Marco Maree, Expert Training and Development advisor of Triple E Training. Image credit: Triple E Training.

Marco Maree, Expert Training and Development advisor of Triple E Training. Image credit: Triple E Training.

South Africa has the lowest productivity rates among emerging economies. This is due to the high cost of doing business, which includes the impact of increasingly frequent industry strikes, lack of competition in many markets and a dire shortage of skilled labour. This is the first part of a two-part series.

The focus of organised labour, as well as the public and private sector needs to shift towards developing the proficiencies of the vast number of unskilled workers in the country, says Marco Maree, Expert Training and Development advisor of Triple E Training. Instilling a culture of lifelong learning in the workplace, especially among low-skilled and unskilled employees, will help companies to bolster productivity and efficiency so that they can compete effectively at a global level. This approach will also empower and motivate employees to play a more meaningful role in the growth and development of the economy, as opposed to only performing mundane jobs that do not pay decent living wages and are not secure in an economy that is relying heavily on advanced skills.

Many citizens of working age do not possess sound workplace literacy skills. This is the ability of employees to deploy basic literacy and mathematics skills to perform their jobs productively, efficiently, accurately and safely. While this is also a legacy of the past that deprived many South Africans of a basic education, the situation has been exacerbated by the significant deterioration of the country’s school system over the years.

The outcome is students who have average skills and a vast majority of young learners who are performing poorly in a very unequal education system. Worryingly, young learners in the top 200 schools still achieve more distinctions in critical science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects than pupils in the next 6 600 schools combined. Meanwhile, more than 90% of nine-year old learners in Limpopo and 85% in the Eastern Cape cannot read for meaning. There is a strong likelihood that they will not be able to close this wide learning gap and, therefore, will struggle to complete their schooling or will join the many South African citizens who have chosen to forego their education.

Out of a group of 100 young learners who start their learning journey, only between 50 and 60 will complete their basic education and just 14 will obtain a university degree. In 2017, there were about 2-million unskilled workers in the labour force who only attained a primary or lower education. This group made up 12.5% of employed South Africans in 2017 compared to 16.6% in 2010. While there has been an improvement in upskilling South Africans, the rate of change has been very slow. Clearly, significantly more will have to be done to make a substantial impact.

“The onus lies on government, the private sector and organised labour to collectively work towards a sustainable solution, which entails developing the skills the country needs to compete in this new digital era that focuses on high productivity and efficiency. Instead, the focus of labour across both the private and public sectors, to date, has mainly been on paying higher wages for less work produced. This is simply unsustainable, especially in current economic conditions, and will only lead to further retrenchments.

“These inefficiencies manifest in both the public and the private sectors through declines in service delivery and productivity, respectively. A severely bloated government intends on restructuring its public-sector wage bill, which poses a serious risk to the national fiscus. At the same time, 60 000 public-sector jobs are at risk in the foreseeable future, and this will only compound our already-high unemployment rate. It is unlikely that the private sector will be able to compensate for this as it is also shedding jobs. Some companies are relying increasingly on advanced technologies to survive the challenging economic climate.

“Meanwhile, some low skilled positions are simply being made redundant because they are no longer relevant in an economy that is preparing to undergo the Fourth Industrial Revolution to compete effectively at an international level,” Maree says.

Supplied by PR and edited by Eamonn Ryan.