Skills needed to use new technologies


South African organisations are struggling to close the chasm between the
skills of most of the people who make up their workforces and the competencies
these employees need to use complex enterprise business applications to their
full potential. Companies now need to adopt innovative and flexible user training
and user adoption programmes to bridge this gap.

That?s according to Lyndsey Moorhouse, managing director of Can!Do, a
consulting firm that helps companies to drive user adoption of new business
systems and processes. She says that many enterprise software packages - for
example, CRM and ERP suites - are designed to match the skills of
predominantly university-educated workers in Europe and the US.

Yet many local companies introduce these business packages to their
organisations without catering for the way their employees? skills profiles differ
from the profiles of the people the software was originally designed for.

Multinationals operating in Europe or the US may assume that a shopfloor
manager or a clerk has a high level of numeracy and literacy, says Moorhouse.
Many even have global HR policies that state they will only hire university
graduates for any of their positions. But in South Africa, such a worker may not
even have completed matric. The expectation of the Multinational is that the
South African business adopts the global templates and systems dictated by the
parent company.

"Over the past few years, we have seen South Africa?s skills base stagnate
and even deteriorate, especially at the entry level,' Moorhouse says. "Yet we?re
operating in a more globalised and competitive environment. Local companies
are being forced to adopt global practices and best of breed systems to compete
more effectively with international rivals.'

What this means for South African organisations is that they must look for
new, practical ways to bridge this widening gap and skill their people up to use
new systems as they rollout enterprise applications and processes. Such
solutions cannot be academic in nature, but must equip people with a hands-on
understanding of how to use the technology to do their jobs efficiently and
effectively, says Moorhouse.

"There is a real need in the South African marketplace for innovations that
simplify and contextualise user-training for enterprise applications,' says
Moorhouse. "We need to find ways to make information accessible at the point
of need and to make it easy for users to digest and practically utilise the
information to do their jobs.'

The shift towards more innovative training faces a number of challenges,
among them budgetary constraints. Many businesses fail to set aside enough
budget for end-user training and adoption initiatives when they set out with
their ERP implementations, says Moorhouse.

In addition, government incentives such as the Skills Levy can steer
companies away from investing in ERP training towards other forms of training
and education that allow them to claim levies and tax breaks. This is
unfortunate, since knowledge of solutions such as SAP and Oracle equip workers
for solid careers and jobs in the information economy, says Moorhouse.

However, there is an encouraging trend that sees training firms and user
organisations alike adopt more dynamic approaches to training that blend
classroom instruction, mentoring and online learning to deliver learning to their
end users, she adds. "With the pace of business accelerating, we can expect to
see training departments become more agile and innovative to keep up,'
Moorhouse says.