Recruiting the real SAP superheroes...and why it's harder than ever to find them

February 2021


min read

I’ve been recruiting in the SAP space for almost a decade now (but John, you don’t look old enough, yeah I know right!)

I started working with my first client after driving from Essex to Manchester for an 11am meeting. I hid my car in a secluded section of the company car park (I didn't think they'd appreciate the dents) and strode into the foyer of a global FMCG company wearing an ill fitting Burtons suit and a watch I’d borrowed from my Dad.

That meeting lasted just 15 minutes and as I drove my trusty mint green Peugeot 206 (man I miss that car) back down the M6 I had a huge smile on my face.

Around a week later I made my first placement. An SAP Trainer. I got a high five from my boss, a call from the contractor to say thank you and an email from the client 10 minutes later asking me to lower the charge rate. Welcome to recruitment.

This was my introduction to the wonderful world of SAP Training and my first lesson in the importance of leveraging what has to be one of the strongest networks I’ve come across.

It’s a community that genuinely look out for one another which is why within a few days of a Manager or Lead being recruited, they’ll more than likely have a full team lined up for a new project through no more effort than a couple of WhatsApp messages and a shout out on LinkedIn (wait a minute have I just done myself out of a job??? 🤔)

Almost 10 years on from that 460 mile round trip, I’m still speaking to the same SAP Trainers. The demand for specialists is as high as it’s ever been and likely to increase as organisations continue their S/4 HANA transformation journeys over the next 5-6 years. But even though SAP may have announced the extension of maintenance on a number of existing products until the end of 2027, businesses will soon be presented with a challenge when it comes to seeing a return on investment.

A shiny new SAP solution makes no sense if your employees don’t know how to use it and unfortunately, there just aren’t enough trainers to go around.

With global programmes taking as many as 5-15 trainers off the market for up to 12 months at any one time (in some cases even longer) with enough programmes running concurrently, companies will be left with a very small pool of candidates to choose from, and it’s only getting smaller.

So, with a number of hurdles to overcome, where are the next generation of SAP Trainers going to come from?

The opportunities that used to exist for systems trainers to move into SAP implementations just don’t come around as often anymore. More often than not, if you want a training role on a SAP programme, not having SAP deployment experience is your main barrier to entry. Without a radical change in expectations from clients we’re on the edge of seeing a real skills shortage in what is an integral area to the success of an SAP implementation.

Is the way in which companies provide training for SAP Programmes going to have to change?

Well, the short answer in my opinion is yes. So what are the options?

Upskilling Subject Matter Experts

The shift to organisations investing in upskilling their SMEs in order for them to develop and deliver training started around 6 or 7 years ago and whilst there have been some positive outcomes from this approach its success is highly dependent on the strength of the existing personnel you have to choose from. It can be a struggle to identify people within your organisation to take on the role and then you have the added cost of providing them with the courses and training to factor in too.

Consider the use of functional consultants

Some organisations I’ve worked with are more willing than others to consider working with functional SAP consultants who can turn their hand to training. Whilst the success of this approach is dependent on a number of factors, (experience in training development/ delivery, including the expertise to use authoring tools and creative software) rate expectations tend to be higher, especially when factoring in the soft skills necessary that seem to come naturally to (most) trainers.

Outsource to a specialist consulting partner

Consultancies that aren’t just drafting in contractors to work on their behalf (otherwise known as body shopping) are few and far between but there are some businesses out there that have taken the time to build their own in house teams of systems training specialists and are experts at taking ownership of managing the complete training lifecycle. With all interim solutions there can be a concern that once a project or programme lifecycle comes to an end, a lot of knowledge leaves the business along with the partner however focusing on finding an organisation that leaves a positive legacy behind and gives you the tools to keep all of that knowledge in house and implement your own processes and tools for knowledge transfer moving forward is key.

Whilst it’s been widely reportedly that an S/4 HANA skills shortage is looming across the board, no where is this more keenly felt that in the training sphere and unless businesses act now, they’ll be on the back foot as programmes continue to ramp up and quality candidates start to become more scarce.

For any advice on recruiting SAP stars or guidance on making sure you have the right people in place to ensure the success of your implementation please get in touch.

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