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Trainers need better training to beat SA’s skills crisis

…the millions SA’s companies and public sector pay on upgrading skills each year are only as good as the skills of their trainers

South Africa used to have the world’s greatest facilitators – Cyril Ramaphosa and Roelf Meyer astonished the world by negotiating an end to the four decade old misery of apartheid.

There was a clamour for South Africa’s facilitation skills, Meyer helped facilitate peace talks in Northern Ireland, Israel and Sri Lanka. Fink Haysom, presidential legal adviser to Nelson Mandela has used his skills as a facilitator globally, so has Brian Currin, founder of Lawyers for Human Rights. However, that skill in steering South Africans away from dangerous political outcomes has not necessarily translated into effective facilitation in the workplace, there have been damaging strikes that have dragged on and although skills trainers abound really great trainers, presenters, lecturers and facilitators are in short supply.

Liza van Wyk, CEO of Astro Tech a major Johannesburg based skills training organisation said, “The need for excellence in skills training is desperate. We receive dozens of applications from people who claim they have the ability to train, but very often it is clear from their resumes that they have scant experience and little or no ability to impart knowledge. The trainers we have are the cream of the crop; they are academics, executives, business owners and others with strong experience and presentation skills. There is little point providing theory only, the world is moving too fast, business needs practical skills from its staff now.”

She pointed to 2004, StatsSA records that showed there were 60 000 unemployed graduates, just two years later in 2006, that figure had leapt to 200 000 graduates without work. Sello Mokoena writing in a recent edition of Mail and Guardian expressed the frustration of many, “employers lament the skills and knowledge level of graduates in all faculties where extensive and costly retraining has to be done to make new recruits skills relevant. In the private sector a business will close down if its product does not sell, but not so in higher education.”

Every major organisation in the public and the private sector in South Africa have major training departments where they use internal trainers but also contract out to blue-chip training companies like Astro Tech to complement or boost training needs. There has been no research into how much is spent on training in South Africa but it is believed to cost employers billions of rand each year.

“What we are increasingly finding from trainers within companies and government is that they very quickly reach burnout and exhaustion. They may become demotivated, find it difficult to keep being innovative and patient in training – in other words, they need a recharge in terms of energy and new tools to help them cope better and facilitate more effectively. Astro Tech has drawn on the collective wisdom of those who facilitate our more than 60 courses and some of the learned wisdom from the world’s greatest teachers and thinkers to host a Train the Trainers course in October to try and help meet some of the challenges our clients say they are facing.”
Some of the tips Astro Tech facilitators give for more effective training include Christa Loots advice that, “a facilitator matches the right problem solving tool, group and process to the relevant issue to ensure success. Facilitation is like boxing, you can never predict 100% what will happen in the fight, but good preparation reduces the odds.”

Information technology facilitator for Astro Tech, Delton Sylvester counsels that, “Humour is always a good element to add to a course.” He says too, that, “if you want participants to grasp a theoretical concept, illustrate it with a practical example. Form exercises (group or individual) that allow participants to apply the knowledge they have gained in the course.”

Astro Tech facilitator, Philip de Kock gives these brief steps for facilitation success:

· Acknowledge the people: Have proper introductions and allow for rituals that do not offend.
· Acknowledge the process: State purpose, outline agenda and allow its adoption.
· Raise issues: Enable the group to raise issues in a non-judgmental fashion. Allow questions for clarification. Use appropriate facilitation techniques including brainstorming, SWOT Analysis or Projective Techniques.
· Discussion and dialogue: Allow group to express their opinions and concerns about issues. The core skill of the facilitator is to protect the person making input without taking sides.
· Priorities: Use ranking techniques to determine the priorities that should be addressed in the workshop.
· Brainstorm solutions: Identify root causes and know they might have to be referred for analysis. If sufficient information is available, brainstorm potential solutions.
· Joint implementation: Decide first steps for implementing solutions and if necessary refer them for more indepth analysis. Decide on joint implementation and monitoring structures.
· Closure: Create psychological closure. Acknowledge the people. Allow expression of how they experienced the process. Show progress. Decide on next steps.

* Astro Tech 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, people skills, information technology and project management. Each year close to 3 000 people take part in more than 60 courses in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. Many more receive specialist in-house training.

LIZA VAN WYK, CEO AstroTech   011 453 5291 cell: 082 466 8975 or
Issued by MediaOnLine  011-646 7637