by Debbie Lieberthal, Umkhonto Labour Holdings

Keeping a competitive edge

Grow your bottom line through skills development

To remain competitive, increasing your skills development arena could be paramount to long term success

While all agricultural-related employers want and need experienced, accountable, competent and engaged employees who display a strong work ethic; the reality is that many organisations are facing the dilemma of workforces severely lacking in (often basic) workplace skills.

Regardless of the company or sector, its competitive edge is derived from skilled employees who are customer centric, passionate about quality, creative, innovative and apply their knowledge and skills.

Due to this, employee talent is becoming increasingly important in the face of globalisation, economic and political pressures, changes in technology and other external pressures on organisations. Improving employee skills creates agile employees who work smarter and more efficiently, resulting in increases in output, profitability and growth.

According to the Statistics SA labour force survey for the first quarter of 2012, the number of unemployed people increased by a shocking 282 000, reaching 4.5 million and accounting for 25.3% of the population. The recent Adcorp employment index also highlights that permanent employment has fallen from 11 million to 9.1 million since 2000.

This is due to many South African companies realising that outsourcing highly skilled individuals has become the answer for many businesses as it offers simple, effective and ‘real world’ human capital solutions – which is essential in achieving business results.

It is clear that South African companies have become leaner, more efficient and have realised that skilled employees create value.

And if they don’t, agricultural related employers need to figure out what they can do to contribute more directly to skills development in their organisations to ensure success. In turn, once employees realise that high-quality work is crucial to both business success and their own job security, they are likely to become more conscientious.

They will understand what is expected from them and how they fit into the bigger picture as well as recognising how to orchestrate their knowledge, skills and attitude to meeting business challenges.

So why do so many agricultural related employers still not utilise skills development as a strategic business imperative to grow their business?

During the past few years, the agricultural sector has witnessed a decline in sector employment which is largely linked to a reduction in the sector, and has been characterised by the need for highly skilled and qualified farm managers and technical staff on the one hand, and large numbers of unskilled and semi-skilled workers on the other.

Many managers of emerging farms are mainly untrained and unqualified – which can only lead to disaster.

It is the role of the Department of Labour (DoL) and NEDLAC, with their employer and organised labour stakeholders, to find ways of balancing the need for protection of vulnerable workers by creating a framework that encourages the creation of jobs and improved job security. While the DoL and NEDLAC are focusing on training the unskilled workers, no thought has been given to middle and top management.

This dilemma is being echoed by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform where they still need to identify the real challenges – retention of skills, skills transfer and skills development during the transfer of land, as well as retaining national food production to avoid loss of production so they can mitigate to meet the 2025 target.

By achieving the target, not only will both employees and employers benefit from skill development, but also society, as higher
productivity will contribute to the overall tax base of our country.

This will enable more investment in our infrastructure, which will fuel more growth. It is imperative to ensure that skills development and knowledge creation occurs in such a way as to improve the sector’s
viability and allow companies and enterprises to become more sustainable, profitable, improve productivity, competitiveness and innovation.

An organisation can only benefit from any skills development initiative if they:

• Have a clear vision, mission, as well as short-, medium- and long-term strategic plans and objectives that direct their efforts in meeting business challenges and exploiting their benefits;

• Understand what competencies employees must have. They must continuously ensure that employee
competencies are evaluated, updated, aligned and developed; and

• Create an enabling environment that
deals with skills development as an on-going priority.

While the DoL, NEDLAC, the Department of Rural and Land Reform and the Agricultural SETA are talking the talk, it seems the only way to resolve this dilemma is to outsource the key skills until the sector is sustainable.



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Issue 45


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