How are SA’s businesses meeting the perpetual training challenge?

How are SA’s businesses meeting the perpetual training challenge?

Organisations spend a lot of time and money on corporate training, too often with little to show for it. Not enough practical follow up means that many newly-acquired skills are soon lost or forgotten, and the company might as well have poured its money down the drain.

 

Companies cling to the notion that sending a member of staff for training will produce a skilled employee, where in reality the situation is far more complicated.

There are several basic mistakes that companies make when embarking on a training journey. They don’t understand fully what their needs are; who needs training; and the nature of the training needed. There are no clear learning objectives and outcomes in place.

Following onto such training, companies don’t properly evaluate how successful the training has been, and what their staff have actually learned and can apply. They have no proper means to measure and assess the training, and don’t get proper feedback from their employees or the trainers.

Lastly, too often, businesses send their employees for training, but don’t have the support in place to ensure that employees have the opportunity to apply, practice and maintain their new skills.

Training Guide 2014 chats to some SA companies, to see what their issues are, and how they handle their staff training requirements and programmes

THE ISSUES

Simon Carpenter, chief customer offi cer at SAP Africa, says the training challenge has to be confronted by understanding two things: “Firstly, how are your markets changing as a result of the economy, demographics, regulation and technology, and many other change drivers? The answers to this question will inform the type of skills you will need to have in place. To give a couple of examples; as companies move to embrace SaaS and to embed social media directly into business processes, the issue of data security and compliance with acts such as POPI takes on a higher degree of urgency. Do you have the skills to deal with this?”

As companies embrace cloud solutions, he says, they need fewer skills to confi gure software per se and more skills in the areas of vendor management and business innovation through enterprise architecture and leveraging PaaS at the edges of your business for the differentiating solutions.

“In South Africa, we have an acute problem when it comes to the increasingly algorithmic world of big data - where will we fi nd the statisticians, actuaries and behavioural economists necessary to really drive value out of big data?”

Secondly, Carpenter believes companies need to think about the best ways to deliver and track the impact of training. “While there is still a place for classroom training (especially where one is trying to drive a behavioural shift), it is just one protocol in a suite of approaches that also includes job assignments, coaching, MOOCs and corporate e-learning. One has to consider which of these mechanisms works best for pure skills transfer versus when you are trying to achieve a more abstract concept such as an attitudinal shift or leadership training.”

Time and money are the biggest challenges when it comes to training staff, says Justine Morgan, GM: Decision Enablement at Decision Inc. “Not only are budgets reduced, but employees can ill afford the time out of their day-to-day tasks to complete training. We overcome these challenges in two ways. Firstly, we recognise that training is key to employee development. We therefore tie an element of performance bonus to achievement of learninggoals. At the beginning of each fi nancial year, the employee and the manager meet to determine learning goals. These are then assessed on a quarterly basis. The manager therefore knows what to budget for from a training perspective, and the employee knows to allocate time to achieve specifi c learning goals in order to derive at a percentage of the performance bonus.”

Dariel Solutions’ HR manager Alison Palmer said challenges faced by Dariel are often in connection with its project deadlines. “Considering the nature of the work that we do, the client expects timeous delivery. So, planned training is often diffi cult when there are intense project deadlines. It is also diffi cult to take someone off a project for an entire week to attend a training course, as all our team members have a crucial role to play, bringing their own area of specialisation to the project. We have found that full-time training courses that run over a couple of days are ineffective in general, as I believe that we all have a point at which we become knowledge-saturated. We have also found that ‘vanilla’ courses do not always give our staff the necessary knowledge that is applicable in their working environment. It is for these reasons that our well-established Dariel Developer Training runs for two hours, twice a month, covering topics that are relevant and topical, facilitated by our own experts. “

Entelect has an always maturing, but structured, internal training policy, says the company’s GM of Communications, Yatish Parshotam. “We encourage staff to take on certifi cation or training programmes that are aligned with our strategic business direction. The general objective is to empower our staff, add value to our client base and service offering and to increase our overall company technical knowledge via our internal information-share programmes and platforms.”

He cited several challenges faced by Entelect: “Firstly, keeping up with international, cuttingedge technologies: the software-development market, and specifi cally the bespoke or custom-development offerings, need to deliver and implement rapid, robust solutions. The latest international (and a few local) cutting-edge development frameworks can very often facilitate or expedite this development process. However, there are very few local training services that have moved past the basics into specialist focus areas, applicable to our requirements.”

Secondly, Parshotam quoted continual and rapid change in the software industry as challenges. “An example of this is cloud-based services, a hot topic at the moment. Your bespoke solution can now utilise a specifi c outsourced component as part of the larger solution inner-workings. However, these are diffi cult to get on-board, as much of the investigation - often completed by developing prototypes or proof-of-concepts - can be a slow process when the accompanying information is not readily available. Client deadlines don’t easily move, so technology adoption often falls by the wayside in lieu of speedy delivery.”

Next, Parshotam said slow change in corporates or enterprises is an issue. “Another perspective is the challenge with leading the way in software development. Existing corporates and larger enterprises are slow to adopt technology-related changes. The business reasons are correctly justifi ed and address many of the obvious factors that should always be considered, primarily related to risk, cost and change management. This requirement often creates a technology generation-gap.

We continually have to balance keeping our staff engaged with the newer technology trends, while still training them to offer substantial value in maintaining and developing legacy systems.

YATISH PARSHOTAM, ENTELECT

As a service-orientated provider, you have to ensure that your staff maintains a knowledge of legacy (often not seen as sexy) architectures and implementation frameworks. We continually have to balance keeping our staff engaged with the newer technology trends, while still training them to offer substantial value in maintaining and developing legacy systems.”

Busi Dichaba, learning and development manager at Internet Solutions, said the company has various streams that fall within its training programme. “These range from technical, through to systems and business knowledge, product, and quality assurance. The major challenge we face is that with the constant and rapid rate of change (both with technology evolution, as well as the company’s on-boarding of new products and services), our staff as well as our clients need regular training to stay abreast and competent.”

Dichaba said, traditionally IS’s model was classroom-based training. “As our organisation extends across the country as well as the continent, training can be fairly cumbersome: participants have to be fl own to Johannesburg and take hours out of their work and personal lives.”

In order to get the best from any tool, administrators require thorough training, says Desmond Sanders, professional services consultant at Kaseya Africa. “Training expedites return on investment (ROI) by allowing administrators to function more quickly and productively. It also educates them on the scope and breadth of the product, allowing them to deliver more value to clients. The irony is that due to the shortage of skills, not only in South Africa but worldwide, our greatest challenge is that qualified administrators are hard-pressed to take time away from work to continue training. Despite extremely positive feedback following in-depth training that substantiates our assertion that training increases productivity, administrators and especially MSPs simply cannot afford time away from the office.”

Locally, Sanders said Kaseya is attempting to overcome this challenge by restructuring its training where possible. “Our approach has been to break training up into a series of half-day classes, which encourages higher attendance. In addition, administrators can begin integrating what they have learned in a phased way.”

The irony is that due to the shortage of skills, not only in South Africa but worldwide, our greatest challenge is that qualified administrators are hardpressed to take time away from work to continue training.

Desmond Sanders, Kaseya Africa

Specific skills

Liz Grant, head of Training Academy at PBT Group, says speaking specifically of business intelligence (BI), SA does not currently have any formal BI curricula recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). “As a result, there is very little formal BI training available to anyone interested in entering into this field and as such, not much attention is paid to BI at a graduate level, for this very reason. “

She said while anyone interested in BI can attend vendor training, which is often focused on how to use the vendor’s products specifically, these courses seldom - if ever - cover the underlying principles of BI. This often means that entry-level BI consultants typically have no understanding of what BI actually entails and how it works, or at most, possess tools/ vendor skills without a real understanding of why they perform certain tasks and functions in a particular way.

established an annual BI Internship Programme in 2004, in which selected IT and math/stats graduates attend three months of classroom training, learning the fundamentals of BI and the technology relevant to their future deployment, before being placed on BI projects. “This theoretical and practical grounding provides a solid foundation for the interns to help them build a career in BI. The young consultants who have passed through this programme have excelled in their various placements, with many former interns occupying very senior positions in companies today.”

There is also a struggle to source appropriate training providers, adds Dariel’s Palmer. “For example, we started a test-analyst learnership but were given little guidance from MICT SETA and have really struggled to source an accredited training provider. Likewise, with the Microsoft accreditation exams – it was difficult to source a suitable training provider. I think that due to the speed with which the IT industry evolves, it is tricky for training providers to keep up with the need, considering changing technologies. Another example is that some of Dariel’s employees were desperate to attend Android training, and we were unable to source a suitable training provider in the country – and as such, they are now doing it online with an institute in the UK.”

Training the channel

Speaking of the channel, Michael Fletcher, sales director at Ruckus Wireless sub-Saharan Africa, says the market is a competitive one, and in order for a vendor to succeed, training and upskilling their channel partners needs to be seen as a priority. “Channel partners are representing the brand and need to do so in a way that the aligns with the vendor’s processes, service quality and customer promise. If you consider that many are operating at various worldwide locations – this becomes even more critical.”

However, Fletcher says finding a balance in terms of training is currently the biggest challenge. “Training is essential but perception around it can be skewed if it is not done properly. If you charge for training, customers complain, as they feel it should be a value-add, but if it’s free, it appears to have no value. As a result, perceptions around free content and training needs to change to ensure that customers are making use of it. We have an abundance of free content to assist our wireless guys regardless of which vendor they work with. In Africa, however, the online-training component can be quite challenging in the more remote areas due to bandwidth constraints and as such, we regularly need to meet with them in-country to knowledge-share and train.”

In Fletcher’s opinion, another challenge that vendors are currently facing when it comes to training is specifically aligned to creating a channel with a structure, value proposition and margin model that is unique and compelling. “We are finding that more and more channel partners are diversifying their product focus areas under one umbrella and as such, are not focused on product-specific training in comparison to those partners that have dedicated staff looking after specific portfolios.”

Address ing the challenges

IS has addressed its training issues by developing what Dichaba calls a highly successful e-learning model, which has allowed the company to tackle numerous key challenges. “Firstly, programmes can be rolledout instantaneously. Secondly, participants can schedule learning around their commitments, without having to spend days out of the offi ce. E-learning affords tremendous scope, allowing us to reach our staff and clients, no matter where they are located. It is reducing the company’s carbon footprint, as training-related travel has been cut signifi cantly. Additionally, programmes can be re-evaluated and improved very quickly, as feedback is instantaneous. The results of the course participants can also be examined quickly, allowing additional tutelage - if required.”

She added that IS also uses its extensive training programmes to its advantage in other ways. “Staff enjoy access to a wide scope of courses, free of charge, which we see as a strong market differentiator both in terms of being in a position to offer highly skilled staff to our clients, and in terms of attracting sought-after individuals to work at the company.”

To overcome its challenges, Entelect creates the majority of its training content tailored specifi cally for its degreed and highly-qualifi ed staff. “These courses need to have an immediate impact or overall positive effect on the outcomes of real-world implementations. Entelect’s developers are at heart solutions engineers and are very practical in the solutions that we help deliver to clients; they are very quick to see through the salesman-fog of generalised training for new technologies. Employees ask that this content can be disseminated and absorbed very rapidly with maximum value and with a maximum-reuse requirement.”

COMMON MISTAKES

There are several basic mistakes that companies make when it comes to training investment.

1. No clear learning objectives and outcomes in place

2. No understanding of who needs training and the
nature of the training needed.

3. No proper means to measure and assess the training,
and get proper feedback from their employees or the
trainers.

4. No support in place to ensure that employees can
apply, practice and maintain their new skills.

Morgan says to overcome time constraints that cause hassles with training, the company is increasingly looking to both online and classroom training. “Each method of training delivery has advantages, and it is important to weigh up the benefi ts of each. E-learning has the benefi t of being fl exible from a time perspective, but in-classroom training of the employee has the benefi t of being able to draw a lot from experienced trainers, more so than via online content. “

“One element that is being increasingly instituted is the concept of knowledge-sharing within the organisation. A collaboration portal such as SharePoint allows employees across the organisation to benefi t from their colleagues’ experience, ask questions and search for relevant contextual content. This supplements the more traditional methods of training,” Morgan concludes.

Dariel adopts a holistic approach to training, explains Palmer. “As an IT consultancy, we cannot focus purely on the technical aspects; we also have to develop our staff’s softer skills. As a result of this approach, the Dariel Academy has several training streams. These streams do not function in isolation; instead, they often support and lead into the other streams. We also have a strong obligation to shape the future leaders of our industry. We therefore have a wonderful Graduate Programme as well as a Test Analyst Learnership, offering the youngsters of today (but leaders of tomorrow) practical experience within a supportive and challenging environment.”

“We have a very strong drive to train, up-skill and develop our staff. Our approach to training is very open-ended. Should any staff member identify a course that they would like to attend, we consider their application in line with their career aspirations. We believe that our staff need to drive their own careers (with guidance from us, when needed) and this is a fantastic environment within which to do so. We also encourage the teams to highlight courses and workshops that would benefi t the staff at Dariel as a whole,” Palmer adds.

Very often, training requirements are identifi ed during one-on-ones with the staff, she added. “This way, we are able to identify trends in the company with respect to desired training, and can accommodate the need from a company perspective. We are passionate about giving back to our staff in terms of training opportunities and our commitment to help them develop in their chosen fi eld; as well as giving back to our industry in terms of our Graduate Programme and Test Learnership,“ Palmer concludes.

To address its challenges, Fletcher says, “Ruckus has taken a channel approach that does not swamp the market with competition, but rather aligns specifi cally to its company ethos and business objectives – looking for training partners that have knowledge of our product line and are willing to invest in building up their IP around our projects and solutions.

“In addition, Ruckus Wireless offers product training to solution partners and end customers at various worldwide locations and through fl exible delivery methods. Network professionals have the opportunity to learn about Ruckus wireless technologies, wireless network design, deployment (installation and confi guration), management, and troubleshooting.

He adds that given the widespread location of all the company partners, Ruckus has designed a training portal, which all partners and their subsequent channel can access, to keep abreast of new industry developments, new products and of course, technical and engineering information. “It also includes sales and marketing material to assist the partners in their business outreach. There are also modules that partners can go through to test their knowledge and skills ,and after completing training, they receive a knowledge certifi cation. It’s a push and pull approach – the training and support from Ruckus is always available and we constantly push out communication, training opportunities and new information and at the same time, we can monitor and make sure our channel partners are constantly trained and updated accordingly.”

Upcoming training courses