An answer to the skills shortage crisis in SA

by Peter Enslin, Executive Intervention

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, says Ryan Falkenberg, a director at Clevva, a software-as-a-service company that specialises in enabling under-trained and inexperienced staff to perform like experts.

Rather, he believes, effort should be focused more on developing people’s meta-skills, and supporting specific-skill development through smart technology-enabled 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, ten or even 20 years ago; in fact we are in a far more parlous situation,” Falkenberg says. “Ironically we continue to address the challenge by doing more of what we’ve been doing in the past, expecting different results: offering staff more courses that concentrate skill development within a formal classroom setting. It didn’t work ten 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 to 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. In effect, it involves capturing the logic experts use to solve standard work challenges, and to offer this to others in a way that lets them perform and learn, real time. This leaves the staff member to focus their effort on tackling new challenges in a dynamic world. By offering intelligent, adaptable performance support (along with performance coaching), learning becomes more about doing than memorising. It is in the doing that expertise is developed.”

Falkenberg also 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 look to capture their expertise in intelligent systems that can guide new staff through workplace decisions and processes, allowing them to get it right without necessarily having the pre-requisite knowledge themselves.

“By incorporating technology and systems, the possibilities become endless”, Falkenberg says. “You can now enable inexperienced sales staff to sell hundreds of products to any client type, without much knowledge at all. Technology can intelligently guide them through the conversation, automatically recommend the right products and cross sales, and then generate the quote or order while they talk to the client. And that is just in sales. Imagine technicians being helped to diagnose technical problems, and being shown how to solve it without them knowing the answer in their head. It’s all very achievable with new technology on offer, even for cash-stretched small businesses.”


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