The gradual rebounding of the South African economy should be seen as an opportunity for companies to change the way they look at skills development.
Experts say a bigger emphasis should be placed on planning for the future, and now is the perfect opportunity for that type of thinking in business.
Skills development, as the department of higher education and training pointed out recently, will be a central component of equipping the country’s workforce. A report published by the department, states that it is critical that the education and training system responds appropriately to the skills needs of the labour market and economy, and promotes collaboration between employers in both private and public sectors towards the creation of a skilled labour force.
A fundamental shift in the way that companies view skills development is critical to these efforts, according to Simo-Sihle Mvinjelwa, country leader for transformation at Baker Hughes. “Bench strength in leadership and the right skills are needed for future-proofing businesses, which means that companies need to start seeing skills development as part of their long-term sourcing strategy.”
The Covid-19 pandemic led to industries having to adapt rapidly to ensure business continuity, while making sure that they meet the shifts in consumer behaviour.
“The pandemic has forced companies to go back to the basics to teach and equip their employees to meet the changing demands of customers,” Mvinjelwa says. “This isn’t about some large shift in notable skills that need to be learned, but rather softer skills that are required for people to operate in an ever-evolving environment.”
He says that the Covid-19 pandemic shouldn’t be seen as a challenge, but rather a wake-up call for employers. “At the end of the day, employers need to be thinking about the long game. These disruptive changes to the way businesses operate will have a profound and long-term impact on the employment landscape of the future.”
Mvinjelwa points out one of the biggest challenges companies tend to underestimate is that the longer they take to build talent pipelines the more expensive it is going to be to keep the existing workforce or potentially import the skills from other regions. “It makes good business sense for companies to take skills development seriously.”
He says that businesses need to understand that investing in skills development ultimately affects the triple bottom line. “It isn’t just about short-terms realisations or some tick-box exercise, but rather ensuring that they are equipping their organisations with the right people in the right roles to continue to grow their businesses in the future.”
This view is supported by Human Nature consulting director Jo-Anne Hay, who says that businesses have a massive opportunity to start cultivating the kind of workforce that they need, not just for now but to meet future demands.
Hay and Mvinjelwa both point out that organisations like Feenix — an online student crowdfunding organisation — play an important role.
Hay notes that companies are under significant pressure, operating in an incredibly difficult economy. “The targets for skills development can be significant in terms of financial spend and the documentation required for each learner supported takes time to record in line with compliance requirements. In addition, it can be difficult for corporates to identify students and learners who will benefit the most from the skills development support they can provide.”
In working with companies, Feenix is able to ensure that their skills development contributions are effectively allocated while, at the same time, managing the compliance processes that may be required for broad-based economic empowerment. More importantly, Feenix is able to support companies in filling their skills gaps by identifying students who can be absorbed as employees over time or enter graduate training programmes.
“Corporates don’t always have the time to manage their own skills development programmes or graduate tracks: this is where this kind of partnership becomes so valuable and provides maximum impact,” says Mvinjelwa.
Leana de Beer is the chief executive of Feenix