Tool for talent risk management may retain academics
The voluntary turnover rate of academics ranges between 41 and 63% and at least 6 000 new academics are required to replace retiring academics within the next five years.
These research statistics and estimates do not look good, do they? Fortunately a recent doctoral research study has shone the light on talent management with a view to improvements in the future.
The study was conducted by Deborah Mokgojwa of the North-West University’s (NWU’s) Global Innovative Focused Talent (GIFT) research niche area.
The challenge arguably presented to institutions of higher learning is to attract and retain suitable academics that can meet the changing needs of modern academia.
Unfortunately recent research statistics show that. Estimates further show that
According to Prof Nicolene Barkhuizen, Deborah’s supervisor and director of the research niche area, this challenge urged them to develop a talent risk management tool.
“Firstly we needed a tool that can identify the factors that tarnish the employment brand of higher education institutions as the preferred employer of choice,” explains Prof Barkhuizen. Secondly this tool should also be able to detect and mitigate those risk factors that escalate the turnover of talented academic staff.”
Research is limited
An extensive search of literature showed that limited research currently exists on the talent risk management of academic staff in South African higher education institutions.
Available research clearly points out the talent management challenges in higher educational workplaces and the significant threats for the career success of talented academic staff.
For example, accessibility of higher education presents a challenge. More students have access now, and they might not be prepared for the academic world awaiting them. This is adding stress to the academic system and lecturers.
Furthermore, political ideologies have entered the university landscape, leading to political differences and often unrest. This may result in damages, disrupted classes and an unsafe working environment for staff at university campuses.
In addition, addressing the issue of decolonisation and its effect on the current curricula adds to the workload of academic staff.
All of these factors bring about a stressful work environment with vaguely defined performance indicators. This need to be monitored carefully to identify early signs of turnover intentions by staff members.
“Our research identified two sets of talent management risks for academic staff – talent culture risks and occupational talent risks,” says Prof Barkhuizen.
“We defined academic talent culture risks as those strategic and work environment risks that pose a threat to the optimal functioning of talented academic staff in their job context. Occupational talent risks are those career-related risks that hamper the success and progress of talented academics in their jobs at a specific time.”
As for the talent culture of higher education institutions, the following five risks were identified: institutional strategy, management support, physical infrastructure, diversity practices and work environment.
Concerns about strategy and transformation
Academic participants in the GIFT study highlighted concerns relating to the institutional strategy and were unsure of the direction in which their respective higher education institution is heading.
In some cases the participants also voiced the inability of higher education institutions to achieve the transformation goals as set by the South African government. Consequently many of the participants experienced a lack of unitary culture which makes effective diversity management and inclusion a threat instead of an opportunity.
Another prominent talent culture risk is related to the lack of physical infrastructure. Participants pointed out the lack of a safety and security infrastructure during student unrests, which in turn exposed them to unsafe work environments. Academic staff who felt unsafe were unable to perform and were strongly considering quitting their jobs.
Top occupational talent risks
According to Prof Barkhuizen, five main occupational talent risks for academic staff in South African higher education institutions were identified. They are career development, talent attraction, compensation, performance management and talent retention.
Compensation emerged as a high occupational talent risk. Academic staff were of the opinion that higher education institutions should pay market-related salaries, recognise their work effort, acknowledge them for the third-stream income that they generate, and offer proper incentives for research publications.
Another noteworthy occpuational talent risk that they mentioned is the lack of talent retention strategies for academic staff.
“Academics in this study indicated that they feel undervalued and that their institution would not care if they leave,”says Prof Barkhuizen. “The vast majority further indicated that they are currently searching for another job and if given the opportunity, they will leave their institution.”
However, the results were not all negative. Most of the participants were of the opinion that their institutions provide sufficient opportunities for career development for staff in terms of conference attendance, furthering qualifications, research grants and teaching awards.
“Unfortunately, the results of our study showed that there seems to be an over-reliance on career development opportunities as a talent retention mechanism,” explains Prof Barkhuizen. ”Other critical risk factors such as infrastructure, compensation, management support and institutional strategy are being overlooked.”
It is clear that academic talent risk management is a new and exciting field of study. “We believe that our study and the diagnostic tool that we developed is a starting point. It can assist higher education institutions to effectively attract and retain talented academics,” says Prof Barkhuizen.
“Quality academics are critical for the sustainability and competitiveness of any higher education institution. The study proved that talent risk management has the potential to bring talented academic staff and higher educational management together to create an enabling work environment with innovative solutions for the greater good of South Africa.”
Prof Nicolene Barkhuizen.