[Column] Staff training makes business and economic sense

By Dr. Ngaite Mgeni

As organizations evolve and competition to acquire top talent heats up world over, businesses are increasingly realizing the need and essence of investing in their most prized possession; their workforce.

Yet there hasn’t been enough commitment to this training with studies indicating that some of the organization learning and development programmes especially in African businesses are either outdated, not responding to employees’ needs or businesses are not making convincing investments in these talent development initiatives.

This, despite yawning skills gap particularly occasioned by technological advancements that are disrupting the way of doing business.

Indeed a recent study by Oxford Group that examined the views of 1000 workers in global organizations, 500 of whom had key management responsibilities, revealed that 60 percent of those interviewed felt that leaders and staff in their organizations didn’t have the requisite skills to tackle digital transformation. Now, going by how technology is shaping the future of work, those statistics offer food for thought. Talent Management is the most important human resource challenge; and in a highly competitive business environment, it is very crucial to have talent as well as committed employees to attain the upper hand in the business field and technology acquisition strategy.

Yet beyond digital skills organizations continue to pay lip service to investment in skills that are not the only key in building workplace relations and rewarding employees but which ultimately have an impact on the bottom line.

City & Guilds Group business Kineo, a leading global skills organization, recently captured this in a study that pointed to workers’ unmet needs. The study that surveyed 6500 employees and 1300 employers across 13 markets among them Kenya, South Africa, and UK found that while 79 percent of employees expressed interest in seeing a bigger focus on training and people development in their workplace, 85 percent were struggling to access training in their workplace.

And in what points to a mismatch between employee needs and what the organizations offer, only 16 percent of those surveyed found the learning and development programmes being offered by their organizations effective and relevant to their growth. As a result the staff had invested in alternatives with 6 out of ten employees surveyed investing their personal time in learning, education or training activity, and 59 percent seeking online advice, guidance or e-learning solutions.

That having been said organizations worldwide have acknowledged the connection between corporate learning development and business sustainability.  The current trend and emphasis are on creating and designing a “learning organization” that has acquired skill-sets in creating, interpreting, transferring, retaining and managing knowledge.  It is unfortunate that the effectiveness and the appropriateness of this learning organization model in Africa still leaves a lot to be desired.  Most organizations’ human resource has the university academic degrees but lack the skills, abilities, and attitudes to operate in the business environment.

To achieve success in Africa, in implementing the “success element” in learning processes in education and business, there is still a great and urgent need to change leadership behaviors and Human Resource Management practices.  This can be achieved through a concerted effort in investing in internal and external training and capacity building.

Accordingly, therefore, rating the success of organizational learning processes in Africa, it’s very clear that the coming in of the Digital Era has demonstrated that Africa cannot progress further without developing leadership capabilities on a continental scale.  Africa stands on the brink of a great unknown, and the new model should be on helping leaders reach a new level of success, through a new approach to leading and managing organizations in the new realities that arise and threaten the success and growth of the business.   Furthermore, creating and devoting time to honing leadership competencies remains the best investment in the future of organizational learning processes for Africa.

Such trends and dynamics in the continent have inspired the upcoming Annual Training Evaluation Compendium in Africa, ATECA, conference, the first of its kind in the region organized by training and management firm Edify Learning Forum Africa, ELFA to congregate players in the Training, Learning and Development industry with a view to looking at ways of standardizing systems and ensuring Africa is at par with its global peers in having learning processes that address the 21st century labour market needs.

Dr. Ngaite Mgeni is Advisory Board Member at Edify Learning Forum Africa, ELFA