Although no one underestimates their importance to South Africa's transformation, the country is placed near the bottom of international rankings for maths and science education.
In this environment, corporate-driven skills initiatives can play an important role in helping school leavers and graduates to gain the training they need to find their first jobs, to overcome previous setbacks in their own education and to fast-track their careers. Future employment equity — still one of the first measures outsiders use to judge a company's transformation — depends to a large extent on the success of appropriate skills development initiatives. This, in turn, increases the pool of suitably qualified candidates for companies, allowing them to choose the best person to drive future business growth.
The M&G Most Empowered Companies rankings show that corporations are taking this responsibility seriously, with the leading companies scoring between 13 and 18 points.
Hospitality group City Lodge scored 18, giving it the top placing in this category, followed by Allied Technology (Altech) with 15 points.
"Companies are struggling to get points for skills development of employees living with disabilities as well as for programmes similar to learnerships and apprenticeships. However, there has been an improvement in the employment of learners who participate in learnerships and programmes similar to apprenticeships," says Empowerdex research analyst Tholiwe Ngidi.
City Lodge's skills development programme has delivered tangible benefits, helping to secure the company's sustainability, says the company's chief executive, Clifford Ross. "Skills development is vital to the ongoing success of companies such as ours, so we place considerable emphasis on this. It delivers very tangible benefits."
Ross says the group has made progress in transformation and is focusing on areas where it could make a meaningful contribution. "Broad-based BEE is not just about compliance; it is about making a genuine and sustainable difference in communities."
City Lodge's skills development efforts are overseen by a skills development committee that meets to determine the group's ongoing skills development needs. The City Lodge Academy, established more than a decade ago, forms the basis of its efforts to develop management-level employees from previously disadvantaged communities.
It has also developed what it calls an accelerated development and deployment programme, to attract and retain suitable external and internal candidates, who are fast-tracked to senior positions.
Every year, the group spends about 3.7% (2.5% directed towards previously disadvantaged individuals) of its total payroll on training and development at all levels. It also has a registered skills development facilitator, which submits a yearly workplace skills plan and reports on training achieved against that plan.
Job-related skills — catering, information technology and general business management — and management skills are vital for City Lodge, because hospitality is a service-oriented environment. The group also concentrates on developing softer skills to implement its service excellence programme, and is adopting practices to reduce its energy consumption and carbon footprint.
Although this article has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian's advertisers, content and photographs were sourced independently by the M&G supplements editorial team. It forms part of a larger M&G Most Empowered Companies supplement.