South African organisations are struggling to close the chasm between the skills of most of the people who make up their workforces and the competencies these employees need to use complex enterprise business applications to their full potential.

Companies now need to adopt innovative and flexible user training and user adoption programmes to bridge this gap, says Lyndsey Moorhouse, MD of Can!Do.

She says that many enterprise software packages – for example, CRM and ERP suites – are designed to match the skills of predominantly university-educated workers in Europe and the US. Yet many local companies introduce these business packages to their organisations without catering for the way their employees’ skills profiles differ from the profiles of the people the software was originally designed for.

Multinationals operating in Europe or the US may assume that a shop floor manager or a clerk has a high level of numeracy and literacy, says Moorhouse. Many even have global HR policies that state they will only hire university graduates for any of their positions. But in South Africa, such a worker may not even have completed matric.

The expectation of the multinational is that the South African business adopts the global templates and systems dictated by the parent company.

“Over the past few years, we have seen South Africa’s skills base stagnate and even deteriorate, especially at the entry level,” Moorhouse says. “Yet we’re operating in a more globalised and competitive environment. Local companies are being forced to adopt global practices and best of breed systems to compete more effectively with international rivals.”

What this means for South African organisations is that they must look for new, practical ways to bridge this widening gap and skill their people up to use new systems as they rollout enterprise applications and processes. Such solutions cannot be academic in nature, but must equip people with a hands-on understanding of how to use the technology to do their jobs efficiently and effectively, says Moorhouse.

“There is a real need in the South African marketplace for innovations that simplify and contextualise user-training for enterprise applications,” says Moorhouse. “We need to find ways to make information accessible at the point of need and to make it easy for users to digest and practically utilise the information to do their jobs.”

The shift towards more innovative training faces a number of challenges, among them budgetary constraints. Many businesses fail to set aside enough budget for end-user training and adoption initiatives when they set out with their ERP implementations, says Moorhouse.

In addition, government incentives such as the skills levy could steer companies away from investing in ERP training towards other forms of training and education that allow them to claim levies and tax breaks. This is unfortunate, since knowledge of solutions such as SAP and Oracle equip workers for solid careers and jobs in the information economy, says Moorhouse.

However, there is an encouraging trend that sees training firms and user organisations alike adopt more dynamic approaches to training that blend classroom instruction, mentoring and online learning to deliver learning to their end users, she adds. “With the pace of business accelerating, we can expect to see training departments become more agile and innovative to keep up,” she says.