Management Magazine
Special Report

Secure talent to build future infrastructure

The skills needed for competitive intelligence include networking skills, analytical skills and research abilities.

By THRITY ENGINEER-MBUTHIA

Infrastructure encompasses areas like transportation, health, energy, water, culture, education among others. Building infrastructure and investing in it leads directly to the growth of a country’s economy. Great levels of investment especially into infrastructure has meant plenty of opportunities for people to do business and work in jobs related to manufacturing, construction et cetera. Thus, the need to understand, how we can take advantage of these changes or development to help us benefit from them.

Competitive intelligence –the gathering and processing of information that is obtained from the business environment, customers and competitors that allows a business to have a competitive advantage –allows an organization to build a strategy that gives it the opportunity to differentiate itself from the rest.

According to A. C. Strauss of the University of Johannesburg in a research conducted in 2010, the skills needed for competitive intelligence include networking skills, analytical skills and research abilities. His research was primarily within the context of competitive intelligence as a differentiator for organisations, but since organisations do not exist in isolation from the people who work in them, it may be safe to extrapolate that individuals who possess these skills, also benefit in the same way an organisation would.

As with all infrastructure projects, the time required from start to finish is long. For any business in this sector, it becomes important to network, build contacts, be the first to hear about these investments and get the right contracts. Building relationships and building trust also means increasing the chances of working on projects that value credibility and integrity of work done.

For networking to be effective one needs the right mindset, viewing it as an opportunity to create awareness about the business and to get referrals.  Susan Ward defines business networking as a process of “establishing a mutually beneficial relationship with other business people and potential customers.” However, networking is not a skill taught in any specific diploma or degree course. It either comes from experience or through additional skills training. In fact, many people view networking as a way of asking for favours and so choose to avoid it altogether. If it is so critical, why don’t we focus on teaching this skill?

The second skill is about being able to conduct research. Many people undervalue this skill, thinking that doing business is about doing what they want to manufacture or sell instead of understanding the customer. Research abilities can include a mix of various skills like communication, attention to detail, and interviewing. When it comes to the link between research and the growth of infrastructure, one is not able to see the opportunities unless one conducts desktop research and searches for further information in order to capitalise on the potential business opportunities. Research is invaluable.

The third skill identified as part of competitive intelligence, is about analytical skills. This involves being able to work with data, look at trends and patterns, analyse the information and draw conclusions from the trends. It also requires one to be very curious to understand the reason behind the data, and ability to “connect the dots” by reviewing the impact one set of data has on another set, or when data sets are put together. To use an example to illustrate, say a county has a high number of births. This means that there is a need and increased demand for healthcare for children. Looking at the patterns of population density and the birth rates, one can estimate the need for health care centres and see the potential for business growth.

The closest one comes to learning analytical skills in a formal education system would be when writing a report, or when working on a research for a project. Most citizens do not get exposed to these activities and yet this seems to be a critical skill for success.

Public private partnerships are a good way of getting involved in the opportunities that present themselves through infrastructure development projects. Many of these projects are huge and require a lot of planning and critical thinking. Skills that would be very important revolve around project management. Areas like uptake of technology and digital literacy are critical. Even the way teaching and training is conducted has to be remodelled to allow people think of embracing opportunities that are in abundance.

The UK government has in place a National Infrastructure Plan for Skills that outlines the importance of having the right people with the right skills to take advantage of opportunities. The plan notes the need for ‘a skilled workforce that has the right mix of skills.” The plan is also clear that without this, it will be very challenging to achieve increases in job creation and overall economic growth.

In Kenya, the State Department of Labour under the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection has a mandate to develop and disseminate guidelines on skills development. One can only hope that once a comprehensive plan is in place for building skills, it will be rolled out to all parts of the country.

Without the citizens learning these transferable skills, the focus on infrastructure growth alone may not take us to the point of economic boom that the country wishes to achieve. Build the infrastructure but build the people as well!

Thrity Engineer-Mbuthia is a PhD student of management and leadership at Management University of Africa. Email: info@thrityengineer.org

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