The skills shortage is a major handbrake on business growth, but companies are realising that the best way to counter it is to take responsibility for training and skills development.
The revised B-BBEE codes announced by government last year have made skills development one of the areas that South African companies must focus on, if they wish to remain compliant.
In effect, the revised codes amount to official acknowledgement of a policy that many companies have already recognised as vital to long-term sustainability and expansion.
Shortage of skills is perhaps the most important factor holding back growth countrywide, and the most effective solution is for companies themselves to invest in training and skills development directly. South African road-freight giant Cargo Carriers serves as an instructive case study in this area.
“After rising fuel costs, the shortage of skills is the major challenge faced by road-freight service providers,” says Andre Jansen van Vuuren, Divisional Marketing Director of Cargo Carriers.
“That’s why Cargo Carriers is really enforcing training and skills development. Cargo Carriers have been proactively engaged with the problem for several years. With the demise of the apprenticeship system, they have had little choice.
“Of all the problems our industry is facing, the skills deficit has been identified as a major issue, from a technical as well as a managerial perspective,” van Vuuren adds. “The shortage of technical skills affects general operational efficiency – our aim is to train technicians to a level that increases productivity and SHEQ (Safety, Health, Environment and Quality) standards. In the management area, it’s a business-sustainability issue. It’s about managing a growing business, bringing people up from base-level so they really understand the culture of the company. It’s about producing managers with Cargo Carriers in their blood.”
The policy is already bearing fruit. In 2012, the first management trainee (enrolled in 2010) completed her training, and was placed within the group. “We’ve also had our first group of five diesel mechanic apprentices come through the training programme,” says van Vuuren. “Two of them have successfully passed their exams, and are now qualified diesel mechanics.
Diesel mechanics – technical personnel in general – are a major issue for us. There is most certainly a shortage of qualified diesel mechanics and when you do find them, they come at a very high cost. So the apprenticeships that we are funding can only prove fruitful for us in the future.” The company applies the same principle to management training. “We currently employ eight trainee managers,” continues van Vuuren. “They all have a tertiary education, whether it’s a transport diploma or even a degree in logistics or supply chain. These trainee managers undergo training in every aspect of the business: marketing and sales, operations, technical, admin and finance.
The third programme is a 24-month audit learnership programme in conjunction with the Institute of Internal Auditors, to offer employees the relevant training within the internal audit and risk function.
As Cargo Carriers, among other large companies, is proving, it is futile for companies to sit back and wait for the education system to produce the required skills on their own – the backlog is simply too great.
A proactive approach to skills development in every area of company activity is required. As van Vuuren puts it, “The reality is that if you want to attract and retain skilled personnel, you have to ensure that the correct programmes are in place. You’re in effect responsible for training your own skills.”