Up-skilling for a greater SA

Until recently, compliance has largely been the driving force for workplace skills development in South Africa. However increasingly, CEOs and other business decision makers are realising the need for a more sustainable solution: growing a workforce that both meets their compliance needs and the overall goals of the business.

This sustainable development requires transformation to be forward-thinking tool. Candice Lambert, Strategic Business Development Consultant at Progression, looks at developing talent from the ground up in the ‘grow your own’ concept, addressing the issue of compliance versus sustainable and strategic business growth, as well as the need for contribution to Skills Development on a National level.

“The ‘Grow Your Own’ concept is a principle or practice that responds to the National drive around the unemployment crisis,” states Candice. “In theory the process is simple. Find previously unemployed or unskilled individuals. Provide them with an opportunity within your organisation to bridge the gap into the ‘working world’. Mentor these individuals so that you, as the employer, can understand their career goals and potential. Align the individual’s career with a specific gap in your organisation. Identify further specialised learning. Reap the benefits of a committed employee who is integral to the success of the business.”

Starting the ‘Grow Your Own’ Approach
As with any implementation strategy, the starting point always requires critical information, comparing where an organisation is now and where it would like to be in the future - the ideal state. A combined Skills and Employment Equity audit can identify gaps in the organisation and plan an appropriate way forward.

Recognising these gaps will ultimately determine the starting point of the project. In most cases, the first steps would be to identify first time entrants into the workplace to participate in an entry-level learnership programme such as an IT End User Computing or Business Administration programme. Programmes such as these can provide solid groundwork for building a career in business, while remaining generic enough to be adaptable to various industries and/or roles.

A critical element of these entry-level learnerships is a strong mentoring and coaching relationship which will facilitate the learner’s exposure, growth and development. Regular conversations with the individual about their goals and career plans are fundamental as they create a mutual understanding around expectations of employer and learner. Often companies forget that there are multiple parties involved in this process. If long-term implementation is to be successful, those involved need to be on the same page.

Once the learner has completed the ‘bridging phase’ of the programme, the real work begins. Think of a SWOT analysis for an individual in terms of their role. It is here that gaps within the organisation need to be scrutinised and tough decisions need to be made on all sides about the role best suited to the individual. Finding the right Skills Development initiative to implement is important as this sets the tone for the learner’s advancement into the workplace.

This process should be geared towards a medium to long-term approach; at least four years.

The Challenges
In theory this approach makes a lot of sense, however it often runs into trouble during implementation, which ultimately determines the final outcome. Why?
“I always ask organisations to be mindful of their expectations when implementing a long-term solution,” states Candice. “These are, of course, three to five year programmes that require continued commitment and dedication from all parties. We’re not reacting to the urgency or the race to transformation that is biting at the heels of so many. We’re responding to it in a strategic manner. The benefit is not about instant compliance; it is about organic growth. To put it directly, it is about finding an individual now, investing in a Skills Development programme and then watching that person blossom within the business.”

“It’s also ok if the person doesn’t succeed,” comments Candice. “Human resources and human capital are about people; they can’t be managed in absolutes. There are always measures that can be put in place to ensure a smoother and more successful process, but if the individual-organisational culture fit isn’t there, then you can’t force it. Progression does however make sure that the deliverables are structured to support the client and the learner.”

I’ve also encountered a few scenarios where the permanent positions were offered too early to learners or without good consideration, as the pressure to obtain the bonus points for retention was just too great. In these cases, the rush and scramble are what ultimately compromised the project.”

Transformation must not be about ticking boxes without the true spirit of development and empowerment of people.

The Outcomes
A recent series of contributor articles on Forbes.com titled “Want to Grow your Business? Grow your People! (Part 1)” highlights the role a committed workforce plays in achieving organisational goals. The author talks to the importance of collaborating on development ideas within the business and the significance of freedom and accountability.

By taking a sustainable, ‘ground-up’ approach to Skills Development (and any other initiative / element around BEE, including Ownership and Enterprise and Supplier Development), an organisation stands to not only meet their compliance needs, but create a workforce that is committed and aligned to the goals of the business. This both strengthens the business itself and feeds into the larger macro need for Skills Development.

“What we need to remember when embarking on the ‘Grow Your Own’ journey within any business is the fact that improving on the National skills pool is a shared responsibility. It’s about imparting knowledge that truly empowers another person. At a macro level, it’s always going to be a win-win because if we are all able to do our bit towards transformation, then the overall impact is in the right direction,” concludes Candice.

About Progression
Progression offers broad, all-encompassing strategic consulting, backed by a variety of world-class products in the employment equity, disability equity, skills development, training and recruitment arenas. Progression can empower any organisation to manage diversity and transform the workplace into a more inclusive, positive and dynamic environment. For more information, visit www.progression.co.za.

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