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Is your skill development house in order?

Is your skill development house in order?

Two interesting and illuminating articles appeared in the Sunday Times of 18 March 2001 that highlighted the role that skill development plays in the economic and social development of a country.

The first article was a commentary about the Skill Development Convention hosted by the Department Of Labour. An important message was sent to industry by one of the keynote speakers from Singapore. Professor Linda Low discussed the role that skill development had played in pulling Singapore out from being a post second world war, slum port city to become a leading Asian economy. Professor Low pointed out that South Africa has a very similar human resource model to that of Singapore. Both countries (believe it or not!) have a relatively poorly educated workforce with most people entering the workplace without completing their schooling. One of the key differences between Singapore and South Africa, however, is small business' attitude to providing in-service training and skill development. Small business in Singapore (unlike in South Africa) have made very sure that they make full use of the skill development grants available to them to improve the skill levels and productivity of the workforce.

The second, and more contentious article (which is still creating headlines) was entitled "Black income to outstrip white". A new study by UNISA's Bureau of Market Research shows that the total black workforce last year earned 43.4% of the country's net income of R603.6-billion, closing to within 0.6% of the proportion earned by whites. The report said that 23% of the wealthiest South Africans were now black. "This is the new black elite - those in high posts earning over R300 000 a year," said Van Wyk.

" Interestingly, the black low-income sector contributes less than it did five years ago, and middle income stayed fairly static." Whether or not these 'facts' are an accurate reflection of the day-to-day realities of being a South African is neither here nor there. What is important for business and government to note is a comment made by Saki Macozoma, deputy chairman of Standard Bank, who described the black income finding as "a milestone", but said he hoped the report would act as a "wake-up call" for those who believed unskilled black labourers were the big winners in the new economy. "It is critical for the future of South Africa that the people at the bottom end move up this graph from now on."

Both reports are, each in their own different way "a wake up call as to whether your skill development house is in order". The remainder of this article is an attempt to help you answer this question. The content for this article is an adaptation of material from a manual entitled "Employment Equity Implementation Manual" available from http://www.workinfo.com

The primary reasons to assess whether your skill development house is in good order is to improve the performance and competitiveness of the business and to identify and eliminate the barriers that designated groups may face to accessing those training and development opportunities that give employees a better chance to advance in the workplace and their careers.

Section 15(2)(d)(ii) of the Employment Equity Act states that in implementing affirmative action measures, an employer is required to RETAIN AND DEVELOP people from designated groups and to implement appropriate training measures, including measures in terms of the Skills Development Act of 1998. It is important to note that in terms of the Labour Relations Act, any unfair act or omission that arises between an employer and an employee, involving the unfair conduct of the employer relating to the promotion, demotion or TRAINING of an employee is seen as an unfair labour practice.

Consider the following scenarios:

# designated group members may not be able to avail themselves of training opportunities if information concerning available training, including eligibility criteria, is not disseminated company wide;

# designated group members may be subtly encouraged to stay in lower level jobs by being provided only with training to perform their current jobs better, rather than with developmental training to enhance their advancement opportunities;

# training centres that are not equipped with ramps and accessible washroom facilities preclude the participation of some disabled employees.

If you find that, there are any similarities between your company's situation and any of the above scenarios you would do well to take stock of the training and development practices in the organisation. The review of your training and development system and policies should assist you in assessing the extent to which employees have ACCESS to training opportunities. For employers who are committed to employment equity and to meeting the challenge of managing a diversified workforce, effective training and development initiatives are critically important in insuring that present and future business skill needs are met.

Dimension 1: A balanced approach to training for results and people development

Establish whether training and development contributes to improving an employee's performance in his/her current job and/or enables the employee to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge for future opportunities, influences competencies and upward mobility.

Q: Do designated group members participate in training and development opportunities at lower rates than other employees?
Q: Is information on training and development opportunities disseminated to all employees? Is this information accessible to persons with disabilities?
Q: Do all new employees have access to orientation and other courses?
Q: Is the selection for training and development solely at the discretion of supervisors?
Q: Do designated group members and other employees have access to a redress mechanism if they feel that they have been unfairly denied access to training and development opportunities?
Q: Do employees in the designated groups have access to training and development opportunities that prepare them for more advanced jobs in the organisation?
Q: Has your training material been reviewed for gender, racial or other biases?
Q: Is diversity training available to all employees of your organisation either as stand-alone modules or integrated with other training activities?
Q. Do managers and employees who are not in the designated groups participate in such training?

Dimension 2: Access to training and development opportunities for all employee

Determine which policies and practices exclude designated group members from advancement and development opportunities in the workplace.

Q: Is training linked to seniority, job type and level, earnings, or next-in-line status, and if so, does it adversely affect designated group members?
Q: Do designated group members participate in all training and development programs at the same rate as other employees? What is the underlying reason for their lower participation rate?
Q: Are records kept of designated group participation in training events to determine if training policies and procedures exclude designated group members?
Q: Are members of designated groups excluded from training programmes because of stereotyping and in-group bias? (For example, women might be excluded from some types of training because of the assumption that they may be away from work for maternity and child-rearing leave).
Q: Is information on training programmes disseminated to all employees within the organisation, and are they familiar with how to apply?
Q: Are training materials or notices about training produced in alternate formats, such as Braille or audio form?
Q: Determine whether training nominations, which are usually done solely at the discretion of supervisors, tend to exclude designated group members? (Where possible, allow employees to nominate themselves for training).
Q: Is the selection criteria for taking training inflated; do these take cognisance of prior learning, relevant experience, and reasonable ability to acquire the skills? (Otherwise, designated group members may not apply.)
Q. Is training for employees at the lower level of the organisation generally given to enhance current job skills, not to prepare for different or more advanced jobs?
Q. Are trainers instructed on the needs and issues of designated group members and on how to encourage them to participate during training sessions?
Q. Are contracted trainers made aware of the organisation's employment equity policies and cross-cultural issues in a training context?

Dimension 3: Career counseling to support designated groups during the


Employers may need to offer career counseling to all employees. It can be helpful to appoint designated group members as counselors. Ensure that all counselors are sensitive to designated group issues. If career counseling is not available, or is available but is not publicised or is restricted to employees at middle and senior management levels:

Q. Is assistance available to all employees to identify skills, career goals and in-house advancement opportunities?
Q. Consider a career-counseling programme to provide advice and assistance to employees at all levels of the organisation?
Q. Do counselors have up-to-date career path guidance and organisational development information? (Include designated group members among counseling and training staff; provide counselors with skills needed to deal with designated group issues.)
Q. Is information on training programs and how to apply for them made available to all employees to encourage all employees to develop a positive attitude about the value of life-long learning?
Q. Is input invited from designated employees to identify and resolve any problems identified?
Q Has the company's existing training materials been reviewed for racial and gender biases?
Q. Do trainers reflect equity principles and do they encourage participants to do so as well?

Dimension 4: Location and time of training

Q. Does training get scheduled to not coincide with major religious holidays for all religious groups?
Q. Is the impact of out-of-town training considered for adverse impact on family life?
Q. Are on-and-off-site training venues accessible to employees with disabilities or employees from economically disadvantaged designated groups?

Dimension 5: Mentoring

Informal mentoring of junior employees by more senior employees is a frequent form of training on the job.

Q. Do designated group members have equal access to mentoring, whether formal or informal? (Designated group members often get left out of mentoring programmes because it is informal. Informal mentoring often takes place between junior staff that are most like managers in terms of interests and personality because managers feel most comfortable with them. Informal mentoring can be helpful to designated group employees if there are designated group members among senior staff).
Q. Are designated group members at senior levels encouraged to become involved in mentoring programmes and to become positive role models?
Q. Are awareness sessions provided for managers on such topics as managing in an employment equity environment, communications and race relations, interview techniques for decision makers, and human rights in the workplace?
Q. Is (remedial) training provided for designated group members on such topics as interview skills for candidates, career planning, management/leadership skills, and workplace language policy? (Black languages, English, Afrikaans as appropriate).
Q. Is there rewards for employees who persevere and complete training programs at university or colleges?

Dimension 6: Remedial action

To what extent does your organisation undertake any of the following activities to reinforce anti-discrimination training:

Q. Have you adopted a formal policy against discrimination or in favour of diversity?
Q. Have you made equal opportunity part of managers' performance evaluations?
Q. Do you provide an accessible discrimination complaint process?
Q. Do you celebrate diversity in company publications?

Once the audit is completed,your organisation will want to get down to the task of equipping supervisors, managers, and key employees to roll out a revamped training and learning process that is outcome and competency based. However, once the playing field has been leveled a continuous monitoring of the quality of training and development needs to be in place. If you wish to access grant money to establish learnerships/in-service training schemes, or to even claim your levy grants B, C, or D.

Use the following 4 quality control indexes, adapted from the British system called "Investors In People Excellence" to periodically assess whether training and development initiatives are of a world-class standard.

The Department Of Labour is seriously considering the introduction of these criteria as part of the quality control process and for evaluating the effectiveness of in-company training.

Index 1: Commitment
An Investor in People is fully committed to developing its people in order to achieve its aims and objectives.


Q. Can top-management describe strategies that they have put in place to support the development of people in order to improve the organisation's performance?
Q. Can managers describe specific actions that they have taken and are currently taking, to support the development of people?
Q. Can people/employees confirm that the specific strategies and actions described by top management and managers take place?
Q. Are people encouraged to improve their own and other people's performance?
Q. Can people give examples of how they have been encouraged to improve their own performance?
Q. Can people give examples of how they have been encouraged to improve other people's performance?
Q. Do people believe that their contribution to the organisation is recognised?
Q. Can people describe how their contribution to the organisation is recognised?
Q. Do people receive appropriate and constructive feedback on a timely and regular basis?
Q. Can top-management describe strategies that they have put in place to ensure equality of opportunity in the development of people?
Q. Can managers describe specific actions that they have taken and are currently taking to ensure equality of opportunity in the development of people?
Q. Can people confirm that the specific strategies and actions described by top-management and managers take place and recognise the needs of different groups?
Q. Do people believe the organisation is genuinely committed to ensuring equality of opportunity in the development of people?

Index 2: Performance planning
An Investor in People is clear about its aims and its objectives and what its people need to do to achieve them.


Q. Does the company have an understandable business plan with clear aims and objectives?
Q. Does the company have a training and development plan that links directly to achieving business plan aims and objectives?
Q. Can people consistently explain the aims and objectives of the organisation at a level appropriate to their role?
Q. Are representative groups consulted about the organisation's aims and objectives?
Q. Does the organisation have clear priorities which link the development of people to its aims and objectives at organisation, team, and individual level?
Q. Do people clearly understand what their development activities should achieve, both for them and the organisation?
Q. Do people understand how they contribute to achieving the organisation's aims and objectives?
Q. Can people explain how they contribute to achieving the organisation's aims and objectives?

Index 3: Action
An Investor in People develops its people effectively in order to improve
its performance.


Q. Are managers effective in supporting the development of people?
Q. Does the company make sure that managers have the knowledge and skills they need to develop their people?
Q. Do managers at all levels understand what they need to do to support the development of people?
Q. Do people understand what their manager should be doing to support their development?
Q. Can managers at all levels give examples of actions that they have taken and are currently taking to support the development of people?
Q. Can people describe how their managers are effective in supporting their development?
Q. Can people who are new to the organisation, and those new to a job, confirm that they have received an effective induction?
Q. Do people understand why they have undertaken development activities and what they are expected to do as a result?
Q. Can people give examples of what they have learnt (knowledge, skills and attitude) from development activities?
Q. Is training and development linked to relevant external qualifications or standards (or both), where appropriate? (SAQA-South African Qualifications Authority levels, sector unit standards, roles, and competencies, registered and quality controlled courses and learnerships).

Index 4: Evaluation
An Investor in People understands the impact of its investment in people on
its performance


Q. Can the organisation show that the development of people has improved the performance of the organisation, teams, and individuals?
Q. Do people understand the impact of the development of people on the performance of the organisation, teams, and individuals?
Q. Does top management understands the overall costs and benefits of the development of people and its impact on performance?
Q. Can people explain the impact of their development on their performance, and the performance of their team and the organisation as a whole?
Q. Can people give examples of relevant and timely improvements that have been made to development activities?


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Gary Watkins

Gary Watkins

Managing Director


C: +27 (0)82 416 7712

T: +27 (0)10 035 4185 (Office)

F: +27 (0)86 689 7862

Website: www.workinfo.com
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