Do not kill a cow just for a beef burger

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 Sam Hlabati

IN the recent conversations that I have had with my acquaintances who are human capital management (HCM) practitioners, one of the issues that has dominated discussions is the ever-increasing education requirements that organisations are asking for from potential new recruits into entry-level jobs. My acquaintances have been bragging about the fact that they now hire graduates to fill entry-level administrative roles. These associates indicate that the current scarcity of entry-level jobs in our midst, vis-a-vis the increasing number of people with university qualifications, has buoyed the practice of getting graduates to do routine jobs. Some of these throw in the Economics 101 quip of the job market being a “buyers’ market”, given the oversupply of potential entry-level job incumbents.
I believe, as much as these HCM practitioners certainly concur, that the raising of the bar in respect of minimum qualifications at these entry-level jobs, is a real overkill. Metaphorically, this is like a wealthy cattle farmer’s son who orders a live beast to be slaughtered daily so that he has fresh beef just enough for a burger. After a few months of a daily burger, surely the effect of the extravagance would affect the family wealth. I sincerely hope that those HCM practitioners that indulge in the “extravagance” of the job scarcity state of affairs do realise the organisation systemic problems caused by this practice.
It is important to never lose sight of the fact that the overqualified individuals who are hired to perform jobs that are way below their intellectual capacity will act in ways that will be aimed at correcting their own perception of the situation, as informed by their own view of the fairness of the deal. The inherent misfit between the individual’s personal worth perception in relation to the value they feel the organisation attaches to them creates systemic problems for organisations, particularly disengagement.
I loosely tested my supposition about the misalignment between the perceptions of value attached to the hired persons from the perspectives of both the hired individual and the hiring organisation. I had a hunch that the overqualified new recruit was being ripped off. The HCM practitioners confirmed my assumptions. They indicated that the levels of remuneration practically remained the same relative to the time when the entry-level jobs were filled with lesser-qualified individuals. I am tempted to concur with the HCM practitioners who termed the situation a “buyers’ market”, the suppliers, in this instance, being the graduate job seekers.
The first systemic problem with this kind of situation is that organisations are losing the opportunity to meet great candidates who would unfortunately not have been able to attain  higher education for a number of reasons.
HCM practitioners worth their salt should be reasonably aware that some highly intelligent individuals never get a chance to get into a university due to their families’ poverty, among other reasons. An organisation wishing to hire an entry-level administration clerk for duties that ordinarily require good passes in Advanced Level school studies may decide to follow the “get-big-qualifications-in” trend and decide to hire only university graduates.
It is important to remember that getting into university is chiefly a factor of two key issues; good high school grades and the availability of funds. An average student from a family with the requisite wherewithal can proceed to university ahead of a whizz kid from a poor family. Surely, the whizz kid who seems “uneducated” but who in fact has a higher IQ would in the long term develop to be more advantageous to an organisation. The whizz kid could have fared well only if they had been given a chance at an interview, had the door not been slammed in their face. The corporate world may unknowingly bid farewell to the unfortunate “uneducated” whizz kid who ends up in informal sector activities such as gold panning (makorokoza) or cross-border trading.  Talent lost to the corporate world!
Have you, as an adult, ever tried riding a kid’s tricycle? Firstly, you would struggle to fit on the tiny frame and if you somehow managed to ride it, would not manage a short distance before getting a cramp. This is what staffing a position with an overqualified individual of high intellect is like.
Next time you go to the bank just remember that the young teller counting banknotes may very well be a university graduate, not necessarily a graduate learner. They may very likely be there in a permanent placement, waiting for possible promotion opportunities; more like waiting for a donkey to grow horns.
Motivating an individual who gets into a job because that is the only one available to them may prove difficult. This situation does little to help such an employee’s engagement with the organisation. The individual would get through their tenure with the organisation in a manner in which most of us visit the dentist; pushed by a toothache that would have given us sleepless nights, but never to return there as long as all is well. The pain felt by the overqualified entry-level employee in our economy is that of knowing that had opportunities been any better, they would be in a better job. The individual’s grief is aggravated by the personal perception of their own value in recognition of the qualifications they hold vis-a-vis the actual value of the remuneration they are awarded by the organisation. Organisations would ordinarily pay depressed packages in the so called “buyers’ market”.
A disengaged employee will make effort that is only enough to get past the performance management system, just to keep the pay coming.
In our re-birthing economy, better opportunities will surely emerge, providing individuals a chance to renegotiate their labour market value by moving from one organisation to the next as the true value of their qualifications and experience becomes evident. The battle by organisations to retain these overqualified individuals as cheap labour will become intense. These individuals would have gained considerable experience, ready to move to the highest bidder. The ordinarily suitably qualified individuals discriminated by the artificially high qualification requirements would have disappeared down the black hole of the informal sector.
The sun maybe shining at this moment in respect of the hordes of prospective entry-level qualified individuals, both overqualified and “suitably qualified”, knocking at organisations’ doors, but when the economy comes back to full life, the talent wars for entry-level candidates will emerge.
Some food for thought for HCM practitioners and business leaders: Should organisations hire an overqualified “mercenary” workforce that is in it for the money in these “no-other-option-hard-times”, who are likely not going to stick around once the economy gets better? Is it not better in the long-term to ensure that organisations hire an adequately and suitably qualified workforce that is not overqualified that will be engaged because it knows it is within its element?
l Sam Hlabati specialises in Systems Thinking and Reward Management. You can contact him on samhlabati@gmail.com

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