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Skills Development Challenges

AstroTech Client Function Speech – 14 September 2007
Liza van Wyk, AstroTech

Good morning everybody. I’d like to thank you all for joining us so early for our Spring Booster Breakfast.

According to research conducted by the World Bank’s Investment Climate Survey, South Africa only trains 44.6% of skilled workers. This is compared to 77.3% of skilled workers receiving training in Brazil and 78.9% in Poland. So what does this mean for us as a country?

It means that although we are in a high economic growth phase at present, it cannot be sustained unless we rapidly and perpetually keep training and retraining our staff. China and India are growing extremely fast, both have populations greater than one billion each. Their citizens earn far less than South Africans and they work far longer hours.  If we are to be competitive we have two choices, either we need to be prepared to earn a lot less than we earn now OR we need to dramatically increase our skills training so as to remain a globally competitive economy.  Since neither companies nor individuals want to earn less, our only real choice is for us to up skill ourselves, and that is exactly what companies are in fact doing.

We have seen a substantial growth in the demand for training. We are running approximately 3 times the number of in-house programs than we were running this time last year. Our public courses have also grown substantially with numbers up by approximately 25%.

In March of this year we launched a new training company, BizTech. AstroTech courses are aimed at management and professionals while the purpose of creating BizTech was to fill the apparent gap in the much needed administrative and business support area. We are currently at almost 6 months to the day since we ran our first BizTech course and we are very happy to be able to report that BizTech has been a tremendous success. In the last 6 months throughout the country:

We have developed 22 entirely new course types which BizTech offers

We have run 37 BizTech courses in the last 6 months

We have trained just under a thousand people

But as a company it’s not all just about the numbers for us. It’s about delivering top quality training that really has an impact on both businesses and individuals. It’s about creating relationships with our clients, where you know we can be trusted to deliver on our promises and where we truly listen to your needs when providing solutions.

A few weeks back, we received a photograph from a client of ours and in the photograph was a picture of a brand new shiny, silver Porsche with a big red bow on the top of it. Alongside the Porsche, there was a guy standing and the guy had a really, really big smile on his face. Contrary to what you might automatically think, No, this was not the proud new owner of the Porsche. So who was the smiley guy and why did our client send us a photo of him? The person in the photo was in fact Saul Marks, a sales executive from Porsche Centre South Africa who had just sold the car, and the reason that it was a special occasion worthy of big smiles and photographs, was that this was Saul’s very first sale of a Porsche. We received the photograph from David McCann from the training department of Porsche Centre South Africa, who wanted to share the good news with us since Saul had recently attended one of our newly introduced training programmes called “Bridging the Gap: From Technical Person to Sales Person”.

We always appreciate receiving feedback like this from our clients, who share their successes with us. It confirms to us that our courses are relevant, they are practical and most importantly they are making a difference in the success of both the individuals who attend and their companies.

AstroTech has once again received a lot of positive publicity and media attention in the last few months. We have been approached by the media more & more for comment on current issues such as skills development. Some of our exposure includes featuring on Kaya FM News, interviews regarding Skills Shortages facing the country on SAFM as well as various interviews from Lotus FM and Jacaranda. In terms of print, to mention just a few, we have appeared in the Star, the Business Day, the Sowetan and most notably the front pages of the careers section of both the Sunday Times and the Beeld discussing the role of training in South Africa. Our biggest highlight, however, was being invited for an hour long TV interview in August with SABC Africa’s African Views, to discuss capacity building in Africa and the role that training has to play in this important topic. As our reputation as a credible and effective training provider continues to grow, we are being trusted more and more by the media to comment truthfully and accurately on issues relating to skills development.

In terms of research on skills development conducted by the University of Cape Town, studies show that in the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan area there are numerous sectors that complain they cannot find enough skilled staff. IT, construction and tourism are just a few of the sectors. Construction, which according to the Department of Finance is the strongest-growing sector of the economy, growing at an annual average rate of 12,1 % over the past three years, compared to only 2,8 % in the preceding decade could barely meet half of its skills needs. This holds serious ramifications for the massive amount of construction on the cards for the next few years.

In terms of a different issue, in 1994 it was predicted that South Africa would need 235 000 managers across all sectors by the year 2000 – but that was at a growth rate of one to two percent, with existing economic growth of above 4% the economy is finding it difficult to grow good managers fast enough.

This creates a huge challenge for all of us involved in training in the country. The fact that so many of you have joined us this morning, shows that there is tremendous interest in training and that there are many companies out there who are doing their best to improve skills in the country. While we are faced with a challenge we also have a tremendous opportunity. It is widely agreed that the outlook for South Africa has never looked brighter and to quote Dr Seuss “Will we succeed? Yes, we will indeed, 98¾ % guaranteed!”

I’d like to finish off by thanking you once again for joining us this morning and also thanking you for all the support that you have given us throughout the year. We look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure excellence in South Africa’s workplace. I’d now like to hand over to Bev Riemer who is going to be talking to us about “Raising your game”. Thank you.