• Divergent strategies

    With unemployment at an all-time high in South Africa, staff outsourcing firm Innovative Solutions Group is targeting skills training, says CEO Arnoux Maré.

    Divergent strategies

    By shifting the workload of managing human resource functions – such as staffing and employee development as well as maintenance – to an outsourcing agency, companies can use their time more efficiently and focus energies on the most important value-adding business operations.

    This idea gave rise to outsourcing and employee-outsourcing firm Innovative Solutions Group, and with just two employees and ZAR500 on hand, group CEO Arnoux Maré made it a reality in his own living room. Today, seven years later, the company has more than 7 000 people on its books – enrolled in the transport, hospitality, engineering and farming industries – multiple offices across South Africa and an annual turnover of ZAR600 million by managing dozens of companies’ workforces.

    Its largest subsidiary – Innovative Staffing Solutions – performs these functions with a unique twist, by contractually employing its clients’ staff on a permanent basis.

    For instance, the company takes over its clients’ drivers, hospitality workers, manufacturing or engineering employees, farmworkers and other by reinstating them as permanent Innovative Staffing Solutions employees, but they still essentially work for the respective client.

    ‘In exchange, employees receive benefits they may not have received previously, while the clients will have their HR needs handled, such as finding suitable staff and dealing with disciplinary issues,’ says Maré.

    Through this method, employees do not risk losing their jobs if clients’ staffing requirements change because they can simply be outsourced to another client in need of specialised employees’ services. This also means that companies don’t risk having to lay off or retrench people due to an economic downturn.

    ‘As a result, Innovative Staffing Solutions has never faced industrial action since employees often receive better benefits, improved and managed working hours, and have a dedicated manager who can address individual concerns.’

    Yet, with unemployment rates currently at their highest across South Africa, Maré notes that as a staff outsourcing company, the biggest challenge it faces is one it has in common with many of its clients – a skills shortage. ‘Of all the skills shortages prevalent in South Africa today, the driver shortage is one of the most crucial to their business,’ he says. Maré believes this difficulty can easily be addressed if other companies offered training. One of the ways Innovative Staffing Solutions is active in combating this issue is through its truck-driving initiative, which gives inexperienced truck drivers an opportunity to shadow more experienced drivers. In this way, it ensures drivers are better trained.

    The company also has advanced plans to register and manage an in-house training centre for drivers later this year – which has the potential to train 2 400 skilled drivers annually.

    It takes barely an hour of paperwork for a driver to obtain a professional driver’s permit in South Africa, according to the Innovative Staffing Solutions website. This permit allows anyone to drive multimillion-rand rigs and transport loads that are at times worth millions of rands.

    Therein lies the problem, says Maré, as the permit does not enjoy credibility in the transport industry, and many companies opt for background and practical checks. But even with the company’s rigorous processes, just 20% of applicants are currently employed. ‘On top of those checks, we put applicants through stringent yard and public road tests that exceed what they would ever experience on the road.

    ‘Training programmes should be the number one objective of the transport industry. There should be an apprentice-type scheme to train matriculants who aspire to be drivers straight out of school.’ Currently, this isn’t happening, he says, and it results in transport companies focusing on transport rather than people.

    As the Group CEO of Innovative Solutions Group and the MD of Innovative Staffing Solutions, it’s important to Maré that he sets an example for other employees to follow.

    ‘We use different methods of motivating staff – improved training and different communication methods. We ensure they are well trained to be able to deal with day-to-day problems, and that we know enough about our people to assist them through difficult times.’

    Maré also believes that the lessons one learns are always the same, which is why it’s important to take a business day by day. To further explain this, he uses the analogy of climbing Mount Everest… ‘How would you go about climbing it?’ he asks. ‘You climb it one step at a time.’ And that is exactly how he’s learned how to face problems when it comes to the business world.

    ‘You aspire to certain short-, mid- and long-term goals, but you should also be happy with the smaller victories in life. Even though I’m quite a competitive person, I’ll put small goals in place. I don’t make a mountain of a problem; I see it as a bunch of anthills – ones that you must handle one at a time.’

    By Melissa le Roux