Never in our lifetimes have we faced a global crisis on this devastating scale which has affected so many people globally in terms of our health as well as our economies. Closer to home, we have never seen our country’s economy plummet to the levels it now finds itself in. Coming out of a period of total lockdown with many industries gradually re-entering our economy, it is very apparent that this pandemic has been met with catastrophic consequences and that we have yet to face many more blows before we can expect to make any sort of recovery.
Having painted the gloomy backdrop that overshadows most of our lives at the moment, most employers are now looking for funds and savings within their organisations to make sure that they stay afloat, pay their staff and pay their bills. Experience tells us that training and development of staff is one of the first activities employers cut back on when budgets are tight, not to mention the extraordinary financial constraints we are now facing. With the extended skills submission deadlines now approaching, employers have to make serious decisions about what training they are able to commit to in the next annual cycle and whether they should commit to any training at all as well as whether or not it is safe to do so.
Seeing as your staff are your most important resources and the best chance your organization has at surviving uncertainty, it is our strong opinion that continuing the development of your staff is one of the key components required to prosper and going on the attack in the time of crises, albeit with a more rigorous and calculated process of prioritization.
In facing a global health crisis, the first and most obvious responsibility that employers have towards their staff is keeping them safe and providing them with the means to keep themselves safe. Employers, therefore, have a duty to provide a safe working environment by taking all reasonable steps to mitigate the risks that employees might face, such as conducting comprehensive risks assessments and introducing the required measures, policies and procedures to counter the risks. Employers further equip their staff to be protected by outfitting them with the required PPE, making the required appointments and most importantly by training their staff to be acutely aware of the dangers they might face and how to avoid these dangers. Health and Safety Compliance training is therefore the first priority that any employer must allocate funds toward and plan for as there simply is no way around not training your staff in this area.
Secondly, organisations will strive towards staying operational as far as possible, with due consideration to the restrictions that currently limit trade. This paired with the lasting effects that this pandemic will have on the way we work and the way we engage with clients, already have and will likely transform the very nature of most of the roles employers have in their organisations.
With new roles come new skills requirements and in most instances skills gaps that must be closed for these operations to continue. We have further seen a dramatic shift from onsite attendance to remote work where employees have been forced to work from home and while most of us have done our best to make this work, there is an incredible need for staff to be equipped with the required technological skills to work online effectively as well as to manage the performance of staff remotely.
Organisations who wish to maintain their BEE scores for skills development will further need to come up with creative strategies to ensure that learning happens within the restrictions created through directives issued by government, especially in the cases where tax year end happens in June. One of our strategic partners, SIGNA, are for instance offering a unique solution where you can implement a learnership aimed at enabling learners to work remotely, now, claim the full learnership and salary cost for employees in June and only pay a 10% deposit. The rest of the payments are then only collected from tax allowances or from payment commencing in September.
When businesses are threatened, employers are instinctively inclined to go on the defensive, holding back all spending and making sure that only the most important functions continue, while they wait for the threat to pass. There is however a case for the business who decides to embrace the change and finds the opportunities to do so, to go on the attack and do everything in their power not to let the crisis go to waste. The employers need to be flexible and dynamic and need to equip their staff with the skills required to take the business to its envisioned goals despite the challenges faced. This is where human resource development and career path training finds itself being prioritized as a crucial component of the organisation’s anticipated success.
Finally, employers must look at the bigger picture and consider the socio-economic impacts this pandemic has on the global community. We have already seen the astounding amounts of donations that some of our more prominent businesses have contributed to the relief funds, as well as the smaller but equally important initiatives that have sprouted to help those in need on a community level. It is our firm belief that the closing of skills gaps and investment of training in the South African workforce will play a critical role in the recovery of our economy. Employers can, therefore, consider making bursaries and learnerships available to those in need as part of the relief effort. Where employers have no choice but to retrench portions of their staff, they can consider making skills packages part of their separation agreements as a final contribution to the marketable skills of the affected employees.
It does not matter how we look at it, we all need to play a role in the rebirth of our economy and continuing to share knowledge and lessons learnt will remain an essential ingredient to our road to recovery.
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