Workers Day: How To Empower The Workforce With Education

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The workplace is not what it once was. The pandemic accelerated shifts that were already gaining traction and, today, working environments are defined by increasingly hybrid arrangements, greater mobility and non-linear career shifts. Of course, these changes are also being accompanied by accelerated digital transformation and the rise of automation.


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According to Microsoft’s recent Work Trend Index, which surveyed 30,000 people in 31 countries, 52% of Gen Z and millennials said they are likely to look for a new job within the next year. The world over, employees are reconsidering their work, and making dramatic decisions to create the lives and lifestyles they want. The Great Reshuffle that the pandemic precipitated, Microsoft says, is far from over.

The effect of this from a human capital perspective is enormous. In the post-pandemic world, businesses are having to try harder than ever to attract and retain quality talent. If they don’t, they’re likely to lose the people they need in order to be competitive and successful.

As South Africa marks Workers’ Day on 1 May (which happens to coincide with Teacher Appreciation Week, taking place between 2 and 6 May), it’s time to look at the role of workplace education as a valuable employee attraction and retention tool. 

Why workplace education matters

If your business is going to be on the receiving end of the Great Reshuffle – drawing high-quality talent in rather than pushing it away – you need to be prioritising employee empowerment. And empowering your employees begins with improving their knowledge and skills, and putting their career trajectories first. 

Implementing education programmes successfully demands a thorough understanding of your workforce. You need to cater for everyone’s unique levels of interest and ability, while being conscious of their future goals. Doing so not only helps to engender loyalty among employees, but also improves productivity and performance, increases workplace engagement, and nurtures future leaders. 

These programmes need to be structured correctly, however.

One of the most critical shifts that happened during the pandemic was the move towards more flexible ways of working. The effect of this has been so strong that, even as businesses start to encourage employees to come back to the office, few employees want to lose their newfound independence. 

By introducing education and training opportunities that are self-paced, you effectively hit two birds with one stone. Not only are you demonstrating a concerted investment in your employees’ careers, but you’re also acknowledging that they want to be in control of their schedules and time.

Workplace education in practice

Education and training provider Optimi Workplace has developed several courses designed to help employees at various stages of their career, some of which are self-paced. While Foundational Learning Competence (FLC) provides learners with important foundational skills, for example, Effective Workforce and Effective Leader cater for more experienced employees who want to take their careers to the next level.

Optimi recently conducted FLC training for the employees and community members in and around Samancor ECM’s operation in Limpopo. Learners focused on improving their written and verbal literacy, computer proficiency and basic numeracy skills.

“Working with Media Works was fruitful for both us and our employees,” says Desmond Mazibuko, Human Resource Development: Adult Education and Training Coordinator at Samancor ECM. “We are now reaping the benefits of having a literate workforce, which results in higher productivity and reduced workplace incidents.”

Learner Kgomotso Matjila achieved a 77% in her foundational mathematics exam and said that the training had opened new doors for her. She has since received a promotion.

As employees’ knowledge improves, so too does their ability to contribute effectively, to think innovatively and creatively, and to help drive your business forward. These skills are nothing short of critical in our increasingly competitive business world. As you strive to remain relevant, turn your attention to the education of your people. Therein lies your success.

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