World Cup and the War for Talent

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In the Beginning

In 1994, South Africa was catapulted onto the global stage, for the dream-like-transition from an apartheid state to a democracy. Unlike other countries on the continent that had fallen to civil war, corrupt leaders and “slavery” debt traps, South Africa had chosen a different, brighter future. According to respected scenario planner, Clem Sunter; SA joined the “premier league” of nations in that year and over time, has lost ground to competitors. The dream caved in to the realities of political infighting, shady deals, service delivery, racism and unemployment. The makings of a nightmare were underway.

The Second Opportunity 

2010 – We have a second opportunity on the global stage to live and share our dream. It seems like yesterday that we were celebrating the announcement of being the first country on this continent to host the FIFA Soccer World Cup. It is a colossal endeavour that will only be appreciated, when it has come to pass. While we may hold our breath about Bafana Bafana scoring goals in the game, in keeping with the sport, my message is for HR to score big time, off the field.

UPDATE: Bafana Bafana tried, but fell short. HR lost out. After the euphoria of the world cup, we have been in a long depressing dip.

War for Talent

For many years, South Africa has been a net exporter of talent – the number of skilled individuals going to the US, UK and other countries, exceeding the numbers flowing here. Disillusioned whites, especially pale males, were marginalised by the new dispensation and decided to invest their skills abroad. Many talented blacks, coloureds and Indians also joined them, over concerns about crime and future opportunities. With hundreds of thousands of soccer fans, converging on our stadiums, astute HR professionals will work together as a team to score goals from the time these individuals land at the airport until their last flight home. However it requires a dual view: the willingness to recognise that a raving soccer fan can also be a passionate, skilled knowledge worker for your organisation.

I have a couple of suggestions around engagement, employment brand, recruitment and work-life balance. 

Study the Game

You need reliable and accurate information about prospective talent, for example, where these soccer fans are coming from, their perception of working here, the planned duration of their stay, popular tourist attractions, their current employer, occupation and skill levels. I doubt that you will get this info from FIFA. An online talent campaign to engage these overseas visitors should do the trick. 

Employment Brand & Value Proposition

In the aftermath of the economic tsunami, knowledge workers are reconsidering their future careers and employment prospects.  HR professionals should market the country and their province (e.g. Western Cape) together with their employment brand. If HR can answer why they should work in our corner of the planet and in particular, your company in that corner, you have a winner.


Instead of sending your recruitment team to London to market South Africa and your positions, host a careers/job fair in our backyard for those individuals. Your company website should have a dedicated section or webpage for those soccer fans. Fill your talent pipeline without shelling out on travel and accommodation costs.

Work – Life Balance

With matches in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and other cities, soccer fans will learn about our culture, love the weather and absorb the sights and sounds. For those organisations that offer an authentic work-life balance proposition, take advantage of the free marketing and connect with these individuals. (Side note: many locals also crave work-life balance).

UPDATE:  Did your company score in the war for talent during/after the world cup? Drop me an email

(HR Future, January 2010)

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