Innovative Solutions Group CEO Arnoux Maré on the myriad benefits of an outsourced workforce, and addressing talent shortages

Having an agile talent pool allows companies to scale up, or down, as market conditions change. This can be a costly exercise, and somewhat soul destroying for staff who find their positions threatened by, for example, industry disruptors such as technology. Such work shifts are increasingly more common and it’s something that, nine years ago, Arnoux Maré anticipated would escalate quickly.

‘The thinking behind creating the Innovative Solutions Group (ISG) was simple,’ says Maré, its CEO. ‘How to respond to the need to create jobs for South Africans, yet not overburden the employers that juggle between an excess of low- and semi-skilled workers versus the dearth of managerial skills.’ Maré was also concerned about the pressures SMMEs faced, many of which were, and still are, unable to survive past the first two years of operation due, in part, to sourcing staff who are skilled for a role and efficient. ‘Even large corporates find this aspect of business demanding, time-consuming and taxing. Sourcing, training, retaining and upskilling staff is wearisome for management that ought to be focusing on the core competencies of a business.’

Maré’s response, Innovative Staffing Solutions (ISS), the first division he created under the group, offered an alternative – outsourcing; not just in the sense of being an agent to whom SMMEs could turn  for sourcing the right employees but in employing them under the ISG banner on a permanent basis. In this way a percentage of the human resources functions of a company, such as staffing and employee development and maintenance, is freed up along with relative budgets and resources, for use elsewhere.

A similar approach was taken with the introduction of Innovative Accounting Solutions (IAS), which allows companies to access accounting and financial best practices that would otherwise be beyond an SMME’s reach and budget.

‘Both ISS and IAS really tackle SMME challenges head-on. When you consider that globally 95% of enterprises are SMMEs, employing 60% to 70% of the working population, we have to find improved ways to offer them support so that we can target and reduce unemployment.’

ISG’s Innovative BEE Solutions (IBS) is another division Maré added that helps clients enhance business efficiency. ‘We educate our clients on how to affordably integrate B-BBEE policies, social responsibility initiatives and enterprise development into their strategic vision and operations. IBS also encourages sustainable business growth and social development among companies striving for improved scorecard ratings,’ says Maré.

ISS, IAS and IBS are the three, of five, ISG divisions specifically dedicated to providing those services that are the backbone of most organisations. What is common among the trio is that they all relate back to ensuring a business has the right, and talented, pool of knowledge to drive business growth. ‘Many companies say their employees are their greatest asset, but we say it is great employees that are the greatest asset. However, employees can also be the greatest liability,’ says Maré.

He explains that one of the biggest challenges for management is to translate competencies into increased workforce productivity. ‘Even with the most advanced technology, services or goods, ensuring operational excellence requires a motivated, flexible, capable and satisfied workforce.

‘Outsourcing a workforce is one of the best survival strategies in any business tool kit, eliminating administrative clutter and staff impediments. The added advantage for those using the ISG range of outsourcing services is that premium expertise can still be acquired without the responsibility and accountability for staff.’

ISG currently employs more than 16 000 permanent staff, who are outsourced to various clients in the mining, transport, industrial, engineering, steel, logistics, hospitality, agriculture and security industries. ‘We ensure they are trained, proficient and suited to specific client needs, and should staffing requirements change, the employee does not lose their job – they are simply outsourced to another client in need of that specific employee’s talents.’

Another advantage is that with ISG as the employer, benefit packages associated with employment are taken away from the cost centres of a business, as is a client’s management decision on whether or not to develop an in-house capability or skill, or partner with other organisations. A further consideration is that using ISG services means non-revenue generating tasks, those that are replicated across most businesses, are not further weighting the financial pressures on a company.

A case in point is the more than 6 500 truck drivers who ISG employs, which Maré says is one of the most crucial skills shortages in the country.

‘We have a truck-driving initiative that gives inexperienced truck drivers an opportunity to shadow more experienced drivers, and an in-house training centre that is far superior and more stringent than the current legislative requirements for truck-driver licensing.’

This is the type of awareness that gave rise to Maré’s introduction of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) division, which supplies helmets, goggles, pads, guards, shields, masks and relative garments and equipment to protect individuals from injury or infection.

‘South Africa is a country of many hazards, including physical, heat, electrical, biohazards, chemicals and airborne matter. Protective clothing and equipment are required by law for job-related occupational safety and health purposes, particularly in the mining, industrial, security and transport sectors, as well as for sport and recreational activities.

‘PPE supplies also meet the highest legal requirements for protective gear and can tailor to specific needs with a cost-effective solution.’

The most recent addition to the ISG family tree is Innovative Marketing Solutions (IMS). Its services cover all elements of branding and the print-related needs of a business. ‘We have become one of the top digitally led industry players in the country servicing smart brands nationally and globally,’ says Maré.

Recognition is also playing out in the awards that are being notched up by Maré and ISG. Most recent, and for the third consecutive year, he has been hailed as CEO of the Year at the 2019 Africa Leadership Awards, and ISG was recognised with the top awards for Operational Excellence and Quality, Outsourcing Provider of the Year, and Excellence in Customer Service.

What makes these awards particularly notable is that it has taken Maré, who started the group with a meagre ZAR500, just under 10 years to transform it into a billion-rand group, and all this despite having to navigate the many complicated and regulatory imperatives across all the industries it services. ‘The need to correctly interpret and comply with ever-changing regulations requires skills that are not usually part of most in-house operations. Even generic labour brokers don’t fully comprehend the legislative environment.’ Maré says the country needs less red tape where businesses are concerned. ‘It’s unproductive for entrepreneurs to have to wear multiple hats in a business, inclusive of trying to manoeuvre through the complications of South Africa’s labour laws.

‘That’s where we come in and offer education on the difference between labour brokering and outsourcing. While some principles can be applied across the board, there’s no one-size-fits-all package; there are challenges and solutions specific to each industry,’ he says.

‘If an organisation lacks knowledge on the nuances of an industry, they also miss opportunities such as knowing when it’s time to change strategy. As an outsourcing organisation we continuously engage in lifelong learning, both of our own industry and those of our clients.’

Maré underscores that much of ISG success is about relationships and partnerships, both internally and externally, and delivering on solutions.

‘We have highly trained contract managers who are on call 24 hours a day, every day of the week. We don’t keep usual office hours because we are driven to exceed client and employee expectations. Our employee query resolution turnaround, for example, is 24 hours as opposed to the standard five days,’ says Maré. ‘While other companies may be able to do what we do, none can offer the same level of dedication and energy that we inject into serving our clients’ and employees interests.’