What makes a good Seta? Advocate Rams Ramashia explains the Department of Labour's view

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In the following extract from his speech to the Foodbev Seta annual conference, Advocate Rams Ramashia explains the Department's criteria for determining whether a Seta is performing well or not. The words of the Director General of the Department of Labour are particularly important as the next two years will see a comprehensive review of the performance of all the Setas.

Extract from speech by Adv Rams Ramashia to Foodbev Seta Annual Conference:

I would like to make some remarks on what makes a SETA a good one. When we make assessments of performance what are the criteria on which a SETA should be judged?

I have referred to the importance that the Department of Labour attaches to the achievement of targets. Clearly meeting targets and performance objectives must be a key measure of success and failure. But while achieving the targets defined by the National Skills Development Strategy, or addressing the priorities of a Sector Skills Plan are important they are not the only measures of success.

In addition to effective delivery, I believe that there are four additional principal areas against which each SETA must be assessed. These are:

  • the ability of a SETA to marshal support and commitment of the sector it serves;
  • the SETA's knowledge of its sector's education and training needs;
  • representation and communication,
  • its viability and long term sustainability
  • its efficient financial management.

Let me say a few words on each of these.

First, sector commitment. By this I mean that the strategic direction of the SETA is genuinely provided by a representative cross-section of employers and workers without a disproportionate dominance of the large players. Sector commitment involves accountability of employers, workers, government departments and professional bodies to their sector. The work of the SETA should command support and respect from employers and workers alike.

In other words a SETA must add value and be seen by stakeholders as adding real value where it really matters. Steps should be taken to find out what stakeholders think about SETAs - and I am pleased to learn that the Food and Bev SETA is planning a survey to assess perceptions about its work and influence.

The second major area is about knowledge of education and training needs. Each SETA must have an accurate, comprehensive and up-to-date understanding of the learning and skills needs of its sector.

Its strategy and plans must be based on reliable data and realistic assumptions and predictions of future trends. This requires intimate knowledge of economic trends in the sector so as to ensure that the training undertaken is demand driven.

The third area in which a 'good' SETA must be competent concerns representation and communication. How well is a SETA representing and communicating with its sector and the public at large? I would like to see each SETA recognized as the preferred reference point for trade bodies, employers, unions and others on all aspects of learning and skills in its sector.

A SETA should be the centre of expertise on learning and skills and the catalyst to ensure that sector interests - in terms of education and training - are achieved with government and other partners.

Fourthly, each SETA must have a viable resource base and sound management and governance arrangements. This is not only about having systems and staff: it means a regular review of policies and procedures: it involves a systematic review of performance: it involves each SETA being a learning organization, which receives feedback and appropriately respond to the same without being defensive.

Many potential beneficiaries of SETA services, be they aspirant service providers, potential learners and those in need of training inform me that the bureaucratic red-tape they have to go through to get access to SETA services is prohibitive and discouraging. I wholeheartedly appreciate SETAs' dependence on procedures and protocols in order to prevent abuse of the system especially by unscrupulous service providers. But we should guard against being so obsessed with bureaucracy that we allow it to prevent us from doing what we were set up to do in the first place.

We need to find ingenious ways to achieve and maintain this illusive balance between flexibility and responsiveness on the one hand and accountability and good stewardship on the other.

Financial impropriety and lack of prudent and frugal financial management has been one of the reasons why SETAs have attracted a lot of criticism in the last few years. Not all SETAs suffer from this ailment but the few that do have succeeded in causing aspersions to be cast on the collective integrity of SETAs.

I was deeply impressed in perusing your audited statements and found no qualifications. In fact, in the last financial year, only two SETAs' accounts were qualified. This is an impressive record but I will only be satisfied when all 25 SETAs meet this standard.

Many of us have been sympathetic to the fact that it has been difficult for most SETAs during their embryonic phase, to deliver in what they were set up to do. But after more than three years in existence this reason no longer resonates as a ground of justification for poor performance in each of the competencies I outlined above.

As SETAs enter their fifth year, Parliament and others will rightly place emphasis on performance - and on performance that needs to reflect indicators in addition to the successful attainment of numerical targets.

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