19 July 2007
Despite South Africa’s serious skills shortages and high unemployment, the country is still among the lowest ranks of those training workers to improve performance.
And some of the management decisions taken – like appointing the best engineer to a management post are often poorly thought through and can see a company lose the benefits of a great engineer and create a bad manager.
The challenges are significant; despite a strong economy with rapid growth not enough jobs have been created to serve as a serious dent in 40% unemployment (Iraq at 60% unemployment is one of the few countries with worse statistics).
Recently the Department of Home Affairs announced 34 825 work permits for skilled foreigners in 53 job categories ranging from agricultural economists to civil engineers, bioengineers, mechatronics and autotronics technicians to welders.
With massive infrastructural development ahead of the 2010 Soccer World Cup, economists say more strains will show.
Yet research by the World Bank’s Investment Climate Survey shows that South Africa trains only 44,6% of skilled workers, compared to 77,3% of skilled workers receiving ongoing training in Brazil, 69,1% in China, 55% in India and 78,9% in Poland.
It found too that individuals who receive additional training are valued more by companies, they tend to earn a third more than those who do not receive training.
It also found that only a quarter of small and medium businesses put staff through additional training, this has serious implications because according to the Department of Finance, half of new small businesses are service providers and account for more than 70 % of total employment. It has said that service industries account for almost all employment growth and reflect the most consistent positive performance.
What does this lack of properly trained staff mean? Research by the University of Cape Town notes that in the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan area sectors that complain they cannot find enough skilled staff include furniture (57% of firms surveyed), clothing (40%), food and beverages (35.7%), information technology (43%), tourism (42%) and retail 21%. Construction, which according to the Department of Finance is the strongest-growing sector of the economy at an annual average rate of 12,1 % over the past three years (2004-2006), compared to only 2,8 % in the preceding decade (1994-2003) could barely meet half of its skills needs (45%), which holds serious ramifications for the massive amount of construction on the cards for the next few years.
Corporate and public sector executives trying to meet the shortage of managers, sometimes take from one area and devalue it, to try and prop up another.
Beatrice Attrill who helps facilitate Johannesburg training organisation, AstroTech’s new and very popular, Specialist or Technical Person to Manager course says some “specialists are shoved into management and hate it. Some of the key problems from group input on the course are that many find it enormously difficult to let go of their specialist area and to delegate and trust other people.”
Nic Gildenhuys who helps facilitate the same course says, “the biggest potential problem is that you now have mediocrity in both jobs. If the person was an engineer, as an example, and is passionate about engineering, he will continue to try and do engineering work and be a poor manager eternally interfering in the work of others. The company will have lost the skills of a good engineer and now have a bad engineer and bad manager.”
He observes, “A manager’s job is to get things done through people, they need to know how to interface and communicate.” An alternative, “is to have a manager with less technical knowledge. You don’t always need an engineer to head an engineering division, you need someone to motivate people and smooth their way so they can do what they do best, a person with some knowledge and respect for the specialization. The manager does budgeting and administration and leaves the specialists to do what they enjoy most.”
Attrill says she helps specialists or technical experts appointed to management posts, “to explore how they can take advantage of their specialist knowledge and expertise and use that to transfer knowledge. I get them into groups to look at issues around accountability and responsibility. I suggest the advantages of delegation especially to some in a team who may feel bored and demotivated and will enjoy increased responsibility.”
Attrill says many specialists are “intellectually exceptionally astute but often have very narrow outlooks on life and dealing with people. IT people are among the most aloof, they don’t want to emerge from their oyster. For bosses to appoint such people as managers can be problematic if the expert continues to operate from the frame of reference that they are the solution and provider of everything, they then battle to work with a team of people until they acknowledge the wealth of expertise around them.”
She says that in the past many companies allowed no other career path, if you wanted to earn more and were a specialist, you had to become a manger. “But increasingly companies are acknowledging that it may be better to keep experts on their path and to reward them as well or better than managers. If an expert is unhappy as a manager, the danger for companies is that they will lose those experts who go off to become consultants or project managers so they can maintain fairly independent lifestyles.”
Liza van Wyk, CEO of AstroTech, who was herself an engineer before she began her successful organisation just under a decade ago says, “we began designing this course when we realised the South African economy was grappling with huge challenges in how to skill people. What many forget is that there is definite skill in meeting appropriate employment, appointment and training needs. Management rule books have for the most part been thrown out in recent years. Management is possibly in the most revolutionary set of changes in history. It’s hard to keep up with new trends anywhere in the world and a lack of adequately skilled staff is a global phenomenon. What is also important is to know how best to keep talented individuals within a firm. We keep changing our courses to keep up with trends, but also as a way to guide business and the public sector into meeting the needs of the workforce and the economy in very challenging and exciting times.”
* AstroTech is a major South African training organisation based in Johannesburg. It targets executives and managers in the public and private sector for training in management, labour relations and labour law, information technology, project management and human resources. Each year close to 3 000 people take part in a range of more than 60 courses in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town with many more receiving specialist in-house training.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
LIZA VAN WYK, CEO AstroTech 011 453 5291 or
Issued by MediaOnLine