All organisations are compelled by legislation to provide training to their employees, but this is often more difficult than it may seem because of business pressures, a tight economic situation and the cost of the training.
Part of the problem facing small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is that the government institutions intended to support training -- the sector education and training authorities (Setas) -- are failing to provide the necessary support.
The amount of red tape involved in using the systems the Setas have put in place is so onerous that most SMEs cannot take advantage of them, says Astrotech chief executive Liza van Wyk.
“This is contrary to the intent of the Setas, which are supposed to use the skills levies that are paid by all companies to promote training, but actually have the opposite effect,” she says.
The trend within SMEs is to pay for the training in full rather than going through the Setas, she says. “The irony is that large companies with effective human resources and training departments are ideally positioned to comply with the requirements of the Setas. They therefore are getting the benefits from their contributions to the skills levy.
SMEs that are also contributing, and need the benefits of training more than large companies, are not. This effectively creates a situation where SMEs are effectively part-subsidising the training budgets of large corporates,” she says.
Van Wyk says that she is not aware of efforts to reform the system, but that much of the focus of late has been around government subsidies for the retraining of retrenched employees.
“This has not been as successful as anticipated as people are choosing the take the full retrenchment package rather than diverting a portion of that to retraining.”
She identifies two key issues that face SMEs when it comes to training.
The first is the financial implications of sending staff on training.
She says that for small companies trying to survive in difficult economic times the cost of training can appear to be punitive and it is therefore put on to the back burner until the economy improves.
The second is the time that employees need to spend away from a company while they are on a course.
Van Wyk says that often start-ups and new companies that employ few staff need to focus on keeping the company running and do not have the spare capacity that allows them to have people away from their desks.
But this changes when a company moves above a threshold and there is more than one person looking after a specific function.
One area that SMEs need to focus on is the ability of training to benefit a company by allowing an existing employee to take on the responsibility for a task that was previously outsourced. Then it makes commercial sense to pay for the training.
An area of training that is seeing an increase is debt collection. As companies’ bad debts accumulate, the need for effective collection of revenues becomes more pertinent.
Van Wyk says that there are companies that are using the slowdown to send people on additional training so that they are prepared for a
rebound in the economy.
But, on the whole, SMEs are more likely to move surplus capacity into sales and collections than to broaden their skill base.
- Look at your company’s strategy. If you understand what you aim to achieve in the long term then you can look at what skills are lacking. While the temptation may be to buy in the skills that are needed, companies should look at the benefits of expanding the skill sets of existing employees.
- Conduct a classical SWAT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunites, threats) analysis on the company. This will give you a clearer idea of what your training needs will be. A downturn can be an opportunity to take a closer look at the various aspects of a business and through that understand what areas of training will help reinforce the strengths, shore up the weaknesses and fend off the threats faced by the company.
- Use your existing human resources processes. All companies should be conducting performance reviews on their employees. Through this process it should be possible to identify the areas that need to be addressed. Because this is a process that is under way in any case, the additional work required to identify what training is needed by each employee is minimal.
- Think about the future. Although many companies may be in survival mode right now, the time is right for organisations to start preparing for the future. If you are looking to broaden your reach either by extending your product range or moving into new markets you need to make sure you have people who are skilled to handle the additional responsibility. Remember that working on a national or international level is very different from running a local business and you need to be sure that your employees are up to it. Training can prepare them to take the company to the next level.
- Speak to your Seta. Although you may find that the Seta’s requirements to qualify for training rebates may be too onerous, that doesn’t mean that they are not useful. By keeping in contact with the relevant Seta it is possible to find out about new training opportunities and how the market is changing.
Training too tangled up in red tape - Mail & Guardian Online