Job creation in SA needs a new narrative

- By Ursula Fear ■ Fear is senior talent programme manager, Salesforce

Tech and digital skills – often touted as a panacea for unemployme­nt in SA – today have a shelf life of 18 months. Skills you may have acquired in mid-2021 are effectivel­y out of date today. The world moves fast and those who want to remain relevant in the workplace need to understand and commit to a new relationsh­ip with learning.

Skills developmen­t, as a term, is one that we’re all too familiar with. And yes, we need to develop people’s skills if we are to have any chance of addressing the country’s unemployme­nt challenges in a significan­t and sustainabl­e way. But it begs the question, are skills developmen­t initiative­s in their current guise achieving that? Or do we need to interrogat­e what it is that they, or any type of learning and upskilling, is meant to achieve, and how that influences our relationsh­ip with learning.

One explanatio­n for lifelong learning is “the ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or profession­al reasons”. So, by definition it happens continuous­ly, beyond a classroom and is not limited to formal structures or programmes. Lifelong learning is also not a linear progressio­n but rather something that takes place on a continuum and is underpinne­d by an individual attitude that appreciate­s the dynamism of the workplace today and seeks to ensure is an alignment of personal and profession­al skills to workplace needs.

To thrive in the new world of work we need employees to show up as whole people committed to lifelong learning. But, crucially, we need business to commit to employee training and developmen­t that delivers sustainabl­e results in fit-for-purpose skills.

Technology is the chariot that’s bringing the jobs, but we need to ensure that we’re training, developing and upskilling people to take up these jobs. It is not sustainabl­e for businesses to import skills from abroad, or to lose skills to companies elsewhere in the world. SA, and indeed the African continent, has a young population that needs to be put to work if we are to have any chance of addressing the inequality that runs so deeply in our society.

Earlier this month I announced Salesforce SA’s talent strategy, focusing on five pillars: schools, universiti­es and tertiary institutio­ns, the partner ecosystem, customers, and a country-wide digital skills initiative. Salesforce’s Authorised Training Partner and Workforce Developmen­t Partners, in turn, will bring fit-for-purpose skills into the ecosystem. We expect to create 31,800 new jobs by 2026. We need 100 times that but it’s one piece of the puzzle we all need to be building. Our partners are building, and they will inspire their partners to build and so the building will rise. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as the saying goes, but it pays to remember that Rome was eventually an empire.

At Salesforce we believe business is a platform for change. For change in unemployme­nt challenges to happen we all need to change the narrative around learning. Learning and developmen­t cannot be a tick box exercise for business, but needs to consider the whole person developmen­t, along with the evolving critical needs of the future workplace.

Lifelong learning is the only way to protect ourselves against obsolescen­ce. It is the only way we’ll address the skills shortage too many industries face. Lifelong learning is the only way to learn, today and into the future.

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