If work is a human right, how can it feel so wrong!
Part 2: The new world of work requires a new career development approach
By Lorraine Silverman of Training & Development Options who can be contacted at
This article offers an approach to resolving the dilemma raised in part 1 of the article titled, "If Work Is A Human Right How Can It Feel So Wrong?" [made new paragraph here]
A new set of values is emerging in the changing global economy. Developed and developing countries alike are caught up in the shift from Industrial to Information Era. Job security is becoming increasingly a characteristic of a bygone era. It is now as important for individuals to be proactive in ensuring their survival at work as it is for organisations to manage change strategically to survive in the new economy.
For decades the focus has been on strategic interventions covering all organisational functions - separately and holistically. Relatively little in the way of tools and techniques has been given to the individual to manage the personal impact of the changing workplace.
Conventional career management does not assist individuals in taking responsibility for managing their own careers. This involves making the transition to a knowledge-based economy in which they must view work and employment much more broadly. Conventional career management prepares people for a workplace and work relationships that are fast being replaced.
In the interests of a thriving society, organisations need to support the people they currently employ to assist them in making this transition. [Deleted a bunch of words here] It is poor timing to put people onto career development programmes once they have been identified as the next candidates for retrenchment or restructuring programmes. It is good practice for organisations to provide their staff with a transformational career management experience so that they, too, can manage the changes in the work environment strategically.
2. Traditional career planning is just that - traditional.
As a practical solution for individual employees faced with alarming levels of insecurity at work, traditional career planning is of little use. This can be attributed not only to the rapid rate of change in technology, economy and society, but also to the fact that the old rules of employment no longer operate in an uncertain labour market.
Perhaps we South Africans can take solace in the fact that the loss of jobs is a global phenomenon - one that presents difficulty even for developed world economies. Once we understand why this is so, it may be easier for us to accept the inevitability of the changes that ring in the new world of work. Once we accept the new picture, we may feel more empowered to manage career paths differently as we explore a variety of ways of offering our services to our existing and / prospective employers.
3. Understanding what has happened
It is important to understand that job losses are not due to the callousness of governments or organisations that don't care about the human casualties of transformation. We need to recognise that this is an inevitable response to the emerging economic needs of the Knowledge Era.
In South Africa, many people are almost as numbed by the constant reference in the media to the latest job losses as they are to the latest crime and AIDS statistics. The trends in terms of job loss and a shift to new ways of conceiving work is not much different from the rest of the world. The differences in the impact of AIDS in the workplace and the already high unemployment rate don't alter the global trend towards de-jobbing. They do, however, add additional layers of complexity as we find our own solution to employment and job creation.
The National Skills Development Strategy (NSDS) goes some way to finding this solution. The slogans of this joint initiative between the Department of Labour (DoL) and the Department of Education (DoE) are "Productive citizenship for all," and "Vhutsila" - a Venda word which refers to the art of doing something well. The foundation of productive citizenship and performance improvement is skills development.
The structures, policies and procedures of the NSDS are aimed at assisting all South African citizens to learn and improve their skills in order to enhance their employability. National legislation - the Employment Equity Act, Skills Development Act and Skills Levy Act - ensures that employers carry a great share of the responsibility for development of individuals in the workplace. [Heading # 4 was written here as a half sentence. I've moved it down.]
4. Working in the spirit of the National Skills Development Strategy
The vision that beckons the spirit in the South African skills development strategy is that of a nation of lifelong learners, where economically active (or potentially active) people have the opportunity to access career-relevant education and training. For those who feel the spirit, the legislation supporting skills development is a vehicle to accomplish the vision. For those who don't, it is merely a matter of compliance.
Working with the vision in mind requires a commitment. Employers, government agencies and individuals all have their parts to play in nurturing accountability in implementing and applying the legislation and guidelines. If we all play our parts, ideally the picture would look rosier:
>> The Skills Levy becomes more than a compulsory payment.
>> The Skills Development Facilitator is crucial to individual, organisational and, ultimately, national growth.
>> The Workplace Skills Plan is a route map to negotiate the changing terrain of an enterprise responding to external demands, a map that takes into account the career development needs of the individual.
>> The Sector Skills Plans provide cohesion and indicate direction.
>> The Department of Labour and the Department of Education dovetail their respective areas of expertise in bringing Education and Training closer so that learning outcomes in educational institutions are aligned with knowledge, skills and values required in the workplace.
>> Skills Programmes and Learnerships develop a more employable workforce and enhance nation-building initiatives.
>> Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) encourages those with extensive workplace experience to receive appropriate credits towards registered qualifications.
>> The Employment Equity Act and Affirmative Action policies succeed in allowing people access to positions where they have the skills to do the work
>> It is feasible to move up from previously rigid categories of "unskilled", "semi-skilled", "artisan", "management" and "professional"
>> The South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs), the Standards Generating Bodies (SGBs) ensure that education and training providers deliver world class and industry relevant programmes
What's missing from the picture?
It is not sufficient merely to develop work-relevant skills. Unless people know what opportunities are open to them, they cannot make informed career decisions. Consistent with the spirit of the National Skills Development Strategy are the Career Development implications. These include the need for:
>> Effective and relevant career development workshops,
>> Career counselling,
>> Individual mentoring and coaching at various levels within the organisation.
The latter two are accommodated in many organisations. It is the first - the need for career development workshops - that is virtually unheard of, except in the case of "les miserables" who have been targeted in a downsizing exercise. When one's survival is threatened is not a great time to be sent on a career development workshop. Emotions need to be on a more even keel than this before the boats are set free on the sea of change, where the onus is now on individuals to chart their course.
Career development workshops need to prepare people for an entirely new type of workplace. The demand is now for multi-skilled people who are able to work in less secure employment relationships as organisations rationalise formal jobs. The trend is towards alternative forms of work and employment practices and contracts.
Those entering the workplace are equally challenged in finding a means of earning a living, given the scarcity of proactive career counselling programmes for school leavers and students at tertiary institutions.
For people to thrive in a world of work where there is little chance of secure employment, the individual, the organisation and education and training providers need to change their clinging ways:
>> Individuals should stop clinging to the fantasy of externally bestowed job security and focus instead on creating their own security by developing employability and learning how to express and market this.
>> Employers need to stop clinging to the fantasy of employee loyalty or the power of the golden handcuffs. Instead they need to provide employees at all levels of the organisation with survival skills so that they don't drown should a state of emergency arise in the form of restructuring and downsizing.
>> Further Education and Higher Education institutions should stop clinging to the need to market products and services that play to the myth that a qualification provides an employment opportunity. They should emphasise to their learners that it is not the qualification, but what the learner does while qualifying, that stabilises the boats in which they will chart their career courses.
>> These institutions need to foster a far more creative career development focus that encourages wider and more daring exploration of career options for individuals on their courses. Before the individuals can dare to do, they must be guided to discover what they have to offer in the way of workplace skills and employability within their field of study.
>> Organisations embarking on [removed the words "learnerships and" here] short-term contracts for the unemployed should let go of the notion that experience alone will lead to employment. Individuals participating on these programmes need to learn how to navigate the labour market and become strategic about how they create their own employment.
5. What can an individual do to enhance employability?
>> Take stock of themselves, the skills and talents they have to offer, skills they would like to develop, their life's purpose.
>> Identify fields and occupations in which they would really enjoy working.
>> Communicate their career goals and their needs.
>> Commit to Lifelong Learning, and continuous retraining and multi-skilling.
>> Establish networks and career focused support groups.
>> Master the art of being well informed so as to be alert to trends that reveal opportunities to work meaningfully.
>> Develop flexibility to do two or three jobs at a time.
>> Develop resilience, creativity and openness to learning through mistakes or failure.
>> Find new ways of viewing work and life.
>> Set broad and specific goals and develop practical action plans to reach them.
>> Take responsibility for their careers directions and be accountable when things don't go the way they want them to.
6. The Work SharpT programme as a progressive career management intervention
Work SharpT helps individuals to master the 11 competencies listed above. The programme promotes an experiential approach to creative career development. Participants take part in highly interactive exercises to explore valuable aspects of themselves and re-discover qualities that their school and their jobs may not have acknowledged. These may be their most valuable assets in the workplace in future.
The creative approach to career management helps people to:
>> Discover talents and skills they were previously unaware of.
>> Establish where they want to apply their skills.
>> Determine ways to find the work they really want to do.
>> Enhance self-esteem to support them in job search and job creation activities.
>> Express who they are by linking their work with their purpose in life.
>> Set goals and take responsibility for their own career growth.
>> Create a personal identity to promote themselves effectively.
>> Communicate their uniqueness to prospective managers, employers and clients.
>> Demystify the job market and develop an optimistic outlook, in knowing that most jobs are never advertised, and that new jobs are created every day.
>> Learn the skill of personal Life/work Management.
There are two aspects to the programme:
A. The Work SharpT Workshop - 20 contact hours of workshop sessions on creative job search and career planning. This takes participants on a journey of personal exploration of the 5 facets that should most strongly influence career / job choice. They work collaboratively on a five-faceted strategy to develop an active career management plan.
B. The Work SharpT networking group develops out of the workshop as a voluntary activity. It is one thing to develop a Life/work plan, but quite another to sustain the motivation to implement it. The informal networking group provides ongoing support for workshop participants to continue collaborating and helping each other achieve their career goals. These groups can be formalised should organisations sponsor facilities and the training of an in-house facilitator / coach.
An optional further follow-up is the establishment of an in-house "job club" run in collaboration with the Human Resources Department to facilitate continuous career management.
In the interests of training a wider group of staff, HR consultants within the organisation may identify individuals to be trained as Work Sharp T facilitators and trainers.
There are no short cuts to managing the impact that the new economy is having on employment. All parties - individuals, educational institutions, community based organisations, employers and government departments would do well to recognise that the pain being experienced is related to the need for change. We all need to take the opportunity that these changes offer to align ourselves more strategically with emerging employment practices for the 21st Century.