Skilling-up South Africa

Sandra Burmeister, CEO of Amrop Landelahni
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The digital age is overtaking the world of work as we know it. “This poses challenges to governments, corporates and employees themselves as they struggle to prepare for a new way of doing business,” says Sandra Burmeister, CEO of executive search firm Amrop Landelahni.

“Nowhere is this more critical than in South Africa with its high unemployment rate and low standard of technical education.”

The World Economic Forum Human Capital Report (2015) rates SA at 92 globally in terms of education, economic participation and skills. SA benefits from high primary and secondary school enrolment but is held back by poor quality of education, high unemployment and lack of skills. The country is ranked 114th for ease in finding skilled employees.

Last year, only 7.6% of matriculants passed maths with more than 60%, while 5.5% achieved the same in physical science. “These young people are effectively being locked out of the job market,” says Burmeister. “Rapid technological advances are making the outlook even more severe.”

Looking ahead, the World Economic Forum pinpoints top 10 emerging technologies. These include:

  • Zero-emission cars that run on hydrogen
  • Next-generation robotics for a wide variety of repetitive tasks
  • Computer chips modelled on the human brain.

The PwC Future of Work (2014) report indicates that 53% of respondents believe technology breakthroughs will transform the way people work over the next five to ten years.

“In the local context, the challenge is huge,” says Burmeister. “To take just one example, jobs requiring routine mental or physical activity may be replaced through robotic innovation. While this may enhance our quality of life and create new jobs not in existence today, the impact on the unemployed and the less educated and unskilled could be severe. Gearing up for new technologies and keeping the next generation at work is a major challenge.”

The PwC report states “Workers will be more likely to see themselves as a member of a particular skill or professional network, rather than as an employee of a particular company.

“The rapid and extensive growth of consulting firms in SA illustrates how wide the technological and skills gaps are,” says Burmeister. While this provides a short-term solution to getting the job done, it is not sustainable.  

“Only a major shift by management will achieve success in the new world of work. Sustainable development demands that, in the long term, SA develop its own skills base, starting with improving the quality of education, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”

Burmeister believes there is no quick fix solution to meeting the challenge of talent shortages and building a skills and leadership pipeline. “Instead,” she says, “multiple, innovative strategies are required to buy, borrow and build the skills needed in core sectors.

“Forward-thinking companies are systematically bridging the skills gap by creating work experiences that build leadership qualities and test resilience. Their models are custom-designed for the next generation, from building flexible career paths to creating compensation that match their values and work preferences.

“Approaches to filling the talent pipeline include increasing bursary spend in scarce skills areas of the organisation, increasing graduate hiring and training programmes, using objective assessment tools to assess potential of existing and prospective employees, investing in high-potential employees, using contractors for short-term projects and implementing smart strategies like cross-functional project teams for exposure and accelerated training.

“These strategies can assist in generating the skills base required by organisations in South Africa if it is to meet  the challenges of a sustainable, expanding economy.”


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