Education and development: What is your company doing?

It is no secret that education in South Africa is in crisis. While protestors are baying for the blood of Bobby Soobrayan and Angie Motshekga around the basics, there can be no doubt that there are consequences at tertiary level too.

Examining the statistics is a frightening experience: South Africa is ranked 52nd on the Global Competitive Index. Basic numeracy and literacy have fallen to shocking levels.
Last year, the second annual national assessment revealed that by grade 6, the national average performance in languages was a scant 43% in the learner’s home language and average performance in maths was 27%.

Add to this that large numbers of young people never even make it through school. Journalist Mandy de Waal quotes economics researcher Nicholas Spaull who says that students are pushed through the system until grade 10 when 50% drop out and off the radar as schools realise they are not going to pass grade 12.

This forgotten 50% makes up a large part of the alarming statistics that are South Africa’s unemployed youth. Clearly, learners are not getting what they need in schools. This has a knock-on effect at universities, where tertiary education must compensate for the lack of basic education.

The implications are also concerning for South Africa’s workforce. The CRF Institute’s Top Employer research in 2012 shows that 68% of companies report a shortage of professional skills lower down in their ranks and just 21% at executive management level. Noting this gap in the country’s capacity to develop a pool of smart, qualified professionals, the ANC identified career guidance as a necessary goal countrywide at its 2007 Polokwane conference.

Corporates and civil society members are also stepping up to tackle the problem. Within the Top Employers we are seeing significant investment in training and developing the whole person (with professional and financial services at the very top of the list). This is encouraging: it means corporates are not content to accept a gradual dumbing down of the workforce.

We certainly see pockets of excellence that produce fine results. Some companies, such as Dimension Data, get involved from the bottom up. The company, a certified Top Employer, not only facilitates tertiary education through bursaries and Seta-affiliated learnerships — as well as an entrepreneurship “incubation” programme — but actually has become involved at secondary level. A total of 27 500 learners have benefited from its e-learning programmes across 53 schools.

Every year, Dimension Data’s Saturday School programme provides intensive support for 100 learners in reaching matric and preparing for higher education. Successes include a 100% matric pass rate and 95% university entrance. In 2011, 50 of its learners notched up 68 distinctions.

By providing support and working alongside the existing, unaffiliated curriculum, the company’s educational contribution bolsters the country’s existing education system. Vodacom, as another example, has restricted itself to tertiary education. This Top Employer believes strongly in developing the country’s talent pool.

It not only develops talent within the company, but also offers external bursaries in relevant fields of study — IT, IS, computer science, electrical or electronic engineering, and computer engineering.

“At Vodacom, we believe that the success of the business is based on nurturing the talent we have. The statement explains: “It is important to ensure that we nurture the talent pipeline,” says Vodacom.

Dimension Data and Vodacom are not alone in this approach. Accenture — also a Top Employer — divides its education programme into required and recommended learning.

Required learning, as the name suggests, focuses on the basics needed to do the job; recommended learning focuses on developing specialist skills that will take employees further in their careers in the long term.

In 2009, Accenture invested nearly $800-million in training and professional development and provided an average of 67 hours of training per person. The bottom line is that the country’s best companies are starting to realise that unless they upskill the talented employees they have and offer opportunities that will appeal to the smartest talent out there, business growth slows and becomes an unlikely outcome.

If we want to grow our companies and our economy, we all need to take a leaf out of the Top Employers’s book. Whatever our opinions on the government’s role in education and skills development, the reality is that right now, the education on offer to our people needs to be supplemented to develop a stronger workforce.

The corporate sector has to step up, not just for the good of our employees, but for the good of our companies and the entire economy. Long-term.

Samantha Crous is the South African country manager for the CRF Institute which conducts yearly Top Employer research across the world

This article was supplied and approved by the Mail & Guardian’s advertisers.

Client Media Releases

Sanral receives high honour
Conference validates contribution of traditional birth attendants
What makes IIE Rosebank College cool?