Unlocking South Africa's Human Potential
The first ever Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) Summit was held over a two-day period at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand, Johannesburg, in March 2014. Based on the theme, ‘Unlocking South Africa’s Human Potential for Growth and Development’, the Summit sought to, among other things, ‘review the skills delivery institutional mechanism to determine its effectiveness and ability to support the delivery of the Human Resource Development Strategy for South Africa targets and commitments, and also to ascertain whether a sector-based approach is the appropriate mechanism to deliver on skills’. Over 500 delegates from government, business, labour and academia participated in the Summit.
Dr Blade Nzimande, the Minister of Higher Education and Training, noted that the summit was being held at a very opportune and critical time when there was a shortage of scarce skills on the South African skills landscape. He pointed out that the country did not have artisans across almost all trade disciplines as well as in the professions. This, he said, included bricklayers, welders, electricians, panel beaters, and auto mechanics, as well as doctors, engineers, and veterinary doctors to treat livestock. Dr Nzimande added that the issue was further complicated by the fact that there were large numbers of young unemployed people at the same time as there was such a huge shortage of skills.
“At best, this is an anomaly ... ordinarily; we should be short of skills because there are no people. In South Africa’s case, we have a lot of people who are either inadequately educated ... or are educated but do not have the opportunity to be trained in a particular skill.” It is against this background that Dr Nzimande and the Department have been proponents of expanding and diversifying postschool education, which is a primary goal of the Integrated Human Resource Development Plan that was launched at the Summit. It is envisioned that, through such efforts, young people will not rely on the university route alone, but will make use of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges to acquire skills in order to improve their chances of employability or even of self-employment.
A Step in the Right Direction
According to Brenda Ntombela, the Head of HRDC Secretariat, huge strides have been made since the Council was established in 2010. She reveals that, in this short period of time, it has identified a number of key priority areas on which it has advised the Deputy President. “Council has identified the production of academics in South Africa as one of the key priority areas identified. It has been proven that, more often than not, we produce academics who acquire the best knowledge and skills only to emigrate. Secondly, the artisan, health science and financial services professions are areas that are in need of urgent human resource development. Access to and the success of TVET colleges is yet another area that has been identified, as well as the lack of a framework that allows for worker education in South Africa,” reveals Ntombela.
Chaired by the Deputy President of South Africa, the HRDC’s representatives include Cabinet Ministers, senior leadership from organised business, organised labour, civil society, research institutions and academia. The governance structure of the HRDC is as follows: Council, Technical Working Group, Secretariat and Provincial Coordination Forum. The Summit was the appropriate platform where decision-makers could meet and share notes with task teams and find a way forward vis-à-vis South Africa’s human resource development.
Council task teams shared information with one another as well as summit attendees and sought to identify any blockages in human resource development and how these could be unblocked and fed into the strategy. Elaborating on this, Ntombela says that, going forward, it is incumbent on her and her team to monitor the implementation of the Integrated Human Resource Development (HRD) Plan in order to measure whether all South African institutions are in fact implementing what has been set out by the HRDC. The Council has also set out, as part of its mandate, to lead an effective programme of advocacy and communication to build support and gain buy-in for the HRDC’s objectives and to ensure effective feedback from, and consultation with, stakeholders.
Business representatives present at the summit, who are also members of council, expressed concern about South Africa having to rely increasingly on foreign skills from, for example, the Philippines, India and Portugal. Rob Adam, Group Executive: Growth at the Aveng Group, said that the local artisan programmes had not been at the forefront of HRD. “We need to have balanced thinking in this respect, because, while we do produce high-end engineering graduates, we need to underpin what they do [with] artisan work, as artisans are the people who work [at the coal] face of the business,” he pointed out.
Advocate Rams Ramashia, Chairperson of Rand Refinery, urged stakeholders to view the summit as the first step in an intensive consultative process where constructive critiques would be given in order to meet the country’s HRD requirements. “If we do not do this, it [then] means that we [will] not be able to develop and grow the economy to the levels that we all aspire to. Closely linked to this is the question of a badly performing economy that is failing to absorb the unemployed youth. In this respect, we hope that career guidance will be re-emphasised in order that people study relevant courses as per the market demand, so that we match the supply [of] and demand [for] skills needed to grow the economy,” he urged.
The Western Cape government has heeded the Council’s call for HRD and, according to Jenny Cargill Special Advisor to the Premier of the Western Cape, who is also a member of HRDC; steps are being taken in this regard. “We are looking to establish an industrial development zone [IDZ] in Saldanha, because the oil and gas prospects in the area require skills. Added to this is the whole new renewable energy sector which is new to the three Capes [Western Cape, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape]. The Western Cape has established renewable-energy training sectors to advance skills in [respect of] solar and wind for example.” By virtue of its thriving business process outsourcing (BPO) in the financial sector, the Western Cape government will establish financial centres in order to serve the industry with skills. Cargill says that, as a result of their efforts, between 15 000 and 20 000 jobs have been created over the past three years, the expectation being that a further 2 000 jobs will be created in the next two years. However, she observes, the skills shortage in this particular field is not so much at entry level, but more at middle-management level. “As we go along, we identify and [meet] new training needs. We cannot fail in this regard with this approach, as we are already doing well in the field and have a set a benchmark for South Africa and the continent.”
Acknowledging that among the unemployed there are those without any skills, the Western Cape government, through the Premier’s Advancement of Youth Programme, equips them with skills. According to Cargill, 1 000 matriculants participate in an annual paid internship with the Western Cape government. After successful completion of their internships, they are placed in the private sector, and, thus far, the placement levels have been high. A new programme that will kick in later in 2014 is one that takes matriculants back to their schools to be equipped with skills in aftercare. After a year’s work, they are placed in jobs with the Western Cape’s partners in the private sector.
At the heart of bridging the skills deficit in South Africa are the academic institutions that often take the fall for either not producing enough graduates or for training graduates who have no place in the workplace. It was important for academia to be represented at the Summit and, most of all, for academics to have their say with regard to HRD in South Africa. Dr Khehla Ndlovu, who is a Deputy Vice Chancellor of Mangosuthu University of Technology, pointed out that, from an academic perspective, the key challenge lies in the lack of adequately qualified personnel to tutor and equip young people with skills in specialised fields to become artisans and technicians. “The key question to ask, therefore, is: how do we groom new talent and ensure that we have enough expertise to produce specialists?” Ndlovu suggested that stakeholders should consider the possibility of extended programmes to prepare students for the workplace. South Africa, it was said, had failed to understand the notion of the occupational pyramid, that is, that, for every specialist, at least two engineers are required.
Presently, the norm is for companies to look at the cost of hiring an individual regardless, often assuming that a less qualified individual will learn on the job.
For Happy Sibande, Principal of the Ekurhuleni East Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) College, the missing link in HRD is the lack of coordination between training institutions and industry. In her opinion, while the College does its utmost to equip students with the best skills, industry for its part is not availing itself of opportunities to allow students to obtain the vital workplace training and experience needed. She says that one method of achieving this would be to adopt and embrace an integrated HRD approach. For instance, she notes, Ekurhuleni East TVET encourages women to further their studies in fields such as civil engineering that have been traditionally regarded as male domains.
Into the Future
More than being merely a report-back and strategising platform, the 2014 HRDC Summit was an event at which organisations showcased their work to their peers across the board. Exhibition stands filled the forecourt of the summit venue. Organisations from far and wide, such as the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs), the National Skills Authority (NSA) as well as the Human Resource Development Council of Botswana, had officials in stalls interacting with delegates and addressing any queries related to a respective organisation’s work – such are the strides towards collaboration that are being made by the HRDC, the Department of Higher Education and Training and their partners in meeting the goals of the Human Resource Development Strategy, which has a three-pronged mandate. Firstly, through the HRDC, the strategy will urgently and substantially reduce the scourges of poverty, inequality and unemployment in the country. Secondly, it will promote justice and social cohesion through improved equity in the provision and outcomes of education and skills development. Lastly, the strategy will considerably increase economic growth and development through the improved competitiveness of the South African economy.
Most four-year-old institutions would still be contemplating the future, not to mention any achievements. The HRDC, however, has set high standards for itself and is committed to addressing many HRD-related issues in the coming five years. The Council realises the importance of distinguishing between the advisory and guiding role it needs to play when addressing long-term issues as opposed to the hands-on approach required to address key bottlenecks in the short-term. It is anticipated that, with increased capacity, the HRDC Secretariat will be able to provide additional research, monitoring and evaluation as well as policy analysis services.
Partnering in Order to Develop Human Potential
At the end of 2010, the Council approved a Five-point Implementation Plan based on eight commitments of the Human Resource Development Strategy of South Africa (HRDCSA). The approach of the Council is to remove logjams in the skills pipeline for each of the areas of work as indicated below.
The proposed work plan for Council is linked to the 8 commitments of the HRDSA and is based on the 5 key issues that have to be addressed
To strengthen and support TVET colleges to expand access
Production of intermediate skills (artisans in particular) and professionals
Production of academics and stronger industry-university partnerships in research and development
Foundational learning and
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by Andrew Ngozo