‘So Much Focus On Funding, But What About Skills?’
I think we can all agree that the funding of small businesses is only part of the solution. What is possibly more important (as an enabler) is the initial assessment of the level and adequacy of skills existing within new or developing enterprises, and to evaluate what further skills development or training is required to ensure a firm business foundation and that sustainable growth is achieved.
A study by StatsSA which surveyed households and obtained evidence relating to skills development and unemployment between 1994 and 2014 showed the following:
• During this time frame across the South African working population of households there was an increase in skilled labour (21% to 25%), with a shift away from semi and low-skilled labour.
• What is interesting to note in the growth of skilled labour is the disparity within the different race groups.
*For the purpose of this analysis, the occupation types were used to infer skills levels based on the Quarterly Labour Force Survey. Skilled: manager, professional, technical. Semi-skilled: sales and services, clerk, machine operator. Low-skilled: domestic worker.
“At the end of the day, an enterprise should leave an ESD programme empowered to stand and survive in the business world”
This is clear evidence that the role of enterprise and supplier development is a crucial one needed to up-skill and train the broader population. It is one thing to provide finance and access to markets, but without the appropriate skills development to make these investments sustainable this would be a fruitless exercise.
The role that the private sector plays in post investment business support and capacity building is incredibly important. There is a requirement to build both technical skills as well as overall business management skills. This, in my view, is when we will start seeing real impact. In order for the enterprises to be effective in the contracts that they are awarded a focus on skills development (by both parties) is required.
In an economy where growth has crawled to a near halt, SMEs cannot be expected to be the holy-grail for job creation. Making an impact in increasing potential salary earnings or employable workforce is key and therefore skills development requires a multi-faceted approach:
1. From early education phase – where emphasis must be placed at school level for entrepreneurship training and opportunities is a key enabler. Entrepreneurship should in essence become a career option to consider. Innovation must be incubated. The world is changing and the skills required to be productive are changing as well.
2. Clear regulations and commitment to quality interventions should be stipulated at policy level to incentivise skills development/skills transfer from large corporates to small businesses.
3. Without looking at the bigger picture these developmental areas are without support – so a holistic approach to skills development – mentorship, networking and overall business acumen are skills that often distinguish between those who do well and those who don’t in business. It needs to all work harmoniously and as an effective and efficient ecosystem reliant on each other’s strengths and support and mutually beneficial objectives.
At the end of the day, an enterprise should leave an ESD programme empowered to stand and survive in the business world. We know that we are losing the challenge when time and time again we see developing enterprises moving from one ESD programme to another with nothing to show for it. Monitoring and evaluation of these enterprises is therefore also essential to track growth and success – but also to identify areas of weakness or need for further intervention.
At the heart of ESD is the notion that large businesses/ corporates should move beyond compliance (aka box-ticking) and toward the heart of transformation.
Intertwined here is the responsibility to use development interventions and activities in a deliberate and focused manner so that the skills levels of small businesses can move upwards and ensure the longevity and success of growing enterprises.