Despite its positive economic outlook, Africa still faces significant challenges including access to quality higher education by most of its 1.03 billion citizens.
According to Dr Marko Saravanja, Chairperson of Regenesys Business School, distinct lack of teaching facilities, limited access to educators and technology infrastructure has made it increasingly difficult to afford access to education – especially higher education aimed at developing business acumen.
“In South Africa, illiteracy rates continue to hover at roughly 18% of people over the age of 15 with less than one quarter (16 %) of residents aged 16 to 24 enrolled in a tertiary programme - this is even with the allocation of 20 % of annual GDP towards education,” says Saravanja.
Experts agree that entrepreneurial spirit and a robust small business environment is the primary engine of growth in any developing territory. Despite this, up to 20 % of startup organisations fail within the first year due to lack of insight or knowledge. In order for the continent to take its rightful place as an economic player, there needs to be a concerted effort between public and private entities to ensure that its citizens are given tools to thrive in this business environment.
“In partnership with recognised business educational institutions, corporate entities have the opportunity to champion free and open access to quality higher education. Working closely with knowledge professionals, large organisations should focus on facilitating primary and tertiary learning at no cost via the Internet,” according to Saravanja.
This kind of activity could jumpstart what many consider to be a vulnerable economy. In early 2013, the World Bank reduced South African economic growth forecasts to 2.4 % for the year. Imagine the impact free business related education could have in terms of domestic growth. The potential is significant.
“Several corporates around the world, including in South Africa, have already taken this step. Partnering with Regenesys Business School, these entities have afforded millions of people access to a wealth of learning materials at no cost.
“This makes perfect business sense and has a massive impact on education levels on the continent. The upside for corporates is the encouragement of open source learning in areas lacking home grown expertise and building a solid base of future employees. For the user, it is access to world class education and material from any device that can connect to the Internet,” he says.
South Africa already boasts an impressive mobile penetration rate, guaranteeing the full breadth of the country’s population access to free education facilitated by these corporations.
With the technology infrastructure developments across the continent, there is no reason why this model cannot work in any other African country. Years of limited fixed line Internet access has encouraged the growth of a mobile network that can truly usher in the age of free education. Big business simply needs to get on board.
In addition to this, Hennie Heymans, MD of DHL Express South Africa, believes that there is a critical need in SA for businesses to provide adequate training to stimulate ailing economy.
“The South African workforce is faced with many challenges, currently, two of the most pressing being the country’s significant skills gap and shortage, and the volatile situation of the labour market,” says Heymans.
The University of Johannesburg’s recently released Supply Chain Skills Gap Survey, revealed that the supply chain skills gap in South Africa has widened and is hindering logistics capabilities, as well as the country’s ability to perform more effectively economically.
The survey reveals that around 65% of employers battle to fill tactical level positions and that 66% of employers are increasingly finding it difficult to fill strategic level positions - an increase of 3% from 2011. “Across South Africa’s various sectors, there is a limited availability of skilled resources. The shortage of skills in the logistics industry, coupled with the various strikes across the country, has only increased the sector’s inability to deliver effective service and hampers businesses that handle the delivery of goods,” says Heymans.
He says that bridging the skills divide is a continuous challenge for logistics industry, as well other sectors within the economy. “The skills divide in South Africa continues to widen as foreign direct investment increases and the demand for talent outstrips supply.
“One of the major challenges facing any multinational company operating in South Africa, as well as Sub-Saharan Africa, is the lack of adequate training, and education systems which sometimes fall short of global standards.”
Heymans says that due to this shortfall in training, there is a critical need to provide additional training to employees. “An engaged workforce, focussed on a company’s goal and vision, is vital for positive earning and growth. For example, one of the principal factors in DHL’s African and global performance, is the learning and development programme, Certified International Specialists (CIS).”
He explains that the program, which is delivered to every employee across the company’s global network, has also been a key intervention in Sub-Saharan Africa, bridging the skills divide and providing comprehensive training and education for the company’s employees.“This programme has played a fundamental role in our business performance and we’ve seen how a skills program can tangibly contribute towards a business’s bottom line.
“Logistics is a vital element for economic competitiveness and growth and logistics performance can positively or negatively the country’s economic growth. For this reason, it is incredibly vital for businesses within the logistic sector to strive to improve the skills divide within the industry,” concludes Heymans.