, Switzerland has surpassed the rest of the world in developing, attracting and retaining top talent. This incomparable feat has largely been achieved through three key avenues:
1. High-Quality Education System
Switzerland and other top countries on the list such as Denmark and Sweden have developed high-quality education systems. Firstly, these talent competitive economies carry out their learning and development efforts in a holistic manner. For instance, Switzerland has focused its talent development efforts at every stage of the educational process beginning at kindergarten all through to secondary education. This then feeds into a high number of individuals being channelled into higher learning and university systems. Their focus on high quality education is evidenced through their total public expenditure on education which is approximately 20 percent according to Switzerland’s Federal Statistical Office.
However, Switzerland’s talent development process does not end there, the Swiss go beyond the academic component and greatly emphasise vocational elements such as internship programs and workplace learning and development. Similarly, Denmark, which ranked second on the IMD list has a private sector that prioritises employee training and development.
This holistic emphasis on education has many advantages in the war for talent. Firstly, these countries education systems can meet the technical and leadership skills required to maintain economic competitiveness. Simply put, their education system is geared to teaching people skills that businesses seek. Further, companies’ contributions to employee development throughout their professional careers, not only preserves long-term national competitiveness but is also inviting for other global citizens. In this way, Switzerland has the best of both local and international talent.
Second among the features that have allowed Switzerland to outshine the rest of the world in developing, attracting and retaining top talent is the remuneration offered by its organisations. Switzerland has relatively high gross annual incomes as well as bonuses and long-term incentives compared to the rest of the world. Additionally, their Federal Statistical Office reports that for a large number of people, the percentage of income is equal to gross domestic product per capita.
For a majority of individuals, key among the drivers for job change is better compensation and benefits. Thus, when Switzerland’s proclivity for employee learning and development is coupled with their high remuneration, it is no wonder that Institute for Management Development (IMD) has ranked them number one globally, eight years in a role. Similarly, Luxemburg which was ranked third globally by IMD also provides high remuneration for individuals in the service professions.
3. High Quality of Life
The high quality of life provided by Switzerland has also been significant to it winning the war for talent. Key among the features indicative of high quality of life are an effective and efficient public infrastructure, as well as economic and political stability. All these appeal to highly-skilled foreign labour and have cemented Switzerland’s ability to attract and retain talent from all over the globe.
Additionally, the Nordic countries that topped the IMD talent list have companies that adopt flexible work practices such as working from home, and are adaptable in how they utilise their available talent. This adaptability, in tandem with great learning opportunities and high remuneration has positive outcomes on staff motivation. According to the Global Workforce Happiness Index Nordic countries have the most satisfied and loyal workers.
What can Zambia learn from Switzerland
While it would be easy to say that Zambia and it’s organisations should simply emulate a high-quality education system, competitive remuneration and work towards providing a high quality of life, it’s not that simple. Several factors have contributed towards the Swiss’s success in winning the war for talent. It’s worth noting that Switzerland has been a republic for over 700 years compared to Zambia’s 56 years. Simply put, Switzerland has historical and institutional knowledge and infrastructure that we are currently unable to match.
However, the story is not all bleak; there are key lessons that Zambia can pick from Switzerland at a macro (national), meso (organisational) and micro (individual) level. Nationally, we can work towards improving our educational systems to ensure we internally developing talent that can meet our industrial and economic requirements. Additionally, an investment in public infrastructure will not only invite external talent into our country but also lessen its brain drain.
At the organisational level, employers can use the IMD index to determine which aspects of their work culture to invest in. Organisations that wish to attract young talent can emphasise and drive professional development and learning opportunities. Conversely, organisations that are able to attract top talent can work towards improving their work-life balance to retain them. Further, individuals who seek to maintain their competitive advantage in the job market can emulate Switzerland’s stance on life-long learning and continuously invest in their own personal and professional development. This three-pronged approach towards talent development, attraction and retention will have Zambia on it’s way towards winning the global war for talent.