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

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