Lasting skills a priority for flexible staffing industry

Published: 10-MAY-07

The robust growth of the South African economy over the past decade, coupled with the implementation of the affirmative action, has led to a rapidly increasing demand for skilled human capital. In fact, the balance has shifted substantially from a deficit in new employment positions to a shortage in the supply of skilled staff. Coupled with this, is the global trend towards downsizing staff complements, focusing on core competencies, reducing fixed costs like labour, in creative ways and improving productivity. Of all industries, the human resources industry has arguably been the most affected by these economic shifts, experiencing a positive pressure to satisfy these economic needs, with major players like Adcorp adopting a more streamlined and aggressive approach, renewing their core speciality of human resource management.

Following the second phase of the National Skills Development Strategy (2005 � 2010) on 31 March 2007, it is important to evaluate the successes of the strategy thus far, particularly in the flexible staffing solutions environment, which is proving to be a mainstay in the economy not only in terms of providing staff to corporates, but in providing much-needed jobs to an ever-increasing number of job seekers.

According to a report recently released by the Ministry of Education, overall positive results were achieved between 2001 and 2006, with a total of 325�247 learners registered on accredited occupational learning programmes, and 10�915 apprenticeships completed between 2005 and 2006. Making the strategy work, however, necessitates full commitment to skills development from employers. But to what extent is corporate South Africa, particularly the flexible staffing sector, contributing to the skills development and the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa? A number of researchers concur that it remains debatable whether there has been a paradigmatic shift towards a culture of training and away from the practice of grabbing already-trained employees that require no educational investment.

According to Collette Atkinson, head of Quest Flexible Staffing Solutions� skills development division, the Quest Learning Institute, the climate of skills development in the flexible staffing solutions sector is fluctuating. "Member companies of the Services SETA, provided they comply with skills levy legalities, have access to the national skills fund to subsidise learnership programmes for their flex-staff. We created the Quest Learning Institute in direct response to a crucial need for skills in our industry, both from entrants to the job market and individuals who are changing employment roles. Skills are lacking particularly in the retail, telecommunications and financial services sectors. Thus far, Quest has completed over 1�500 learnerships, which are internationally recognised and are based on the National Qualifications Framework. The general feeling towards the learnership concept in our industry is, however, mixed with an interesting set of results becoming apparent," explains Atkinson. According to Atkinson, employers feel that the learnership programmes can be burdensome for their companies, in terms of the time, money and effort they require, with the actual structure of the learnership model unable to support the volumes of individuals who are candidates for learnerships.

Another skills development option in this industry is Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL), which is a system that uses proof of past experience to establish a set of skills that qualifies an individual for a recognised qualification. "At Quest, we�ve completed over 1�700 RPL's. The clear complications here are that the individual needs substantial experience to qualify for an RPL. This is not viable for entry level flex-staff, who still require the great investment of a full, skills-nurturing learnership. In response to this issue, the Services SETA has implemented a bursary scheme that allows employers access to funding for full qualifications for employees," says Atkinson. "Essentially, this means there is no excuse for flexible staffing companies to not invest in their flex-staff. As long as our industry puts in the effort and time, we will be able to satisfy the voracious appetite of a thriving economy, of which flexible staffing is becoming a cornerstone." -Business in Africa Online

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