TRAINING AND SKILL ACQUISITION- THE KEY TO AFRICA DEVELOPMENT

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TRAINING AND SKILL ACQUISITION- THE KEY TO AFRICA DEVELOPMENT

Let me start this article by quoting one of the most respected men of God with great achievement, Dr. David Oyedepo, the president of living Faith Worldwide Inc. said on training in his book titled Success Systems “The future of any task is bleak without one possessing the necessary training to make it work. This is because the quality of training is what ultimately determines the degree of triumph”

There is nothing that can be more factual than this wise statement by an accomplished man of God. He further stated that training leaves for the trained, traits of excellence and character that enhances the overall accomplishment of the task”.

Training is a development program toward accomplishment of your task. The misconception between what training and education is stem from the usage of the two words. Most people think that once you have a formal education and you are employed to do a job you are good to go. That is not totally true; there are two forms of training, there is formal and informal training.

Formal training is the one received from an educational or corporate institution, while informal training requires more personal or self development to become well groomed.

I will quickly expatiate on these two forms of training since they are the core of this article. In most of my training as a management consultant, I’ve always liked to open the session with this ice-breaker that knowledge (education) acquisition is divided into five different areas.

First is the home training. This is not a formal type of education but it is fundamental in nature and key to one’s development; it is the training that helps one in character formation. Usually it comes from your parents, elders, friends and loved ones to build the character which the larger society will appreciate in you and be willing to accept. No certificate is issued for passing through this type of training but the truth of the matter is that if you don’t have it you are not fit for any job. Your attitude will tell everyone that you are not well trained. It is an essential requirement for success in life. If you don’t have it you will ultimately fail in life because you will lack the necessary character to keep you at the top no matter what level you may have attained in your academic pursuit.

“Character is an essential tendency. It can be covered up, it can be messed with, and it can be screwed around with but it can’t be ultimately changed. It is the structure of our bones, the blood that runs through our veins.-Sam Shepard, American playwright.

Nobody awards you any certificate for going through this training but you need it at every stage of your life and if you don’t have it, everyone that meets you will clearly see that you lack home training.

Secondly, Academic training is the one we call formal education, which is the key that opens your world of life. Without sound education today you may not fit into our world. You might be leaving in 21st century as if you are born in 19th century.

Let me quickly add that if you don’t have enough formal education you are not a failure but your chances of success is restricted. Education is the key to the world of success, but Do not be deceived by qualifications, it is no substitute for personal development. Also, don’t be discouraged by the lack of qualification either, as it is no “disqualifier for achievements” so says a wise man.

Thirdly, there is professional training and is either formal or informal but largely it is informal, and that is where we are going to spend some good time to explain the need for professional training and skill development in our country and by extension the continent of Africa if we really want to challenge the rest of the world at the highest stage.

Every profession, trade or association requires some degree of professional training for you to excel in that field or trade. Just to underscore the importance of training and skill development. At the ongoing world cup in Brazil, some lessons from what we have seen so far on display can attest to this all important discussion on learning and skill acquisition. All participating countries have selected their top players to represents their countries at the world cup. The fact that these footballers are skillful with great abilities does not take away the need for professional training to bring the best out of their latent abilities. No matter how good you are in any field of endeavor you still need continuous improvement which Japanese called “Kaizens.”

The other two which, which I may not talk too much about because of the main discussion, are financial training and spiritual knowledge. For financial training or literacy, nobody trains you on how to spend your money. This is more practical and we learn it by observation and application of common-sense. You acquire this training in an informal way either by observation of people who are financially disciplined or reading books written by some great authors like: THINK AND GROW RICH or RICH DAD, POOR DAD. The bottom line is that your financial literacy is a self-development project and you have to apply your common-sense if you don’t want to leave like a beggar. If you want to leave a dignified life, then you must let your brain speak to your pocket before spending your money.

Lastly, spiritual training: this is when you want to know more about your maker or creator. You receive this education from your pastors, Imams or spiritual Leaders depending on your line of religion; it can be a formal training by going to bible school or a regular Friday or Sunday teaching in your place of worship. It can also be informal by listening to radio or TV ministration or doing your personal bible study. The need for this last form of education cannot be over emphasized because the word of God says without Him you can do nothing. Therefore we need to know more about him for it is Him that gives us power to get wealth.

One thing we have noticed in our continent and our Ghana to be specific today is the unwillingness of employers of labour to commit money and resources in training and developing their employees. Instead employers are looking for cheap and ‘ready-made’ staff that has been trained by someone else to employ and help them in driving their processes.  These employers’ lack of commitment, which they often claim is due to their inability to receive value for the money spent on staff training and development, cannot be enough excused: not to train their key asset, the Human Capital of the organization is intolerable.

We maintain other classes of assets, Motor Vehicles, Computers and Accessories, Plant and Machinery, Equipment and Buildings. We often find it difficult to training the people who will use these assets. I think that looks ridiculous for businesses that want to compete with the rest of the world. Moreover the “Berlin wall” has been collapsed and the entire world is now a global business village.

The scale of the talent-challenge in our country and generally in Africa is huge. Although the market system in Africa is opening up, both domestic and multinational companies cannot count on the skill sets and uncertainty of the government’s empowerment Programmes to cover the shortfall. The challenge today in Africa is lack of required competencies to drive the ambitious growth agenda of most countries in the continent. In some of these countries, economy are projected to be growing at an average rate of 6 percent, there is nowhere near enough senior level managerial and technical talent to satisfy the demands of all companies hoping to grow in Africa and Ghana is no exception.

Most forward looking businesses and countries around the world are not shying away from coming to Africa just because of lack of adequate human talents to help them drive their corporate objectives. They are interested in the unique natural endowments which God has given to us in Africa but to solve the talent gap they recruit people from any part of the world that can help them actualize these goals and pay such people handsome reward for their talents no matter how much it cost them provided they are getting adequate returns on their investment.

The Business world is gradually turning into top European football markets, where star players are prized based on the quality they possess and not because you are a citizen of the host country. Take a look at a football club like Chelsea or Manchester City for instance, on any given match day you will be luck to have two to three (3) British citizens playing together on the field for the team.

The name of the game now is get them from anywhere in the world we would sort out the government regulatory issues because government too is caught in between what is expedient and the need to generate money through taxes to meet its development agenda.

It has already started here in Ghana, there are companies in this country, that the number of foreign nationals out numbers the locals, it is not that they don’t want to employ the locals to do the job, in actual fact they are even cheaper than their foreign counterparts but they would not sacrifice the local content requirement for quality. Instead they can afford to pay Ghana Investment Promotion Council (GIPC) some extra dollars to allow them additional expatriate quota allocation to enable them achieve their objectives.

In a recent article written by two of Egon Zehnder’s most illustrous writers, Xavier Leroy and Paulo D. Simoes  on “Cracking Africa’s Talent Challenge: Why Executive Development is Key‘‘ (Egon Zehnder is one of the world-leading management consultancy firms). They said ‘For businesses in every sector, Africa offers exciting prospects. Aggregate annual growth exceeds 4.9%, amongst the highest of any region, with the continent’s collective GDP forecast at $2.6 trillion by 2020. Africa is blessed with abundant natural resources and is seeing tremendous investment in oil and gas, mining and agriculture. Opportunities in consumer-facing industries are just as promising: Africa’s consumers are expected to buy $1.4 trillion worth of goods and services in 2020. Telecoms companies alone have added over 300 million subscribers since 2000.

But Africa’s rapid growth, combined with historic underinvestment in human capital, is creating a serious shortage of talent – which could hold the continent back from achieving its full potential, and frustrate the expansion plans of many African and international businesses. In the latest United Nations Human Development Index, 38 out of 46 of the world’s lowest-ranking countries are in Africa. This makes investment in education and training absolutely critical‘‘

Fierce competition

They went further to say that, ‘‘No where is this challenge more pressing than in the top ranks of business, where fast-growing companies are competing fiercely for a limited pool of senior management and technical talent. Neither the graduates from local universities nor the steady stream of returning African professionals and expats are sufficient to meet demand. In some of Africa’s most resource-rich countries, such as Angola, it is common for executives to last only months in a role before moving on to another company – at a multiple of their previous salary.‘‘

This gloomy picture is wide spread across the continent of Africa, if you are ardent follower of development in Telecommunication industry in Ghana in the recent years you will see high level of labour turnover and unprecedented amount of staff poaching among the top players in the sector. The issue is that people are changing jobs solely on the strenght of higher pay check with little or nothing to offer their new employer in terms of skill, competence and additional value. Therefore we promote  people and pay them salaries and compensation beyond their level of competence just because there are skills-gaps in the system.

This is not peculiar with Telecoms alone, if you look at the banking industry in Ghana with about 28 commercial banks now, so many NBFIs and uncountable micro-finance companies. One thing you will notice is that we do a lot of re cycling of people, sometimes ‘not well baked‘ or ‘un riped‘ staff and promote them to handle sensitive managerial positions in many of these financial institutions. Chief among the reasons for the demise of many Micro Finance and savings and loans  companies in Ghana is the dearth of competent and sound, skilled labour force in that sector. You will see a person with just about 2 or 3 years banking training being made a Branch Manager or Head of Operations in a commercial bank in Ghana. What do you expect from such quality of person.

Unfortunately, these multinational and giant telecom companies are not looking ahead to build their own reservoir of talents to come out of the rat race going on in most sectors. On the part of the government, there is no policy direction to ensure people acquire relevant skills for the economic growth and future development.

A recent Egon Zehnder event on “Hiring and Managing Talent in Africa”, held in Maputo, capital of Mozambique, shone a spotlight on the challenge. The country’s growth rate is amongst Africa’s highest, underpinned by major foreign direct investment – indeed, on the day of our event, the Chinese oil company CNPC invested $4.2bn in a natural gas field off the coast of Mozambique, one of the largest Chinese investments in Africa to date.

But Mozambique’s human development levels are amongst the lowest in the continent, in part due to a 16-year civil war that ended in 1992. Executives from some 50 companies attended the Egon Zehnder event, and many of them cited the shortage of managerial and technical talent as their number one issue. As in Angola, economic growth and the development of natural resources are driving a “war for talent” that is fast pushing up compensation levels.

Training local talent

What are companies and governments to do? As several successful firms are showing, the answer lies in investing in the development of your own management talent. For example, a leading beverage company in Mozambique has become known for its extensive executive education programme, as well as its culture of mentoring and coaching. It is widely seen as a “corporate MBA”, a training ground for local talent. Other companies, in industries as diverse as mining and banking, are building similar programmes in that country.

We can introduce similar thing here. Some of the banks and multi national companies have what they called Executive Development Training or Management Trainees Programmes where new recruits or staff that they tagged ‘‘rookies‘‘ are taking through rudimentary and long period of pratical training both within the classroom environment and on the job to prepare them for the nitty gritty of their new roles.

Although, these education programmes make these companies’ executives more marketable, they usually have the effect of slowing the turnover rate – showing that talented managers are typically motivated as much by personal growth as by compensation. These programmes are also a visible commitment by companies to contribute to African society’s longer-term development; they are usually complemented by investments in schooling systems and universities, and support for talented students. African managers and professionals, who generally feel a strong personal mission to contribute to nation-building and the continent’s regeneration, are more likely to be attracted to companies that make such commitments.

What we have seen here are people from various university and other tertiary institutions with high level of academic qualifications and professional certifications which can be termed as raw skills but are short in the experience and managerial expertise required to lead many of our companies into the twenty first century business world. If we are talking about people with years of managerial experience at the upper end. That may be a hard nut to crack. They are not just available in the local market.

The problem we face with our professionals is their lack of experience in leadership positions and global scale best practice. Rather than earn their stripes in the corporate hierarchy, African professionals nowadays are ‘fast-tracked through the system’, without the experience to get the job done. These are professionals in their twenties and thirties, from whom business must develop the next generation of leaders.

Businesses need to invest massively on talent development as if they are acquiring new businesses. Except if they don’t want to build a business where there will have people to run it in the nearest future or we want to settle for mediocre managers that can only produce or deliver mediocre results.

The rate of ‘churn’ has been on the rise as more and more executives job-hop. The consequence of all this is what some described as a “transient workforce” where young professionals are literally “bought”.

It is becoming a culture of instant gratification among young professionals who find it easy in an economy desperate for skills to move from organisation to organisation without a commitment to the achievement of a vision. In fact, we are finding that people leave before they can fail at the top and this leaves a recycled vacuum at the top.

To address the skilled worker shortage, both government and business owners must develop a Joint Initiative for Priority Skills Acquisition (JIPSA) programme, may be as an additional responsibility for Skill Development Fund (SDF) to be jointly funded by both parties. Where young, intelligent and enterprising citizens of the country are identified from various companies and schools by SDF for interview and eventually sponsorship on corporate attachment or mentoring programmes with top class institutions and business leaders around the world for a period between one or two years to learn best business practices from their host companies.

On the other hand, corporate bodies can develop their own training academy with a strong curriculum to be administered by seasoned training institutions not ivory tower certainly but practitioners who will recruit retired specialists, expert mentors and accomplished professionals from any part of the world to come and share experiences on how to lead their business into the next century.

This requires huge investment of time, top level management commitment and money. They have set aside significant six of their profit for talent development. This should be an all important objective to be incorporated in our corporate strategic plan to form part of our short and long term goals.  One thing that is certain in all of this is that, it is a forward looking approach and the end can only justify the means. My bible tells me that ‘Any enterprise is built by wise planning, becomes strong through common sense, and profits wonderfully by keeping abreast of the facts.’ Proverbs 24: 3-4 (TLB)

 What we need now is to instill visionary leadership qualities in our people, the ability to see future outcomes and drive our organisations towards it — these are competencies that are very hard to find. Getting employees to follow through on commitments and focus on getting results rather than just following instructions — that’s where we are lacking tremendously. Clearly, the talent-gap is structural and generational in nature particularly in Africa, and we must find a lasting solution to it immediately.