Skills development starts at school

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Skills development should begin at school level if SA hopes to combat skills shortages in the country according to Mashumi Tutu, who says that business must partner with educators to 'address the core competencies and leadership skills necessary for economic growth'.


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The business community must partner with South Africa?s educators to develop appropriate curricula in order to address core competencies and leadership skills necessary for economic growth. Importantly, this partnership should begin by adopting a school.
Making this call, Mashumi Tutu, group manager for Learning and Development at Pioneer Foods, says, "While it remains important to liaise with universities, technikons and colleges, it is often too late to address weaknesses in numeracy and literacy.'
He adds, "In a recently published article, Professor Loyiso Nongxa, the principal and vice-chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand states that of about 1.2 million children who start grade one every year, only 600 000 reach matric and only about 8% qualify to go to university. He further states that only 5% of the original 1.2 million complete a university degree.'
Tutu emphasises, however, that the private sector cannot act in isolation. "It is imperative that government, in particular the two departments of education, as well as organised labour step up to the plate. In fact, Pioneer Foods has responded to the challenges emanating from the then growth initiative for priority skills in South Africa (GIPSA), National Planning Commission and the recent National Skills Accord signed by Cosatu, Government and Business.
It acknowledges that education and skills development go hand-in-hand, especially as the country seeks to address specific skills shortages, such as artisans, engineers, general managers and scientists.
"As a major player in food and beverages manufacturing, Pioneer Foods needs to be seen to be responding to that challenge as it affects us as well. We have also taken the food and beverage sector skills plan into consideration,' he shares.
The company has more than 12 000 employees and Tutu adds that,"The Group?s fundamental belief is that the main asset of Pioneer Foods is the competent and committed people who drive business value.
But, despite concerted efforts on our part and significant improvements in our skills development initiatives since 2008, we realised last year that with an insufficient supply of skills in the labour market to draw from we would have to develop our own solutions. Moreover, this would have to be in keeping with our growth strategy.
To this end the Group has invested approximately R24 million in various learning and development interventions. Of this, R15 million has been spent on black employees'.In November last year the company researched leading global best practices in learning and development.
He says, "This resulted in us putting together a new learning and development strategy. At its core was both the development of leadership and functional competence. Importantly, it had to be in keeping with the current performance of our business and look to the future, which includes growth into the rest of Africa.
"In essence we have had to focus on building a leadership pipeline to sustain current levels of performance and define what competencies we need to build leadership capacity. Secondly, we had to identify the functional and technical competencies required by the various job families within the company.'
Scarce skills were identified and the strategy has been to accelerate graduate internship programmes, apprenticeships, learnerships and in-service training programmes for undergraduates.
Pioneer Foods has identified 16 competencies and certain behaviours required within its framework and has contracted with local educational institutions to assist in the design and delivery of formal leadership development programmes.
At senior management level, an executive leadership development programme (ELDP) is provided by the UCT Graduate School of Business. At middle management level, an advanced leadership development programme (ALDP) is provided by the University of Johannesburg.
At junior management level, a foundational leadership development programme has been developed in partnership with the Maccauvlei Academy. The company is also working with Optimum Learning Technologies for the design and development of learning programmes for functional and technical competencies and HET institutions that require students to serve practical internships with the company.
Tutu is quick to acknowledge pockets of excellence within the South African context but warns there is still much to be done on a far broader scale. "We need better coordination and policy directives from Government. School curricula should be informed by the needs of commerce and industry.
Visit Mashumi Tutu's page on the Skills Universe

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