South Africa’s ongoing efforts to train its way out of the deepening skills crisis by using formal, traditional training methods won’t achieve much. 


This is according to Ryan Falkenberg, a director at specialist learning consultancy Hi-Performance Learning (HPL), who believes effort should be focused more on developing people’s meta-skills, and supporting specific-skill development through smart workplace support.
“We’ve been talking about the shortage of skills for years – but we’re no closer to solving the problem than we were five, 10 or even 20 years ago; in fact we are in a far more parlous situation. Yet we continue to address the challenge by doing more of what we’ve been doing: offering staff more courses that concentrate skill development within a formal classroom setting. It didn’t work 10 years ago and it isn’t working now.”
What will work, Falkenberg maintains, is far great investment in intelligent workplace support mechanisms that offer just-in-time support for daily performance challenges. This is particularly necessary for those staff members who have already attained a basic level of competency, for example, in an introductory training programme.
“Formal classroom learning is mainly relevant for novice learners who need to understand the core principles and concepts before they can effectively start performing. But that’s not where our greatest shortage lies. We need individuals with specialised skills and experience,” he says.
According to Falkenberg, staff who have progressed beyond novice stage, need to learn through their own performance reality and to close personal mastery gaps.
“Formal one-size-fits-all classroom training offers insufficient support for this. Far more effective is to invest in smart workplace support mechanisms that guide staff through integrated work processes and assist in complex decision-making.
"This leaves the staff member to focus their effort on learning how to tackle complex challenges in a dynamic world. By offering performance coaching and access to corporate wisdom, learning therefore becomes more about doing than memorising, And it is in the doing that expertise is developed.”
He dismisses criticism that workplace learning takes longer than formal training to achieve the desired outcome; that it is difficult to scale; and that business experts are few and far between, and typically lack the capacity to coach others.
In fact, he says, time to competence can be halved through learning by doing (as opposed to learning by listening). Workplace learning is more collective than individual and performance coaches don’t necessarily need to be the experts, just line managers performing their business role.
“Rather than offering more classroom courses, organisations should seek to incorporate more performance coaching, smart wisdom capture and sharing, and performance-driven (as opposed to curriculum-driven) capability development.
“Not only will this reduce time away from work (and hence overall training costs), but it will also speed up the development of competent, experienced and expert level staff, the mastery levels most severely impacted by our skills shortage,” Falkenberg says.