Across The Board: official communication of the SABPP
# The Road Taken
By Moira Katz:Chairman: Professional Practices Committee of the SABPP
"Human Resources at a crossroads .... In the next year we may see the DEATH of Human Resources as we know it and the BIRTH of a new era of the HR profession." So says the brochure announcing the Human Resources Crossroads Conference on November 2003. Human Resources is indeed at the crossroads in more ways than one. This article, researched by the Professional Practices Committee of the South African Board for Personnel Practice, discusses the relationship between consultants/providers and organisations and suggests some steps that can be implemented so that we can take our place with pride as part of the skills development process.
The SABPP has a Code of Conduct which regulates the profession and which all members sign on being registered. Many providers abide by this Code of Conduct. They have set up long lasting and ongoing relationships with their clients. They are respected for their knowledge, skills and behaviour. They are well established and with their guidance and training learners and their organisations are moving forward.
However, at a time when we are trying so hard to establish ourselves as a profession, it is sad that not all providers behave as professionals - and - as disturbing, are not always treated as professionals. Investigation indicates that both providers and organisations see the relationship as problematic and tenuous and steadily deteriorating.
This is due in the main to fringe providers and fly-by-nights whose numbers seem to be increasing exponentially, exacerbated by downsizing HR departments as well as by new providers, both qualified and unqualified, entering the market. What can we do about the situation? It is important to repeat that there are organisations and providers who behave ethically and honourably, do good work, and fill us with pride. It is, however, the other end of the spectrum which unfortunately, gets more attention and publicity.
2. The problem
On the one hand, business is saying that providers are a rotten lot. Are these accusations with foundation? Read the examples put forward by both sides, for recent incidents.
A. Providers behaving badly
# A consulting/training company quoted a SETA R3 900 per person for 40 people to attend a one day session to explain the SETA’s Performance Management System. (R156 000 for a one day workshop!) On being asked to requote they reduced their fee to R1 000 per person. Quite a reduction and still a hefty profit at R40 000 for the day! A colleague suggested that in reality this should be no more than R8 000 - R10 000 for the day.
# An organisation complained that providers are given large contracts - they do the training and - goodbye! No report back, no feedback, no concern whether the training was on target and had made a difference.
# Organisations state that consultants will quote for anything and everything, even if it is not within their scope. There is the story going the rounds about the SETA that accepted a quote for Assessor training, only to discover when training started, that it was not the Provider’s area of expertise and the provider had "lifted" the material from another provider.
# And only last week a provider was approached by a training company. This training company had received "inside knowledge" from a "gentleman" working in a government organisation that a tender was going to go out soon and he could give them the job - for a commission. The training company couldn’t do the job themselves, so they approached the provider to do the work for them and give them a commission! No talk of accreditation, of outcomes based training, of assessment ...... Only of commission
# Many providers are telling their clients that because there are no unit standards, for example in management, that they don’t have to change their training materials, they will still get their money back on their levies. No talk of outcomes based and assessment .... and organisations are quite happy to go along with this.
# Organisations complain of the unevenness of quality of training materials especially in short courses where there are no unit standards. Some providers have adapted their material but others are "playing the waiting game".
B. Organisations behaving badly
# A consultant quoted a large organisation for a mentoring system. After about a year of humming and hawing and frequent requests for more information, the HR manager phoned to say that it was all systems go and a meeting was set up to work on the process. The consultant then went home to draw up a detailed project plan (took him three hours) with the first item as the contract, and emailed it - only to receive an email by return saying the project had been put on hold and thank you and goodbye. No talk of payment for work already completed.
# A provider received a call from a training manager of a branch of a large wealthy top 20 South African organisation asking to purchase one of their programmes. The provider gave all the details and the training manager agreed on the price there and then and asked for immediate delivery. However, at the end of the conversation the training manager said, "And what commission are you going to pay me?" When he heard that the provider thought that as he was already on a salary from the organisation he wasn’t in line for a commission - he cancelled the contract.
# Providers say organisations don’t keep their word. Dates for training are agreed on and the trainer arrives - only to find that instead of a class of 10 or 12 only one or two have pitched - or to find that the class has been cancelled and they’re "So sorry our email was down" or "The person who was supposed to let you know was ill" or some such.... Or they cancel the day before and then expect you to make up the training at a time to suit them.
# And then there is the opposite: 19 in a group when the contract is for 12. And then the company wonders why the training was not successful.
# Providers query the validity of organisations requiring three quotes. Does this process really work? Providers complain of being inundated with requests for proposals which often take a long time to prepare but, they never receive acknowledgement, not even a brief thank you for sending in the documents (mostly at a moment’s notice, they never win the contract, they are never told who won the contract, and sometimes the HR person will let slip that they already know who they are going to award the contract to, but need two more quotes to satisfy policy.
# Providers note that there is no transparency regarding government contracts. They state that they send in tender after tender, none of which is ever acknowledged, and they are not even notified of who wins the tender. Some providers actually go to the trouble of asking for details of who was selected, and what the price of the winning quote was, but receive no satisfactory replies.
# Providers state that organisations sometimes admit that they only require a second or third quote and need it "immediately". In other words, they have already decided on the provider, but must just satisfy the board/the HR director/the training manager/the financial director....
# Providers complain that organisations practice nepotism when it comes to training. They say they send in proposals which are never acknowledged, but months later hear that "XYZ" won the contract - and in one case with a proposal that seemed very similar to the provider’s original proposal - just a little less expensive!!
# Providers are told, when phoning to enquire, that the training is "on hold" - only to discover some months later, that another provider won the contract. Undoubtedly it is the organisation’s right to select the provider they want, but why not be honest about it?
# Providers note that SETAs give training contracts to providers whose material is not outcomes based, and who are not accredited, when equally good training is available from accredited providers whose training is outcomes based.
# Skills development facilitators are as one provider said, "coining it!" It seems that to be a part time SDF in an organisation is to have reached the pound seats. The SDF supplies all the training him/herself and if not all the training, then (s)he gets a commission on asking his circle of friends and colleagues to do the training (doesn’t matter how qualified they are!)
3. The SETA relationship
Providers state that when it comes to support, SETAs generally have a strange attitude towards them. Although SETAs reiterate vociferously they are doing their utmost to help providers become accredited, they very often do not select these same accredited providers to do their training. In addition, when providers send in tenders, these tenders are not acknowledged and they are not informed of winning tenderers. And I have heard the complaint again and again, that SETAs seem to use their favourites as providers, and other providers, while just as competent, never seem to get selected. (I was given several examples here).
Providers would like to think that, with the SETA accreditation well in place, organisations would only be using accredited providers, but this is questionable - perhaps there are other requirements which they are not aware of. It would be fitting to survey all the organisations and SETAs and even Government departments that are using providers who are not accredited and are not even in the process of becoming accredited - and have no immediate intention of becoming accredited, but who still have masses of work and are growing rapidly.
It is obvious that accreditation by a SETA is not sufficient. And so, I was asked, why go to the time, trouble and expense of becoming accredited, when it doesn’t help to get the work? Of course SETA accreditation is not perfect yet. One HR Manager complained to me that he asked several providers (all accredited as his SETA will not support any training by non accredited providers), to bring in their training materials when they came to make presentations. He said he was appalled at the standard of the training materials of these accredited providers. Another provider was surprised at the SETA giving a letter of accreditation to a colleague who had yet not fulfilled all the requirements.
And then there is the problem of SETAs setting themselves up as Training Providers in distinct and flagrant violation of their terms of reference. To illustrate this fact, the SERVICES SETA is even now setting itself up as an "Academy".
It seems that no one is without blame. But blaming is not healthy and does not encourage growth and positive development. So let us rather look to the future.
As a body we can be proud that we have succeeded in acquiring accreditation for the SABPP as the ETQA for the qualifications and unit standards developed by the SGB for HRMP. Policies and procedures have been developed to accredit small HR providers, to accredit short learning programmes of large tertiary institutions and to register Assessors in the HR field.
We have five registration levels fully aligned to the NQF and which create a career path based on the principles of the NQF. The alliance of HRCOSA provides further reassurance as to the general health of the profession and has set professional goals that are admirable. HOWEVER, WE NEED TO GIVE THOUGHT AS TO HOW WE CAN REGULATE THE PROFESSION SO THAT ORGANISATIONS AND THE GENERAL PUBLIC VIEW US AS TRUE PROFESSIONALS. We need to see that organisations are not taken for a ride, and that providers get a fair deal. How are we going to set in motion practices to indicate that we operate on a basis of sound professional behaviour and good manners?
4. The way forward
Should every provider be registered with the SABPP and organisations should only employ registered providers? Do we need a code of conduct that goes beyond the one drawn up by the SABPP or by HRCOSA? One that states how organisations should interact with providers. And which states how providers should behave? The problem is that not all providers are registered with the SABPP - Should this be made compulsory as a regulatory body? We do not have control over non-members, but research is necessary as this is the group that may be proved to be the ones who are encouraging disrespect for the profession by their lack of professionalism.
We suggest that organisations should only interact with registered providers who are members of SABPP and have signed the code of conduct - in addition to their organisations being accredited by their SETAs. This should be part of the Code of Conduct of all HR and Training Departments. And the SETAs should behave as SETAs and as role models and should not take away from the work of accredited providers. There are sufficient competent providers around for SETAs to use and not usurp their power. Of course there are also several side issues which are of great concern to providers. One is the behaviour of SETAs towards providers which needs to be elucidated, and clearly demarcated boundaries set which determine the work of SETAs and which do not encroach on the work of providers.
Perhaps all new providers should work under mentors to see that they observe the Code of Conduct (like a short internship) with a report back to the SABPP. All providers should have to regularly send in their CPD forms for scrutiny and for continuing membership of the SABPP at the registered level. One suggestion mooted is that a scale of fees be laid down as guidelines and, as in other professions, providers can charge more if they want to and if clients will agree to!
We keep talking of professionalising the profession. Of wanting HR/providers to have the same status as lawyers, accountants, doctors. But first we need to clean up our act and educate those providers who are not there yet, on how to become professional. We need to regulate ourselves urgently or else others will deregulate us! We need to prepare ourselves, both as providers and as organisations, for the BIRTH of a new era of the HR profession.
5. Ideal/proposed code of conduct drawn from suggestions from several sources
A. Provider behaviour
# Differentiate between requesting information and requesting a proposal
# Send in proposals timeously. Every proposal should have an additional page showing the code of conduct duly signed by the provider. - drawn up by the SABPP
# Short courses and skills programmes are all designed to be outcomes based and clearly state which courses are accredited and which are not, and where there are unit standards.
# Charge within the boundaries
# Send reports timeously at the end of every training contract
# Trainer qualifications are clearly stated on proposals, such as registered with the SABPP as their ETQA
# Provider Companies are accredited with a SETA and accreditation status clearly stated on proposal
B. Provider preparation
# Providers providing trainers or contract trainers must see that all trainers are accredited at one level above the level at which they are training
# Contract trainers must be registered with the SABPP
# Contract trainers must be properly trained
# Align material to SAQA requirements
C. Organisation’s behaviour
# Differentiate between requesting information and requesting proposal
# Give out detailed rfp so that replies are well designed, deadline date is clear and should the organisation continue after this date, the provider has the right to withdraw from the process
# To set level of qualifications needed for the provider/trainers/facilitators in each proposal
# Ask for proposals well in advance of deadline and when deadline is reached, deadline is reached
# Acknowledge receipt of proposals. An email takes a few seconds
# Check to clarify Unit Standard status
# Advise selection of contractor and name of contractor. Again email takes a few seconds
# Only select accredited providers
# Respond to phone calls
# Respond to phone calls in an on- the- level manner
# Organisation to adhere to contract, pricing and payment terms and sign contract before start of short course or skills programme
D. Industry guidelines
# Pricing guidelines to be set by the industry, for example, no lower than .... and no higher than .....
# Absolutely no commission for Organisation’s HR/Training Managers
# Industry to set standards in terms of contracts and tenders - a contract/tender should not be given to the same contractor for more than two consecutive years. This is done in Botswana and it prevents nepotism, fraud, etc.
# Model course outline should be set and available on website and organisations should be told that if content does not have A/B/C then that particular provider should not be selected.
# Industry to clearly state what qualifications an SDF should possess to facilitate various training programmes
# Industry standard: all tenderers to be informed of outcome within 48 hours of closure of deadline
# Industry to blacklist any consultant who does not adhere to this code of conduct. Industry to print names of those who have made an effort to play their role in developing a sound relationship with providers
# Industry to recognise organisations at year end
E SETAs to not only list accredited providers, but to update information by acknowledging how far the provider is down the line. In other words, if a site visit has been completed, this should be acknowledged against the provider’s name. If all accredited courses are outcomes based and have relevant unit standards, this should also be acknowledge against the provider’s name.