The Fundamentals of Skills Development in South Africa

Fundamental Learning and Skills Development are at opposite ends of the Employee Development Escalator. For skilled employees to exit at the top of the escalator, they need to enter with strong, fundamental foundations in place.
Skills Development & Fundamental Learning
Possibly the most significant threat we, as a country face, is present and pending. Presently, we have a few skilled workers. Pending, we have fewer.
It doesn’t help to shift the blame from the old government to the new, or from the old education system to the new. The existence of a skills shortage is real, and it needs to be addressed – Urgently.
Your people are your greatest asset. Do you understand what skills development means to them? Do you recognise that their attitude toward personal growth determines the success or failure of your skills development efforts?[1]
In this article we aim to answer your questions and shed some light on the Fundamentals of Skills Development in the following chapters:
  1. Skills Development in the South African Context
  2. The Challenge of Skills Development in South Africa
  3. There is a Solution to the Skills Development Problem
  4. Focusing on the Fundamentals
  5. Skills Development Explained
  6. The Benefits of Skills Development

1. Skills Development in the South African Context

The Skills Development Act seeks to empower the South African workforce with skills, ensure employees access more opportunities for skill acquisition; create space for the new entrants to the labour market to gain work experience, introduce transformative tools through training and education to redress unfair discrimination practices in the labour market. This Act emphasises the provision and regulation of employment services to ensure its purposes realised.[2]
Skills development is, in essence, the intended output of education and training efforts; it should be an enabler for growth.
“Skills development enhances the capability of employees to improve the company’s efficiencies in the employee’s specific sphere of influence.” James Moore, owner of Fleet Dynamics [1]
Skills development, therefore, can be defined as what we do to improve:
  1. productivity in the workplace and the competitiveness of our businesses and
  2. the quality of life of workers, their prospects of work and their mobility.

2. The Challenge of Skills Development in South Africa

The current economic climate, coupled with high unemployment rates and alarming skills shortages, sends a loud and clear message to all politicians, strategists, entrepreneurs, and employers: we need to increase our efforts and tackle the triple burden of unemployment, poverty and inequality that continues to plague our nation.
Educate Enrich Empower
The Smart Choice Triple E Training: Educate, Enrich, Empower
Triple E Training’s core values are encapsulated in their slogan, “Educate, Enrich, Empower”; the three E’s from which the company takes its name. The group is managed by a dedicated staff of educators and administrators that truly believe that South Africa can only reach its real potential through a concerted effort, by the private and public sector, to ensure that all citizens benefit from a basic level of education.
If our country is to achieve significant economic growth, better access to high-quality and relevant skills development is a must. Training opportunities, in supporting economic growth is essential. Only by providing such increased access, will it be possible to reduce inequalities and unemployment, and at the same time promote employability and participation in the economy.
Equipping the workforce with the skills required for the jobs of today, and those of tomorrow is a strategic concern in the national growth and expansion of all developing economies.

Vigorous training and development strategies are vital to meeting the challenges of fostering healthy, sustainable and balanced growth in the country.

We are now, more than ever, living in times of change; technical advancement with business innovation and self-improvement the norm and keeping up with all the changes is a challenge. New occupations are emerging and replacing others. Within each occupation, the required skills and competencies are evolving, as the knowledge content of production processes and services is rising. The challenge for us is to simultaneously enhance the responsiveness of the education and training systems to these changes in skill requirements and at the same time improve overall access to training and skills development.

Ultimately, a country’s prosperity depends on how many of its people work, and how productive they are, which in turn rests on the skills they have and how effectively those skills used.

We need to recognise that creating a suitably skilled working population depends on ensuring the availability of good-quality education as a foundation for future training. We need to initiate a skills supply that meets the needs of enterprises and labour markets.
Proper foundational training and skills development opportunities prepare future generations for their productive lives and provide them with the core skills to continue learning. When applied successfully, this approach promotes our ‘Employee Development Escalator’ in which more and better education and training fuels innovation, investment, economic diversification and competitiveness as well as social and occupational mobility.
Fundamental learning and skills development, therefore, holds the key to unlocking a better life for everyone. Knowledge and skills have increasingly become the primary determinants of the economic growth and development of the country.
What we need now is a dynamic partnership between government, suppliers of educational and training services, industry and civil society. Achieving this usher in positive economic and social outcomes for our country and uplift the dire living conditions faced by the majority of our citizens. A vital pillar of a thriving society is the creation of jobs that help to provide sustenance, growth, dignity and prosperity for all our people.
We should aim to play a pivotal role in closing the skills gap in the country, facilitating the transfer of essential skills, knowledge and expertise, and helping to grow the economy. By doing so, workers can fulfil their potential and make meaningful contributions to the economic growth of the country, and the manufacturing and engineering sector is equipped to play its significant part on this economic development journey.

3. There is a Solution to the Skills Development Problem

“If you are unable to understand the cause of a problem, it is impossible to solve it.” – Naoto Kan”

What caused the skills shortage?

Can we blame Apartheid?

[4] Although there is a worldwide shortage of engineers and artisans, South Africa is particularly badly hit because of the legacy of apartheid, which reserved quality schooling, training and jobs for the white minority.
A census showed that of the 45-million population, at least four million South Africans of 20 years old had no schooling at all, while another four million had limited schooling at primary school level—about 18% of the population in all.
The government has made significant strides in education and training since the end of apartheid in 1994. However, critics maintain that some of its policies—including affirmative action, which prioritises non-whites in awarding jobs—have worsened the skills crisis.
“The country has cut off its nose to spite its face,” John Kane-Berman, director of the South African Institute for Race Relations, wrote in a column in Business Day. “The massive imbalances between black and white in possession of skills have their origins in apartheid. A wiser government would have done everything possible to retain limited skills despite their whiteness.” Kane-Berman said there should be more attention to the shortcomings of current education and training policies.
South Africa remains a country of contradictions, 24 years after becoming a democracy.

Is our Education System to blame?

[4] Aggravating the cycle of poverty, South Africa’s unemployment rate is increasing. The unemployment rate among the youth is even higher, at more than 50%. As in the rest of Africa, where 60% of the workforce is under 30 years old, it is critical that South Africa turns its fast-growing adolescent population into an asset rather than a liability. Education and Training for Skills Development is a critical part of realising this potential.
The root of unemployment is not only a lack of jobs; a critical underlying issue is also the inadequately educated workforce. Studies highlight that skill demand sees significantly change over the next five years, pointing at the importance of aligning education with skills needed in the labour force.
Building the right talent for South Africa’s jobs of today and tomorrow is therefore critical.
Many students currently enrolled in South Africa’s tertiary institutions are studying subjects that do not support the need in business for science, technology, engineering and maths, as well as future-oriented skills. Many organisations face the challenge of finding suitably trained graduates with complex problem-solving skills, critical thinking, sound judgement and decision-making, as well as cognitive flexibility.
[6] Part of the problem may be that traditional educational institutions were not designed for a fast-changing market where skills depreciate quickly. Universities weren’t designed to change curricula and introduce new classes at the pace required by changing industry requirements.
Exacerbating this problem is the fact that we now live in a world in which half of today’s jobs didn’t exist 25 years ago. How do you prepare students for jobs that don’t exist today? You can’t.
Education is no longer something that happens between the ages of 6 to 22, and then it’s over. The line between the years we learn and the years we earn has blurred; to stay relevant, workers must train nonstop.
Even if educational institutions evolve and ensure new graduates are ready for employment, workers must continue learning throughout their lives to stay relevant. We’re talking less about Grade R to Grade 12 education and more about Grade R to Retirement.

How do we fix the Skills Shortage?

It’s plain to see that we have a job gap – not enough jobs for the number of job seekers. However, over and above this, we also have a skills gap. Employers face the frustration of not finding skilled workers. Jobs wait to be filled while current job seekers lack the right skills.

Transform our Thinking

The skills shortage presents us with an opportunity to rethink our conventional way of doing business. Skills shortage includes developing flexible operating models, organisational structures, and career paths centred on skills.
Rather than seeking the perfect match to a job description, seek new hires who demonstrate a capacity to learn a specific role or skill, and who fit with the company’s culture. Then use internal or external training programmes to help them acquire or strengthen the skills they need for the job. This approach provides access to a larger pool of candidates who can be recruited more quickly.
Work with other industry players and educational institutions to build a pool of skilled workers and to share the costs and risks of establishing training programs. Working with other industry players is helping companies reach a wider audience of potential employees.
Skills development is recognised as a critical component of South Africa’s transformation and economic growth. Companies are encouraged to spend money on training their workforce. To achieve the scale and sustainability required to address the skills shortage, a more collaborative and concerted effort is required.
Working together is vital: collaboration with the private sector must complement longer-term reform by the public sector. Building on the efforts already undertaken by participating organisations, we can tackle unemployment and build talent for today as well as tomorrow.

Fix the Fundamentals

We need to focus on strong foundations in literacy and numeracy. Without these, the high-level skills we need as a nation might never materialise. Without more skilled individuals in our workforce we will be unable to address poverty and inequality; to turn them around for development and growth. Where will we find skilled workers, accountants, engineers, doctors, poets, managers, scientists, musicians, and so forth, to take our country forward?
Our problem is more significant than school-level education. What of those who are beyond the school-going age?
  1. School-leavers who have poor results. (Be it due to lack of personal motivation, or lack of suitable education.)
  2. Young adults who couldn’t finish school because they had to work to support their families.
  3. Thirty-something’s who have no option besides menial labour because they never learned a skill or a trade.
  4. Forty and fifty something’s who were either ‘pushed through’ or ‘pushed aside’ depending on the colour of their skin.
How do we help these people? They are our unemployed labour force even though they are in the prime of their employable years.

Fill in the Gaps

The answer to the skills shortage requires a team effort.
Now is not the time to play the blame game. Now is not the time to wait for someone to do something. Now is not the time to point fingers, or sit with our arms crossed. Now is the time for every skilled and enabled individual in this country to facilitate and encourage skills development amongst those less fortunate. A solid foundational education and a place to learn a skill is a basic human right – not a luxury.
How can you help?
Skills development through Learnership programmes is a great place to start. A concerted effort is needed from both the public and private sector to uplift the skills levels of our workforce and improve their employability.
The statistics are a rude awakening. We need to do whatever we can to assist unskilled people through career development and growth. Individuals should receive training in work-related skills. Training will have a positive impact on the economy and our society.

4. Focusing on the Fundamentals

[5] The word fundamental can be defined as the basis or foundation of just about anything. Without this basis or foundation, it would be improbable for anything to exist. For this reason, it is so important to teach learnership fundamentals to students of any age to ensure that they have the basis for training and absorbing all future knowledge. The most basic learnership fundamentals, therefore, involve language and communication. Without being able to understand a language, a person will not be able to gain any knowledge of that tongue.
The essential learnership fundamentals are literacy. Literacy relates to the ability of a person to read and write. The higher the level of literacy of an individual, the more significant the amount of knowledge they can begin to absorb through the written word. It means that an individual, who has the learnership fundamentals to read and write, can begin to learn on their own without the assistance of a facilitator and can use the written word as an aid to the training process. However, these are not the only learnership fundamentals that are important.
With basic reading and writing skills mastered, learnership fundamentals in numeracy and mathematics are achievable. The early Sumerians and the Chinese started using counting and maths thousands of years ago which now form the basis of just about every aspect of our society. Some people would even argue that it may be more efficient to teach numeracy learnership fundamentals before literacy is taken into account. However, literacy makes the process of learning numeracy through reading and writing that much simpler to achieve. It is also important for any facilitator to have a good working knowledge of learnership fundamentals before attempting to assist them.

5. Skills Development Explained

The Skills Development Act aims to develop the skills of the South African workforce and to improve the quality of life of workers and their prospects of work. To improve productivity in the workplace and the competitiveness of employers and to promote self-employment.[7]
SKILLS DEVELOPMENT ACT NO. 97 OF 1998 CHAPTER 5 SKILLS PROGRAMMES 20.   Skills programmes. (1) For the purposes of this Chapter, a “skills programme” means a skills programme that
  1. is occupationally based;
  2. when completed, will constitute a credit towards a qualification registered in terms of the National Qualifications Framework as defined in section 1 of the South African Qualifications Authority Act;
  3. uses training providers referred to in section 17 (1) (c); or
  4. complies with the prescribed requirements.
Custom made solutions for training your employees or the unemployed
Skills Development is a priority element in the new B-BBEE scorecard. Businesses must meet the minimum of 40% target or stand a chance of dropping a level on the overall scorecard.
Triple E Training specialises in training solutions to help your company to earn the maximum benefit on your BEE Scorecard for Skills Development. Training includes all elements such as Socio-Economic Development and Supplier/Enterprise Development.
Triple E Training can deliver training on-site for your employees and do community projects off-site.[5]

6.The Benefits of Skills Development

There are numerous reasons for companies to implement skills development initiatives amongst their employees. These include:
  1. Increased job satisfaction and morale among employees
  2. Better employee motivation
  3. Improved efficiencies in processes, resulting in financial gain
  4. Increased capacity to adopt new technologies and methods
  5. Better innovation in strategies and products
  6. Reduced employee turnover
  7. Risk management, e.g., training about sexual harassment, diversity training

Benefits for the Employee

Don’t look outside your company for the skills you feel are lacking. The aptitude you seek already exists within your workforce, just waiting to be discovered and developed.
What are the benefits of developing your existing workforce rather than hiring in new people? You have heard the expressions “Better the devil you know,” and “stick with what you know.” Consider what you have vs what you need: You have people who work for your company who are familiar with your way of doing things; they are good employees who fit in with the company dynamic. They know you, you know them. They are already on the payroll. You need someone who can perform a specific skill; let’s say your business has expanded and you now need a forklift operator. Your choice
  1. Sign on a new staff member; incurring the expense of an additional salary and surviving the probation period – What if they don’t fit in with the company dynamic?
  2. Look amongst your existing staff members for someone who has the desire to be up-skilled and train them.

Benefits for the Company

Investing time and money in the future of the staff within your business brings with it many corporate benefits which include:
  • Great customer service. Customer service can make or break your business. The essence of excellent customer service starts and ends with your employees. Your customers deserve to be served by a confident and knowledgeable staff, backed by supporting staff who are just as skilled in their particular areas of expertise. Good customer service almost guarantees the most effective supply chain possible and the best customer/client experience.
  • A committed and motivated workforce enjoying greater job fulfilment, higher motivation and morale.
  • Reduced absenteeism and employee turnover.
  • Lower recruitment costs.
  • Increased productivity and efficiency.
  • A positive impression for other businesses looking for new partners/suppliers.
  • Your preparedness to invest in skills development will guarantee you a pool of skilled workers.
Greater commitment from you, in the form of skills development, builds trust with your employees and reinforces the relationship between their accomplishments and your business’s success. [8]
It’s a definite win/win situation for both you and your employees.

Why should you invest in Skills Development?

Although legislative requirements such as the Skills Development Act and the B-BBEE Codes of Good Practice strongly encourage companies to implement learnerships and skills development programmes, there are sufficient reasons and benefits for companies to do so without being forced. After all – is it not better to want to than to have to?
Skills development is the answer to addressing the critical skills gap that exists in various industries.
When implemented correctly, skills development will raise the labour force’s employability levels. Staff members, with little or no experience, can be up-skilled – helping the individual and the company. Heightened skills lead to more productivity.
Being aware of the damaging effects that a skills shortage is having on our economy should motivate all businesses to adopt skills development programmes to help establish a capable labour force.
Triple E Training offers Learnership solutions to help train unskilled South Africans. We equip learners to make a positive contribution to their place of work.
In South Africa, skills gaps exist in various sectors. The skills gap makes empowering the workforce essential. There are enormous benefits to up-skilling your staff through Learnerships. The new work-based skills obtained are filling the gaps in key areas of our economy.
As more companies implement workplace learning, we see a trend that empowers the workforce and advances the country’s economy.
As a business, you can initiate Learnerships and Skills Development plans to boost your Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) scorecard without losing sight of the positive impact workplace learning will have on your company.
The following benefits apply:
  • Build an effective labour force amongst your own staff.
  • Amalgamate your employee’s education with their career path.
  • Expand on skills in your workforce and in the community.
  • Create your own pool of trained and experienced staff members.
  • Make use of tax incentives to reduce the cost of training.
  • Allow your training programmes to improve your B-BBEE scorecard.
Skills Development Programmes are an efficient way of making sure that your business is empowered with a relevant skills base over the long term.

Skills Development summed up

You can cut down a tree with a hammer, but it takes about 30 days. If you trade the hammer for an axe, you can cut it down in about 30 minutes. The difference between 30 days and 30 minutes is skills. Jim Rohn
Although often embarked on to comply with legislation, Skills Development can result in life-changing opportunities for the employee and better business opportunities for the employer. There are many ways in which you can use skills development, training, and leadership as part of your company’s BEE transformation strategy. The objective of Skills Development is to set up a workforce with necessary enhanced skills and knowledge. It also aims at increasing the productivity of the workforce. Skill and knowledge influences growth and development. Skill building is to improve the efficiency of the labour force in the overall production and yet empower individuals and progress their social acceptance. [9]
Source Documents: [1]
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