NEWS – Articles of Interest

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The Minister of Higher Education and Training Hlengiwe Buhle Mkhize is expected to promulgate new policy to re-establish the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETA) after consulting with the National Skills Authority.

The primary functions of the NSA are to advise the minister on matters of skills development in accordance with the Skills Development Act.

A review of the White Paper for Post-School Education and Training and other relevant reports will form the basis for the new strategy.

Seta members as well as other stakeholders in the sector have been invited to submit their comments on the document entitled National Skills Development Plan.

Submissions and contributions towards the new policy should be submitted by 31 January 2018.

The NSA will also be hosting public hearings over the months of January and February “to ensure the mobilisation of business, government, community and labour to take full ownership of the National Skills Development Plan.”

More employers are placing emphasis on the importance of workplace learning – a powerful tool that empowers the workforce, improves the bottom-line and bodes well for the country’s economy.

With a new year upon us, Richard Rayne, CEO of iLearn, a leading South African learning solutions-based business says in a country like South Africa, where skills gaps exist in various key sectors, upskilling the workforce is fundamental.

Great value lies in upskilling and empowering employees through Learnerships

“Great value lies in upskilling and empowering employees through Learnerships, it gives them the opportunity to acquire new skills on the job and fill the gaps that exist in critical skills areas,” he says.

The Training Industry – a trusted source of information on the business of learning, has observed several learning trends for the coming year. Some of these trends are discussed below.

Digital learning gets the thumbs-up:

Rayne says digital learning offers exceptional convenience, pace, choice and flexibility. He explains that South Africa’s first MICT SETA-approved Blended Learning Learnership, developed by iLearn, seeks to close the digital skills gap in the country. “This approach uses both digital learning and the tried-and-tested benefits of instructor-led learning to assist the learner in the best possible way,” he says.

Interpersonal skills are important:

Developing interpersonal skills is crucial for any organisation, and in order to make these skills more easily accessible, understood and absorbed, iLearn has introduced microlearning, a holistic approach for skills based learning which breaks learning up into ‘bite-size’ pieces.

“Training in soft skills is necessary to communicate effectively, this will help to bolster confidence and in-turn boost interpersonal skills, an essential component to ensure an employee’s success in the workplace,” Rayne says.

A learner-centric experience:

The “one-size fits all” training approach is a thing of the past and Rayne says customizing a learning programme to meet learners’ needs is necessary to stay ahead and on-trend.

“We believe in the importance of a tailored learning approach. It plays a central role in the delivery and management of training experiences. In keeping with this philosophy, we offer a learning platform with a wide variety of unique characteristics and a key functionality that allows clients to select a platform and individualised set-up that fits in with their company culture and training requirements,” he says.

Investing in Learnerships also offers a range of other benefits for South African organisations. He says government has made skills development a priority element of the BBBEE scorecard and continues to encourage companies to put employees through Learnerships in a bid to upskill their workforce. Further, investing in Learnerships provides opportunities to capitalise on various reimbursements, grants and tax rebates.

“Learnerships helps to cultivate and develop a talented and highly competent workforce, therefore, it’s important to invest wisely in relevant and quality Learnerships,” Rayne says.

The digital transformation continues to change the way we work – and one of the most commonly known ways is through automation. While the automated economy is often seen as a threat to many of today’s jobs, ManpowerGroup SA’s managing director, Lyndy van den Barselaar, is of the opinion that it will open up employment opportunities for those with the right skillsets.

Automation also presents the opportunity for new roles, organisational departments and even industries to be created.

“While it is true that automation has already begun to infiltrate many industries, and in some cases replace humans for certain tasks, the news is not all bad. Automation also presents the opportunity for new roles, organisational departments and even industries to be created. What will become most important is having the right skills to be able to work in conjunction with technology, respond quickly to innovation and adapt to the changes in the workforce,” says van den Barselaar.

While automation and skills development might seem an unlikely duo, they are fast becoming the most important duo of the modern business environment. “Skills like coding, data analytics and representation, SEO, SQL, Java and C#, for example, will continue to become more and more important in the successful running of all organisations, and those who have the right skills will be at the top of the employment food chain,” she says.

This makes education, training and skills development more important than ever. “This is another important area that the digital transformation has improved; through online learning platforms education and skills training has become more accessible than ever. Platforms like Manpower Group’s powerYOU digital training platform, which provides online access to thousands of online courses and certifications covering a range of topics (including those linked to automation) for people to update their existing skills as well as explore new ones to develop for future job opportunities, make skills development convenient. Anyone with an Internet connection and a mobile device can access online education in their own time. Not only is this revolutionary in terms of the South African business environment, but will bode well for entrepreneurship and economic development too,” states van den Barselaar.

In conclusion, van den Barselaar says that the responsibility lies with South African employers too. “While learners, graduates, job seekers and currently employed individuals should be keeping up to date with market trends and taking advantage of online educational platforms, it is important that employers are aware of the important role they play in the development of skills across the board,” she says.

“Not only should they be implementing skills development training strategies in the workplace, as part of their employee relations strategies, but they should be looking for opportunities to extend this out to the youth – through internships and graduate programs, for example. The digital skills revolution is upon us,” concludes van den Barselaar.

A new report compiled by expatriate solutions provider Xpatweb, titled Critical Skills Survey Results 2017, confirms that local companies are hard pressed to find the right expertise to achieve their corporate goals. It is therefore to every business and professional body’s benefit to engage with government to make work visa applications as easy as possible.

Simply stated, South Africa needs access to better skills to prosper and compete in the global market.

However, this is not a new revelation. The country’s skills gap – the difference between the professional talents needed by employers and those available among the working public – has been widely discussed and reported on in the media for over a decade. Rather, the study serves as the springboard for a viable solution. The results were obtained from 86 respondents, many of whom represent South Africa’s largest employers and international groups.

Recognising the problem

76.74% of those surveyed agreed that there is, in fact, a skills shortage in South Africa. The Critical Skills List published by the Department of Home Affairs contains a catalogue of the country’s most needed competencies. These include the broad categories of business, economics and management; information communication and technology; engineering; health professions and related clinical science; life and earth sciences; professionals and associate professionals; trades; business process outsourcing; and academics and researchers. As can be seen, the demand ranges over a wide set of sectors.
Solving the skills problem will take hard work and starts with an honest appraisal of the constraints. The sooner we do this, the faster we can address it. The first admission we must make is that the gap exists now and a primary, immediate solution is required. Yes, formal learning and development programmes will produce a future, technically-competent national workforce – not just adequate but world-beating. Until that day dawns, we need a stopgap.

Learning takes too long

According to one study (Young, 2010), South Africa’s universities and HEI’s are not able to produce these critical skills fast enough. For example, Young estimated that creating 34,000 additional engineers, technologists, draughtspersons and technicians needed over a 2-year period would take roughly 100 years in terms of current educational capacity. Likewise, learning and development programmes cannot scale to meet the immediate needs of the economy. Neither can businesses afford to wait, so an alternative solution is inevitably required.

75.29% of respondents in the Critical Skills Survey Results 2017 reported that they are better able to find scarce skills when they expand their search to include foreign nationals. This is a perfectly sensible solution – the right skills at the right level of expertise, available immediately to fill a skills gap that cannot otherwise be closed. This is supported by the fact that most of those interviewed asserted that the local market has been fully scouted for critical skills and found lacking.

Unfortunately, expatriates are seen by government and occupational stakeholders as a threat to the local workforce, taking jobs from South Africans. However, since the skillsets offered by foreign workers are evidently unavailable here, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Even so, employers will need to evangelise several fundamental changes in thinking to promote their case.

First, expats are a resource, not a threat. Importing critical skills into the country is no different from importing any other essential factor of production.

Second, not only do they offer the competencies companies desire but also the opportunity to transfer their expertise to many local workers. As such, expatriates do not diminish employment opportunities for South Africans; instead, they create jobs by their very presence.

Third, the use of expats is temporary. They are simply a bridge between today’s urgent business needs and tomorrow’s acquired competencies. Rather than replace South African talent, they will hold the fort until the reinforcements arrive.

Making it happen

89.53% of those surveyed find the work visa process an obstacle to filling critical skills positions. The procedure is laborious and time consuming. However, not acquiring these vital talents will prove most costly in lost business opportunities and low competitive advantage.

The South African workforce of tomorrow will energise the economy. In the meantime, the country needs a concrete way to source the critical skills to compete globally. As our survey reveals, businesses believe that the acquisition of foreign skills is the only sensible response.

The manufacturing industry’s role in the South African economy has seen a long and sustained decline: from contributing nearly a quarter of GDP in the 1980s, the sector added a mere 13% to the country’s GDP in 2016. Job creation has also not materialised: after 400,000 jobs were lost following the 2008 global financial crisis, the sector failed to recover and today employs 300,000 people fewer than in 2008.

To reignite the sector industry bodies have set out ambitious growth targets. The Manufacturing Circle, the industry’s voice, recently launched its ‘Map to a Million New Jobs in a Decade’ plan. It aims to expand manufacturing’s contribution to the country’s GDP to 30% and create between 800,000 and 1.1m direct jobs – as well as 5 to 8 times as many indirect jobs – in the process.

However, aside from a single line about focusing on education as an essential service and “promoting high standards instead of high pass rates”, there seems to be little to no acknowledgement that for SA to become a globally competitive manufacturing hub, it needs skills that can interface with the technologies driving global manufacturing progress.

Manufacturing no longer mass employer

Instead of relying on a large pool of labour, which was until quite recently the hallmark of the South East Asian sector leaders, modern manufacturing is capital intensive – with a focus on using technology to improve production. New, more efficient production technology requires fewer but much more highly skilled workers to operate – the promise of ‘a million jobs,’ then, is a false one, at least for any country wishing to compete at a global level.

Even the Minister of Trade and Industry, who until recently was touting manufacturingas a key job growth enabler, has recently acknowledged the disruptive changes in the nature of production due to technology. At the recent ANC policy conference, the Minister stated it will be “data management and digital firms that will be at the apex of value chains”.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said at a recent event in Cape Town that, while it’s attractive to want to imitate the manufacturing-led growth path of South East Asian countries such as China, Japan, and South Korea, South Africa will never achieve it. Manufacturing productivity leveraging next-generation technologies such as IoT, big data, machine learning, and robotics has increased productivity so much that it is currently outpacing demand.

He went on to advise that countries need high-quality public education for a well-functioning manufacturing sector, highlighting how over the past 250 years, the global increases in our standard of living can mostly be ascribed to improvements in learning. Here, the government should focus on the so-called STEM fields – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths – to equip workers with the skills they need to successfully interface with the broad range of exponential technologies entering our world.

Machine learning leading the manufacturing sector race

Modern manufacturers are all focused on three key priorities: speeding up production, improving the quality of manufacturing output, and reducing cost. In this, machine learning and AI are emerging as the go-to technologies for driving enhanced process efficiencies while lowering operational costs and maintaining global quality standards.

Quality engineering methodologies such as Six Sigma programmes are valuable, but the increasing complexity of quality process monitoring requires a level of sophistication that these techniques cannot match.

Machine learning can serve as a powerful tool in large, sophisticated manufacturing operations. Its power lies in the ability to examine process data and extract patterns and relationships without imposing any adjustments to the production process, the outcomes of which can augment production processes to achieve higher yields.

While most manufacturing operations are different, all have rudimentary data infrastructure that can be processed and mined for value by skilled data scientists. A single view of all operational data helps to reduce the complexity of managing multiple types of data and assists in the development of a set of prescriptive models that can help manufacturing processes move toward deeper forms of automation.

Toward a zero-defect manufacturing future

In one example, the implementation at one of the largest foundries in the Southern Hemisphere of supervised and unsupervised machine learning capabilities produced a 0% external scrap rate, saving the manufacturer as much as R10-million every month. With not a single defective casting shipped, the foundry is now able to reinvest savings into boosting productivity further, while also enabling the executive team to bid for projects against some of the leading manufacturers in the world.

These are the building blocks of creating a globally-competitive manufacturing industry. However, all of this requires that the human element interfacing with the technology is sufficiently skilled to understand the insights gained from the data, make the necessary adjustments, and track improvements and changes in production to optimise yield. Right now, the dire lack of skills in South Africa is undermining industry-wide efforts to revitalise the local manufacturing sector, while the global manufacturing leaders are powering ahead with a lean but highly skilled workforce.

Machine learning is a transformative technology that can put the South African manufacturing sector on par with the best in the world. But without the requisite skills, manufacturers will struggle to realise its full potential.

The sector should prioritise skills development over mass job creation, and work with experienced technology partners who can deliver rapid productivity gains while helping build a roadmap to survive the ‘fourth industrial revolution’.

Forget the gadgets and “lifehacks” to increase productivity, my research with Julia Milner shows that managers need to become coaches to get the best out of their employees.

Coaching means many things, from simply listening to staff, to helping them set personal goals. Taylor Johnson/Flickr, CC BY

Coaching means many things, from simply listening to staff, to helping them set personal goals or understand the company’s objectives. When employees understand the business goals, they can make their own decisions and not wait for someone to tell them what to do.

When employees are listened to, they feel valued and empowered. They have greater ownership and commitment to actions that they themselves have identified as necessary. As one manager in our study noted:

When you coach people rather than command people, you almost always win their hearts and minds, so loyalty, trust and confidence are built.

Our research shows manager coaching led to improvements in productivity, engagement and customer service. One manager reported that coaching led to an increase in output from 35% of the target to greater than 100% within 12 months. One organisation improved customer service by 450% within five months of introducing manager coaching.

Coaching also transformed some underachievers into star performers. For example, one employee who was described as “very lacking in self-confidence” developed enough confidence to apply for a promotion and became a highly effective manager. Coaching had helped the employee to identify solutions, by providing advice and expertise when needed.

 Coaching in practice

Coaching is a conversation between two or more people to find a way forward together. The participants reflect on the current situation, agree on a goal, and identify options and actions for moving toward the goal.

In practice there are four things mangers should do during coaching:

  1. Genuinely listen to their employees, allowing time to think out loud and come up with their own ideas.
  2. Ask questions that help employees develop their thinking. If an employee identifies a problem the manager can ask what solutions they can think of.
  3. Work with employees to set goals. Create an energising dialogue to make this task more than ticking boxes.
  4. Give constructive feedback to help employees align with organisational goals and develop professionally.

The majority of the 580 general managers and human resource managers who participated in our research coached their employees at least once a week.

Organisations in our study used quarterly coaching sessions to set employee expectations, monthly sessions to review progress, and weekly sessions with new employees or employees in new roles. Informal coaching happens whenever opportunities arise – for example, discussing an incident the manager has observed and identifying alternative approaches. The employee can take ownership of the situation by choosing what alternative to implement.

Of course, implementing manager coaching is easier said than done. Most training in coaching does not address the complexities of the manager as coach.

For example, what should a manager do if an employee tells them something in confidence that they would not normally tell a manager? The best way to deal with this is by being honest and upfront about what can and cannot be kept confidential.

Managers also find it difficult to make time for coaching, although they may save time in the long run as employees don’t need their advice as often. This frees up managers to spend more time thinking strategically.

Managers in our study spent more time with new employees or employees in new roles than with employees who were already comfortable in their roles. They also recommended choosing the right time to coach – for example, not starting a session in the middle of a crisis.

You’ve probably heard of “executive coaches”. These people are like consultants who work one on one with managers on how to improve their leadership style, act as a sounding board for their ideas, or manage work-life balance.

But, as our research shows, there’s no reason for coaching to be restricted to outside consultants – managers should coach their own employees.

Coaching achieves fantastic outcomes for employees, for the organisation and for the managers themselves. As one manager in our study said:

Staff who believe their managers and organisations care about them by investing their time in coaching them are naturally more positive, happier whilst working. They are great team players. Their skills improve, they get promoted.

Most importantly this flows on to how your customers are treated. Treat staff well and they treat your customers well. Your business then flourishes.

If managers don’t know where to start, they should begin by listening to employees. They may be surprised by how much staff know and how much they appreciate being asked.

The greatest reward for a leader is seeing their staff develop and grow. Coaching is a practical way to achieve this.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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