Friday 19 April 2013

Training is not regulated enough (not!)

Take a look at these excerpts from a White Paper on Training  that is scheduled to be published later this month:
"The last three decades have witnessed a raft of government policy initiatives grounded in muddled objectives. This will continue unless we address some fundamental questions about the underlying purpose of such interventions, and proceed from a realistic understanding of the place of skills training in organisations. More of the same will not do. There is an urgent need for new thinking and new approaches grounded in an honest understanding of the nature of the problems we are facing and recognition of the limitations of many of the solutions that have been offered to date."(*1)
Which South African researcher do you think this is from? What about this:
"The national skills debate is complex and nuanced. It is difficult for training professionals to step back and gain a clear overall view of current policy direction; it is hard enough simply to keep track of the bewildering number of policy initiatives that appear and disappear. This situation is not helped by the continual over-promotion of the latest initiative by government..."(*2)
But is it in fact a South African paper? Read the next excerpt:
"Undoubtedly the politically explosive issue within the VET [Vocational Education and Training] debate is youth unemployment – in particular what has become known as the growing number of NEETs (16- to 24-year-olds currently not in employment, education or training)... in the third quarter of 2011, the number of young people who were outside employment, education or training in England reached over a million [1,163,000](*3)  (emphasis added)
So this is a White Paper on the state of training in the United Kingdom, not South Africa.

You know this firstly because of the reference to "England", and secondly because of the fact that we have a lot more than one million youth who are Not in Employment Education or Training (NEETs). The Green Paper(*4) put the figure at 2,8 million youth, but that was quoting a 2007 figure before we felt the economic impact of the 2007 financial crisis.

I deliberately wanted you to read it at first without knowing it was a non-South African paper. It is a paper by Prof Martyn Sloman who is currently visiting South Africa to understand our education and training landscape. I have been assisting Martyn set up interviews with people in government and the private sector who can describe to him the South African experience.

In being interviewed by Martyn however, I was struck at how similar many of the challenges the UK is facing are similar to our own. I realised that as South Africans we are often very self-critical, thinking that our problems are unique to this country. This injects an unhelpful negativity into our dialogue and attempts to find solutions.

But the above three excerpts (and there are many more examples of the same phenomena) show that other countries are struggling with many of the same issues that we are - even first world countries - and even a paradise for foreign investment like the UK.

It is sometimes said that a problem shared, is a problem halved. On some levels, the problems we face in South Africa are being faced all around the world. This means there is more help available than we think.

As we try to improve our education and training system we could look around the world to see what solutions other people may have developed for the problems we are now facing. We could avoid wasting energy "re-inventing the wheel". And we could be less harsh on ourselves.

The HRD Council is in fact taking this approach, and so is the Dept of Higher Education and Training (DHET). We currently have INAP, as well as specialists in education and training from at least the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland working on several projects with DHET in South Africa.

One last point I want to mention about Prof Sloman's visit: he is keenly aware that one of the biggest skills policy problems in the UK is the lack of government regulation.

So we have a UK researcher visiting South Africa to find out how better the UK could regulate their skills development system. Pause for thought for those who are frustrated by the amount of regulation in South Africa..

Martyn will be publishing an early article based on the findings of his South African research on the SABPP and North West University websites. We will link to it here once it is available.

I end this post with the summary of the scope and purpose of Martyn's South African research so that you can see exactly what he is up to here:
"One of the major challenges facing governments throughout the world concerns the formulation and implementation of effective policies for enhanced workplace skills. The key questions are: How can the skills needed to produce higher value goods and services be developed at the corporate level? How can the ‘economically valuable’ skills that underpin growth be developed at a national level?
Skills policy is a challenging and controversial area, not least because policies are articulated at a macro-economic level but are intended to influence behaviour at the micro-level. If organisations under-train how can their behaviour be made systematically different?
Although statements of intention and ambition are remarkably similar throughout the world, there can be considerable differences in the policy instruments that are used. Such differences are at their starkest in a comparison of South Africa and the UK. The former country has adopted an interventionist approach reflecting the government’s wider social objectives; SETAs have been established and a grant and levy system implemented. In contrast, the UK has a stated policy of non-intervention and is trying to proceed with pilot projects to transfer ownership of the skills agenda to employers.
It is therefore timely to review the range and nature of the categories of intervention in the skills policy domain. What are the best structures and best incentives to develop skills at the level of the organisation? How can policy be made more effective?"
Martyn Sloman is a visiting professor at Kingston Business School and a teaching fellow at Birkbeck College. Martyn was "Advisor: Learning, Training and Development" at the UK CIPD ("the world's largest chartered HR and development professional body") from 2001 - 2008. He was appointed Extraordinary Professor at North-West University, Potchefstroom in 2012 and can be contacted at His White Paper will be published later this month on the website Training Journal.You can view an extensive online debate around skills policy in the UK at this address on the Training Journal website.


*1 "Training for skills in crisis – a critique and some recommendations", Prof Martyn Sloman, April 2013 (to be published), page 2
*2 "Training for skills in crisis – a critique and some recommendations", Prof Martyn Sloman, April 2013 (to be published), pp 2-3
*3 "Training for skills in crisis – a critique and some recommendations", Prof Martyn Sloman, April 2013 (to be published), page 4
*4 "Green Paper on Post-School Education & Training" (DHET) January 2013, page 4

Wednesday 10 April 2013

ASTD Conference 5 - 7 March 2013 - Part 4

Click here to jump to Part 1 of this series of posts.

International Trends in HR/HRD

The ASTD does not believe in sleeping late. Although we were in the beautiful mountainous Berg region, they had us up at 7 am for breakfast and then ready by 8 am for the first presenter of the day - Prof Dr Michael Freiboth (University of Applied Sciences, Augsburg, Germany). 

Michael's topic was International Trends in HRD. He also referenced the idea of mega-trends but made the point that these kind of changes are often very small on a quantitative scale, for example a "1% growth in a population with access to higher education" seems like a small change but it can have a massive impact in terms of many other aspects of society and the economy. Mega-trends therefore can often be unseen to the majority of the population but are unstoppable trends with big impact.

He used this fascinating graphic to illustrate how mega-trends are turning  the world upside down (literally), with the influence of nations in the South growing, and those in the North, decreasing (with some futurists talking about a magnetic pole reversal, this shift may have an economic and physical component).

Michael then went on to illustrate with some very humorous examples, the challenges that globalisation presents in the work of developing leadership competencies across cultural boundaries. These lessons were based on his work with Ferrero, the world famous chocolate and confectionery maker which has 21,000 employees across the world and which was attempting to build an international leadership community across its multinational management team.

  • In China a company had tried to introduce an Employee of the Month competition to encourage performance. However shortly after announcing and recognising their first employee of the month, this employee resigned. On inquiring the management discovered that in China there is a cultural perception "the nail that stands out, is hammered in" making the Employee of the Month a negative incentive. A team-based approach was needed instead.
  • Michael also cited research on cross-cultural differences in saying "no" to one's boss, when asked to take on an extra task, with humorous differences between cultures shown below:
    • The GERMAN approach is very direct: "No, I cannot, I might have to postpone some other important work"
    • The CHINESE approach is less direct, "This may be not so easy to do." The cultural strategy is to never say openly "no" because this is very disrespectful. Often an attempt is made to divert from the topic.
    • The ITALIAN approach is indirect, "I am not sure if it is possible," leaving space for misunderstandings when the boss is from a different culture
    • The BRITISH approach was very indirect, "This might be a good idea" meaning that there is only a small chance that this is a good idea.
Ferrero had employees and senior management criss-crossing all of these cultures and therefore faced the challenge of ensuring clear communication and co-ordinated action despite the potentials for misunderstanding seen above.

Of course cultural differences in the workplace can extend way beyond communication styles, as Michael illustrated with this slide from his presentation:

(Polychronic people can schedule various tasks during the same time period whereas monochronic people prefer to do one thing at a time)

Some other interesting observations from Michael's presentation which again highlight the importance of globalisation, the aging workforce, and the importance of women in the workplace:

  • World population is expected to start declining by 2040 (after reaching about 8 billion people)
    • This is contrary to the Club of Rome predictions that the population would grow completely out of control
    • We have seen that once reproduction rates fall below 2.0 (two children per couple) in industrialised countries, they don't bounce back
    • The average worldwide reproduction rate is now 2.43 and it is sinking at a rate of 0.2 per decade
    • Statisticians reckon that in the European Union by 2050, there will be 40 million people less than today
    • This raises the important question, how do we sustain an effective and skilled workforce in the face of declining global population?
    • For African countries this likely means increasing struggle to retain local skills in the face of international poaching
  • In trying to attract talent, companies that are "in the front row" (as Michael calls it - they have big public brands) are less at risk. For example Audi had 83,000 unsolicited work applications in 2013 and an unwanted staff turnover rate below 2%
  • South Africa spends 5,4% of GDP on education, compared with Germany at 4,6% and China at 1,9% (2009)
  • Norway is discussing introducing a legal quota for women in company board positions, at the level of  40%
    • BMW has already introduced quotas of companies for women in management positions at a minimum of 16% (to be reached by 2016)
  • There is some great info in Michael's presentation about how companies are responding to the aging workforce by extending retirement age limits to include more elderly people in the workforce, while at the same time competing to get new talent into the organisation, and then accommodate generational differences in the way the organisation runs (see slides 54 - 59). 
    • For example the diagram below shows how radically different the traditionalists (born before 1945) and the Generation Y/Z  (born 1981 and after) employees are in terms of motivating factors and retention:
We didn't unfortunately get to finish Michael's presentation, as we ran out of time, but you can review all 72 slides at the link in the paragraph above. Next up was Judge Jim Tamm whose broad American accent was in stark contrast to Michael's crisp German English. I will cover his presentation in Part 5 of this series...