According to the CRF Institute's research of Top Employers in 2012, companies who are certified as Top Employers also have comprehensive skills development strategies in place, as the education crisis in South Africa deepens. Some, such as Dimension Data, are going one step further and intervening at school level.
"Within this group, we are seeing significant investment in training and developing the whole person (with professional and financial services at the very top of the list); and this is encouraging: it means corporates are not content to accept a gradual dumbing down of the workforce," says Samantha Crous, country manager of the CRF Institute.
It's no secret that education is in crisis in South Africa - the country is ranked 52nd on the 2012 Global Competitive Index. Basic numeracy and literacy have decreased to a shocking level; last year, the second Annual National Assessment revealed that by Grade 6, the national average performance in languages was a scant 43% in the learner's home language and average performance in maths sat at 27%.
"Clearly, learners are not getting what they need in schools. This has a knock-on effect at universities. The implications are also concerning for South Africa's workforce."
According to Crous, 68% of Top Employers experience a deficit of professional talent on the lower rungs of their organisation - while only 21% experience this problem at executive management level. "It is the school-leaving and graduate talent that is thin on the ground and it is this that corporates are addressing."
Talent gap continues
The talent gap is nothing new in South Africa. The establishment of the SETAs post 1994 explicitly recognise this and the ANC identified career guidance as a necessary goal countrywide at its 2007 Polokwane conference. But the pace of change has not been swift enough and as the education system fails to thrive so others are filling in the gaps.
"Of course, this is not always ideal; we should be cautious of companies taking on the role of tertiary institutions. Universities and colleges do not have affiliations that can influence their teaching to the same extent that companies do - we should be vigilant both ethically and ideologically and we certainly need to keep a close eye on what these professionals are being taught."
Best practice examples
Examples of best practice include Dimension Data that gets involved from the bottom up. The company not only facilitates tertiary education through bursaries and SETA-affiliated learnerships - as well as an entrepreneurship 'incubation' programme - but has become involved at secondary level. A total of 27 500 learners have benefited from its e-learning programmes across 53 schools and annually, its Saturday School programme provides intensive support for 100 learners in reaching matric and preparing for higher education. Successes include a 100% matric pass rate and 95% university entrance. In 2011, 50 of its learners notched up 68 distinctions.
Vodacom, as another example, has restricted itself to tertiary level. This Top Employer believes strongly in developing the country's talent pool. It does not only develop talent within the company, but offers external bursaries in relevant fields of study as well - IT, IS, computer science, electrical or electronic engineering, and computer engineering.
"At Vodacom, we believe that the success of the business is based on nurturing the talent we have. The selection of graduates is based on the identified needs of the business," the company explains. "It is important to ensure that we nurture the talent pipeline. We have embarked on a journey towards becoming a fully-fledged communications company and we need graduates with skill sets that are different to those required when we were a mobile player."
Accenture, also a Top Employer, divides its education programme into required and recommended learning. Required learning, as the name suggests, focuses on the basics needed to do the job. Recommended learning focuses on developing specialist skills that will take the employee further in his/her career in the long term. Accenture invested nearly $800 million in training and professional development and provided an average of 67 hours of training per person in 2009.
Growth needs education
"The bottom line is that the country's best companies know that unless they up-skill the talented employees they have and offer opportunities that will appeal to the smartest talent out there, business growth slows," continues Crous.
"If we want to grow our companies and our economy, more companies need to take a leaf out of the Top Employers' book. While some may worry about corporates taking education into their own hands, the reality is that right now, the education on offer needs to be supplemented.
"It's not just for the good of our employees. It's for the good of our companies and the entire economy; long-term."