Of the challenges facing skills development practitioners, the most important relate not to their compliance with legislative or Seta requirements but more to their strategic contribution to the organisations they represent.
"Few skills development facilitators are participating at a high enough level to be able to give relevant inputs to the boards of the companies with whom they work,' Gill Connellan - chief executive of the Association for Skills Development Facilitation in SA (ASDFSA) - told the Chieta annual conference.
"Most facilitators are ill-equipped to fully understand the strategic nature of their role. Instead, in many cases the planning of skills development remains a paper exercise to comply with Seta requirements.
"The reality of broad-based skills development facilitation is that it incorporates a high level of competence. It is a strategic business activity and it is high time employers realise this and capacitate their designated person or persons appropriately,' she said.
Connellan said strategic intellectual input was required to ensure that the social transformation goals of the country assisted rather than inhibited the ability of the employing organisation to remain viable and sustainable.
"It is imperative business realises that these goals are inseparable: the alignment of social transformation and strategic business objectives are fundamental to South Africa?s ability to compete in the global economy.
"If we cannot compete, the national economy will continue to shed jobs and we will never realise the promise of social security brought by the advent of democracy a decade ago.'
Skills development facilitation has been identified as the mechanism to ensure this happens.
"The reality is that neither legislation, nor the Department Labour and the Setas have captured the essence and value of the role. This is because skills development practices span a range of activities and usually involve a number of people,' she added.
"Skills development facilitators face significant challenges of to their personal professionalism,' said Connellan, not least because there is no existing qualification for the profession.
The ASDFSA identified this lack of "professional' standing as a major obstacle to the effective implementation of the National Skills Development Strategy (NSDS) more than two years ago.
It is widely agreed that the formulation of a series of integrated facilitator qualifications ranging from shop-floor implementation to boardroom conceptualisation levels has become a priority. These qualifications could have generic core and fundamental elements and sector-specific electives that might revolve around such things as scarce and critical skills, competitive advantage, social development and empowerment. The strategic focus would increase as the qualifications ascend the National Qualifications Framework levels.
"Initially four unit standards were developed for the practice of skills development facilitation. These were subsequently found to be generally unsatisfactory,' said Connellan
"Two years later the standards-generating body for human resources and personnel practices was commissioned to rewrite the standards. What followed was the beginning of a protracted process of identifying an appropriate "home? or quality assurance body for the standards.
"The current situation is that there are standards that have been either newly developed or identified as appropriate for skills development facilitators. Some of these standards have been included in the ETDP Seta and others in the South African Board for Personnel Practices qualifications. Both of these bodies claim jurisdiction over the skills development facilitator core function but there is no memorandum of understanding or agreement between the two.'
The ASDFSA recently decided to inform the South African Qualifications Authority of its intention to register a new standards-generating body. This would seek to ensure that relevant standards and qualifications were developed which would take into consideration the fact that, while many skills development facilitators might have administrative functions, others might play a more strategic organisational development role.
"Others of course, will have the task of interpreting the function across a variety of organisations and sectors. External or consulting skills development facilitators present the greatest challenge to professionalism, as they at times cross the lines of good governance.'
Connellan stressed that all was not doom and gloom when it came to skills development facilitation. "Certain organisations within the chemical industries sector have fully embraced the concept of integrating their organisational intent with the NSDS and other transformation legislation.
"These organisations have functioning training and equity steering committees that are discussing these aspects at all levels. It is no coincidence that these organisations are also those that meet the needs of the demanding global challenges that this country faces.'
Jim Freeman ([email protected])