Recruitment Takes an Ethnic
Twist After Chaos
Business Daily (Nairobi)
15 February 2008
Recruitment agencies as well as head hunting firms have found
themselves between a rock and a hard place in the wake of
December's outbreak of ethnic-based violence.
As companies come to terms with the full impact of the political
unrest, recruitment firms are having to deal with aspects of
hiring personnel that have never mattered in the past - at least
officially. Recruitment has taken an ethnic turn and some
employees are including the ethnic identity of people they want to
hire in the instruction sheets.
The recruitment agencies reckon that while some companies are
making these specifications for purely practical purposes, a few
employers are doing it as an extension of the ethnic wars that are
being fought on the streets.
"The majority of companies that are making these demands have a
good reason for it," said Mr John Cheruiyot, the director Kicher &
Associates, a head hunting firm. "Most of these companies have
been forced to transfer employees from certain parts of the
country to ensure their safety and are looking for replacements.
The worst hit are companies with country-wide operations such as
banks, security and public utility firms. This type of staff
re-organisation and the accompanying costs was recently manifest
in the transport sector.
After losing a number of trucks to arsonists mainly due to the
ethnic identity of the drivers, the owners of the trucks took to
hiring "the right people" to drive the trucks through certain
sections of the highway to avoid the lynching. Mr Cheruiyot,
however, frets that ethnic profiling exposes the recruitment
process to bias and could ultimately balkanise the country.
Simon Muthiora, the director of Manpower Limited, another
recruitment firm, reckons that headhunters may henceforth be
forced to restrict their search to people who are acceptable to
communities living around the proposed working station to keep the
workers' motivation high and lower risks.
He, however, warned that the loss of confidence among Kenya's
communities could consume the labour market and erode the
competitiveness of local firms at a time when they are facing
foreign competition. In the short term, however, the recruitment
agencies say the biggest challenge facing them is the sudden drop
in demand for their services.
What had become a booming business in last four years as the
economy steadily expanded has taken a U-turn with no signs of
recovery. "Instead of hiring, most companies are laying off staff,"
Mr Cheruiyot said.
Mr Muthiora gives the example of a Kericho-based client who had
finalised the recruitment process for a number of vacant positions
in December, last year, but has indefinitely suspended the actual
hiring of the recruits.This, he said, posed a big challenge to the
recruitment agency because they cannot hold onto the candidates
without offering them any contracts.
Isabel Ngugi, Associate Director at Deloitte, said many employers
had put their hiring plans on hold pending the resolution of the
political conflict. Ms Ngugi said recruitment for the middle and
management had been hit hard by the freezes unlike top level
management that has only been slightly affected.
But while most HR practitioners are hesitant to discuss the role
of ethnicity in their hiring decisions in the wake of recent
developments, a few acknowledged that it offers the potential for
the more companies to start outsourcing the recruitment function
to escape responsibility for ethnic bias.
Madeline Dunford, the managing director of Career Connections
reckons that because companies do not want to stand accused of
unethical practices in recruitment, the will fall back on third
parties to perform the function.
How companies will go about hiring qualified staff while remaining
sensitive to the emerging ethnic challenges remains to be seen.
"Ultimately companies will be forced to compromise on
qualification. We may have the very qualified candidates failing
on the basis of ethnic identity," said Elly Omolo, director
Management Training & Consulting. "In the end, companies will lose
in terms of productivity."
Industry players now reckon that in the worst case scenario,
companies hiring on the basis of ethnicity irrespective of the
political turmoil may fail to obtain any qualified candidate in
their tribe of choice.
Another danger would be the escalation in the cost of human
resources as experts who can work in certain regions become scarce
or demand higher remuneration in lieu of the danger they will be
exposed to working in some parts of the country.
On the flip side, industry palyers say that companies also stand
to gain from cheap labour from the internally displaced persons,
striving for the mere basic needs.