Over the past couple of years, there has been a growing focus on the important role that corporate training plays in South Africa. Not only do corporate training courses form a vital part of skills development, but they are particularly essential in supplying companies with new skills and ideas from experts outside of the organisation.
Chris Hersov, MD, and Sandra Inman, Assistant MD, of CBM Training, recent winner of the “Training Provider of the Year 2006” title, share their views on the importance of corporate training, current trends in the training industry and the necessary steps to take when selecting a reputable training company.
The necessity of corporate training courses
“Training is a great source of staff motivation,” says Chris Hersov. “By simply investing in training your staff, you are sending them a message that they are valuable to your organisation and that you are serious about their future with your company. The mere act of sending a staff member on training can therefore have an immediate positive effect on productivity.”
Although on-the-job training and mentoring works to an extent, over time companies tend to pass on the same skills and information that they received from universities and technikons at the beginning of their careers.
“Short training courses are, by their nature, highly focused, and a good training provider ensures they are regularly updated with the latest trends, legislation and industry examples. Having staff and managers attend a training course with an experienced top consultant that they would not normally be exposed to brings new ideas and skills into the company to be passed on and used by far more than the one person trained. This allows companies to avoid stagnation and keep up with the market,” explains Hersov.
Practical short-duration training courses are the fastest way of gaining skills. “Not everyone can afford to take two years out of their careers to attend an MBA or similar qualification,” says Hersov. “By attending a course that is practical in nature and lead by an expert, delegates can leave the course with real skills in one to three days – skills that would have normally taken significantly longer to master if the delegate was left to source them via another avenue.”
Training courses also provide a very real benefit in terms of networking as delegates often learn just as much from each other’s knowledge and experience as they do from the lecturer. Additionally, in a competitive business environment, contacts gained in a shared learning environment have been known to turn into truly valuable business connections.
The growing importance of training in South Africa
“We believe that training has become increasingly vital over the past few years here in South Africa due to three main factors – the advent of BEE, the need to redress the desperate skills shortage in South Africa and the institution of legislation requiring companies to pay a Skills Development Levy,” comments Hersov.
“With the advent of BEE, candidates who may not have the experience in a job are getting promoted to increased responsibilities. They are losing out on the time they would traditionally have had to make and learn from their mistakes, be coached by their managers and learn from watching others manage them,” says Hersov. “Proactive companies ensure that these candidates have a formal mentorship programme in place to guide and help them and actively look for relevant training courses that can replace the missing years of experience and fast track skills to these candidates.”
Training also plays an important role in redressing the skills shortage that is well documented in South Africa. “We have not got time for this to be redressed by people learning in traditional ways,” explains Hersov. “It is therefore vital that our workforce, both blue and white collar, take the fast track and ‘skill up’ by gaining credible, transferable qualifications. Training is the fastest way to ensure that members of the workforce on all levels can become more competent and achieve the necessary skills to be effective in their positions.”
Training has also become progressively important with the advent of legislation requiring companies to pay a Skills Development Levy. As a result, more and more companies are looking to training as a way of recouping money paid. “Putting staff members on training with accredited providers ensures that companies can get something back from their SDL’s, using these for their true purpose which is to develop staff,” says Hersov.
Areas of training in highest demand in South Africa
“From CBM’s perspective, we have seen a drastic increase in the demand for basic managerial training,” says Chris Hersov. “These include topics that introduce new managers, or those earmarked for promotion, to the core aspects of successful management such as staff motivation, delegation, conflict management, time management, staff discipline and recruitment.”
Many companies believe that promoting a person to management is the biggest reward they can give them, and that a strong functional person will easily take on the manager mantle with their other responsibilities because they excelled in their previous position. However, experienced managers often forget how daunting the people aspect of management can be – and how it is a difficult one to get right without help.
New inexperienced managers can cause significant damage within their department by simply choosing the wrong words, favouring an employee unintentionally, refusing to delegate, not managing personal time or simply by setting the wrong example. Add to this the legal minefield that is South African Labour law, and the scope of things new managers can get wrong is enormous. Once credibility with staff is lost, it is a long process to get it back.
“Becoming a manager for the first time is a big task – and many managers experience that ‘sink or swim’ sensation,” explains Hersov. “They are inundated with new responsibilities and a significantly larger workload. To manage these pressures and still motivate, drive and guide a team is a skill that has to be learnt – for it seldom occurs naturally! Training is a natural and very effective solution to this problem, allowing managers to experience, in role plays and case studies, how different approaches can render different results.
“There is also a strong call for niche courses on specific topics like the effects of the National Credit Act, ways of securing profitable tenders and conducting disciplinary processes,” says Hersov. “However, there can be no doubt that there is still a big demand for basic training in the blue collar area where labourers and technical or mechanical staff can attend training and receive formal qualifications based on their experience, training and passing an assessment.”
Current trends in the South African training environment
“CBM tracks all developments both locally and internationally to assess any changes in corporate training,” explains Sandra Inman. “Through trips internationally and close contact with several international companies, we can keep a close eye on what training products and approaches work well internationally and then gauge whether they would be successful in South Africa.”
Locally there is a marked trend away from companies spending large amounts of money sending their staff to motivational ‘gurus’, outward bound types of teambuilding events and ‘fluffy’ topic conferences. According to Inman, the ‘high’ from attending one of these events barely lasts a week, and attendees that are asked to point out improvements in their work two weeks after the event are hard pressed to come up with anything of value. “The current thinking is to look at individuals’ needs and find skills-based training courses that address these needs in practical and usable fashions,” she says.
There is also a significant move away from the plethora of small training companies that sprang up in the wake of the implementation of the SDL levy, with the sole aim of getting a part of the SETA’ ‘levy lake’ of training funds. “Many companies have burnt their fingers in sending staff on training with companies that do not have a proven track record in the field,” explains Inman.
“They find that bad training is worse than no training, in that valuable staff time is wasted by being taken away from the office for no good return. More and more, we are seeing larger companies selecting a few, reliable training companies and using these exclusively for their training needs. Larger training companies, like CBM Training, have the edge here, as they are able to field a specialist lecturer for each topic, whereas the smaller guys have to use a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ type lecturer whose main knowledge of a topic may have been through reading a book about it. It is expected that a large number of training companies will be thinned out over the next few years as companies get more discerning in the way that they spend their SDL-driven training budgets.
“Internationally we have seen training companies introducing a vast range of niche topics, all offered as public training courses and all complementing a specific area,” says Inman. “While this works well overseas, due to increased competition, global market influences and a developed drive to be more competitive than the next guy, South Africa does not have the delegate capacity to support training of this nature. Training is still very much viewed as a resource that can be cut when the going gets tough. Internationally however, training is viewed as more crucial when the going gets tough."
Choosing a credible training company
Probably the greatest challenges a company faces when choosing a training company includes finding one that is truly accredited, has industry experts delivering the course material and offers practical, real skills training as opposed to mere academic insight. Sandra Inman provides a few valuable pointers to consider when making this choice.
“The first step is to confirm that the training company is listed as an accredited provider with one of the SETAs. It is not essential that the provider be accredited by the same SETA that the company pays levies to, but the accreditation shows that the provider has complied with the quality standards as set out by the SETAs,” explains Inman.
“The second step is to look at the company giving the training. Check their website and look at the range of courses offered and how long they have been in business. A training company with a wide range of courses which has been operating for more than five years must have been doing something right to still be in business,” says Inman. “If the company is offering public training courses this is also a good sign as it means their client base is wide enough to support this, which is a good indication of the quality of the programmes delivered.
“Don’t be shy to ask for references – particularly if you are considering a large training contract,” advises Inman. “Make sure you speak to others who have used this training company. Do your own research. The training industry is a small one. It is almost a given that someone will have heard about the training company you are considering. Get their opinion!
“If you are considering sending a large number of your staff members on the course, it may be wise to send one or two on a public training course with the company under consideration to ‘audit’ it,” suggests Inman. “They will give you accurate feedback on the lecturer and quality of the material and you can use them to help customise the main course once it is scheduled. Many training companies will refund all or part of these ‘audit’ fees once the main order is signed.
"Investigate the courses offered. Make sure they are comprehensive and have been researched within the market. Many companies list a long range of courses they can deliver on their website, but have not actually trained anybody on them. They are just ‘floating a stick’, looking for someone who wants to buy the course and then they will start getting material together. Again, if they are confident enough in the course to be offering it as a public course, then the quality of the course has probably been tried and tested. If they cannot give you a comprehensive outline or reviews on this course from past delegates, it is obviously not a good choice!”
Inman points out that it is also essential to ensure that the courses offered provide a practical framework that allows employees to practice what they have learnt in the workplace. “Proactive training companies, like CBM Training, believe this is essential. Without a practical framework giving delegates the actual tools to practice what they have learnt, training can be easily forgotten. This is why the emphasis of effective training needs to always be on applying skills though practical examples, case studies, group work and scenarios.
"It is also absolutely vital that delegates leave training courses with some sort of support structure, whether that is telephonic or email support from the lecturer, workplace assignments that need to be completed or a framework that needs to be followed.”
“Finally,” says Inman, “look at the price. Very cheap training is often just that! High quality training does cost money, but this does mostly ensure that the time your delegates spent out of the office will be well spent. Also, don’t be tempted by something that looks too good to be true – it often is.”
Future developments in training
Looking to the future in the training industry, Chris Hersov believes that there is a strong groundswell towards distance learning programmes, especially for lower-level topics and IT-related programmes.
“In many cases, these work successfully, but need self discipline from the delegate involved,” he says. “There are some excellent MS office courses which, in many cases, surpass lecturer-led training and some companies have invested in an ‘Instant Mentor’ type programme, having an online call center to support these types of courses.
“However, when you get to the skills-based training, nothing can compare to old-fashioned, lecturer-led training with a group of like-minded delegates who grow from the interaction with the lecturer,” says Hersov. “The latest thinking in terms of case study led discussion, exercises and role plays really prepare delegates to take the information garnered back to the workplace, and training in smaller groups of 12 to 18 delegates allows lecturers to answer specific problem-related questions in the session, often acting in an almost coaching position.
“As the skills shortage in South Africa grows, more managers will be promoted more quickly and miss out on the traditional mentoring managers have in the past received prior to promotion. Training should continue to grow in importance to full this shortfall, and assist in the growth of the company,” says Hersov.