Sean Gibson, Founder and Managing Director of AltGen tells us about the three stages of job creation in the energy space.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Sean Gibson: We are doing well considering the challenging circumstances the world has been facing over the last year. My family and I have been in good health and are keeping safe. My wife and I are fortunate enough to have been able to continue working throughout the pandemic, and while my children’s schooling has been somewhat disruptive, they are both healthy and happy.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded AltGen.
Sean Gibson: I started out as a Safari Guide back in 1994 and then moved on to becoming a Lodge Guide. From there, I became an HR Manager for 4 years before moving to Canada with my wife. We were there for 2 years before we moved back to South Africa to start AltGen. AltGen was incorporated in South Africa in 2012 and now consists of three complementary divisions which cover the three stages of job creation in the energy space – Recruitment, Consulting, and Employment Services. I have a strong passion for renewable energy and its associated technologies, and we enjoy working with people finding them meaningful employment.
How does AltGen innovate?
Sean Gibson: AltGen’s major point of difference is how quality-driven we are. This defines how we find ways to stay innovative. For us, it is about understanding the needs of our clients in so much detail that we can leverage tools to find solutions to their skills shortages, and in doing so, for us to gain market share as the top executive search firm within cleantech. A lot of our actions are directed by data, and we leverage these insights to ensure we are constantly growing both virtually and physically. We are always adapting to the changes in the market, and we are constantly looking for new ways to ensure we stay at the top of the industry leader’s board. In fact, in the next few months, we will be launching a new and exciting platform that will aid in job creation in the renewable space across Africa.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Sean Gibson: Due to the load shedding crisis in South Africa, throughout the pandemic, AltGen was fortunate enough that construction companies were still able to continue with operations and carry out projects which meant that the demand for executive search services did not diminish. The pandemic did make things a bit tricky logistically, as candidates weren’t able to travel internationally or even nationally to attend interviews, but we managed to find ways around this problem by providing an online-friendly recruitment process.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Sean Gibson: We were fortunate enough to maintain our team, but we all needed to adapt to remote working. Our approach to management changed as obviously managing in-person compared to managing online is quite different, and each way comes with its own set of challenges. Looking back to a year ago, before the pandemic took its toll in South Africa, we had almost all our staff in office 5 days a week, whereas now our in-office hours have decreased by approximately half. An added benefit to our fewer office hours means that AltGen has lowered its carbon footprint. We have different teams coming in on different days, and thankfully due to the fact that our office is in a building that is backed by renewable energy batteries, our work isn’t affected when there is load shedding.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Sean Gibson: There wasn’t much change with our client relationships; as pre-Covid, we were already handling the majority of our communications online (minus the candidate/client interviews), so there wasn’t a need for drastic change.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Sean Gibson: We received support through a government initiative called TERS for a period of 3 months, which provided support for payroll. On top of this, starting in April 2020, we had a SAFT loan through an initiative driven by the Oppenheimer Foundation. Through this loan, we were able to subsidize salaries which assisted in not needing to let staff go.
Your final thoughts?
Sean Gibson: While the Covid-19 pandemic has presented many obstacles along the way, I’m proud of how my team have come together even stronger than before and have ensured that during this difficult period, our clients can have peace of mind knowing that their recruitment challenges are handled by some of the best in the industry.
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