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Leadership Magazine’s Ralph Staniforth sat down with Finance and Accounting Services Sector Education and Training Authority (FASSET) CEO Ayanda Mafuleka to delve into the importance of working with a strong set of values and just how important the entity is in the grand scheme of the finance and accounting services sector

Within South Africa’s workforce, the finance and accounting services play an incredibly important role. This sector encompasses the largest group of individuals armed with financial management, accounting, and auditing skills. It is where the heartbeat of fiscal governance and economic stewardship within the country is contained.

Among the guardians of this sector, the Finance and Accounting Services Sector Education and Training Authority (FASSET) emerges as a guiding light.

FASSET is an entity uniquely positioned to mold the future of this vital sector in South Africa.

This is made possible by their unwavering dedication to the upskilling of students through various skills programmes, learnerships, internships, bursary grants, financial and digital training, and research—all which provide a platform for the future success of those wanting to enter the finance and accounting services sector.

And with a vision of ‘facilitating the achievement of world-class finance and accounting services skills’, their work is proving to be invaluable.

Established in April 2000 in terms of the Skills Development Act, FASSET’s vision is to facilitate the achievement of world class finance and accounting services skills, while its mission is to increase the flow of new finance and accounting services entrants to employment by developing and growing the skills required, and facilitating the transformation of the finance and accounting services sector.

At the helm of FASSET since January 2019 is Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Ayanda Mafuleka.

Armed with various qualifications from some of South Africa’s top tertiary institutions, a Chartered Accountancy CA(SA) designation and a CV which has seen her work for the likes of various business divisions of Transnet, National Treasury, the National Credit Regulator, and the South African Post Office over the past 16 years. Mafuleka has been working her magic at FASSET to ensure that South Africa is consistently able to provide skilled individuals for one of its more important sectors.

In a bid to find out more about the inner workings of FASSET and the work being carried out by Mafuleka, Leadership Magazine sat down with the experienced executive to find out more about the entity’s mission and values, the all-important programmes it is involved in, key partnerships, the sector as a whole, and who Mafuleka is in terms of leadership.

Core values that drive excellence

FASSET, like any guiding institution, has a mission and values that serve as its guiding star.

FASSET’s mission is to enhance the flow of new entrants into the finance and accounting services workforce, to develop and foster the essential skills of the sector, and to facilitate the transformation of this sector.

The journey towards achieving this mission is underpinned by a set of core values, which form the bedrock of FASSET’s operations:

  • Professionalism and Accountability: FASSET’s team is a group of professionals committed to excellence through hard work and an unwavering sense of responsibility. They adhere to a well-defined code of conduct, ensuring accountability at all levels.
  • Ethics: Integrity and honesty are the keystones of FASSET’s operations. They respect all stakeholders, both internal and external, with the utmost sincerity, fostering both trust and transparency.
  • Making a Difference: FASSET aims to be a beacon of positive change. By identifying the unique needs of all stakeholders and consistently exceeding expectations, they create a meaningful impact on all the lives of those they serve.
  • Valuing People: FASSET aspires to cultivate a culture of motivation and support, where everyone is understood, respected, developed, and valued. This approach fosters a collaborative and innovative environment.
  • Innovation: Innovation is the engine that propels FASSET forward. The organisation is committed to continuous improvement, relentlessly seeking ways to enhance the value it provides to all stakeholders.

These guiding principles are not lip-service, but rather the driving force behind FASSET’s tireless efforts to uplift the industry. The sector, in turn, thrives on this, impacting not only the economy, but also the lives of countless individuals.

Mafuleka, who held the role of Chief Financial Officer at the National Credit Regulator between 2014 and 2018, expands on this: ”FASSET’s mission is embedded in increasing the flow of new entrants into the FASSET sector, developing and growing the skills required in the sector, and facilitating its transformation.

”FASSET thrives on being able to bridge the skills gaps and responding to skills scarcity. The values that underpin the work of FASSET are valuing people, innovation, making a long lasting difference, ethics, professionalism, as well as accountability.”

A challenge which arises from the abovementioned promises is ensuring that the mission and values are entrenched within the daily workings of the entity and its staff.

How Mafuleka has tackled this challenge head-on is through crafting key performance indicators (KPIs) which draw on the mission statement of the organisation, thus ensuring alignment of operational activities to the broader strategies of the organisation.

In turn, what this does is it eliminates silos, whilst at the same time fostering team-goal achievement from a business unit level perspective.

Mafuleka explains: ”Creating an open working environment for successful execution of the organisation’s mission is very key to the overall execution of our mandate. This requires one to be present to ensure speedy intervention as and when challenges arise, and offer guidance on a variety of issues.

”The two aforementioned concepts of openness and presence are part of the role that I play in ensuring we achieve our strategic and operational targets, as well as collectively shaping a healthy and conducive work culture for all involved

With nearly five years of experience in the role, Mafuleka has learned many lessons when it comes to working with the mission and values of the entity.

One of those key lessons has been the use of innovative ways in striving towards the goals set out by the mandate of FASSET.

”I have learned that there is a need for innovation in the delivery of our mandate and that has seen me traversing across the organisation’s hierarchical structure to gainfully engage all our employees. This extends to all our stakeholders too. Of late, this has entailed structuring and coining the concept of excellence for the organisation,” Mafuleka, who holds a Chartered Accountant (SA) professional designation from SAICA, explains.

”This has been a journey I have sought for FASSET from the commencement of my duties as CEO, however, as of the current financial year, I have found a more structured and intentional approach towards excellence .”

Having moved the organisation to a place where they meet the statutory requirements, Mafuleka believes it is her duty to cement the excellence therein, including elevating the impact the entity has in the sector and the country at large.

”Through this process of being intentionally excellence centred, our values play a vital role, as these values guide the behavioural aspects of FASSET. Continuous performance monitoring and feedback forms part of the process to ensure we not only retain the progress made, but transcend it,” she adds. Extending this excellence is FASSET’s most recent recognition at the Standard Bank Top Women Awards in the category of Top Women Business in Public Service 2023. This recognition highlights the intentional work FASSET does to bring about transformation within the sector.

Programmes that make an impact

FASSET is known for the impressive programmes which they run for the betterment of all involved. They are often seen as a beacon of hope for those who are afforded the opportunity to participate.

These programmes respond to various national priorities, which include the following:

  • The Women’s Executive Development Programme (EDP). This programme is facilitated through the International Women’s Forum of South Africa Duke Corporate Education, and Wits Business School. The aim of the programme is to enhance the business acumen and leadership skills of women at middle and executive management levels.
  • The Academic Support Programme. This programme is designed to assist previously disadvantaged institutions with the improvement of their throughput rate in the commerce streams. It has supported 2 733 individuals in the 2022/2023 financial year alone. Since the inception of the programme, FASSET has supported close to ten thousand learners.
  • Strategic partnerships with the TVET and CET sector. FASSET has launched fully outfitted state of the art ICT Hubs at 45 TVET colleges and supported the nine CET colleges with mobile classrooms.
  • Internship and learnership Programmes. This programme helps to prepare youth for the world of work and includes training in digital skills. Every year FASSET places more than 5000 learners in these programmes.
  • The Maths, Accounting, and English Programme. This programme caters for learners in Grades 8 through 12. It assists learners to better engage with these subjects, which are the key subjects to furthering studies in the FAS sector related courses.

On the goals of these programmes in terms of aligning with FASSET’s strategy, Mafuleka says: ”FASSET’s pipeline aims to support entrants at various levels of entry into the sector, thus starting at high school through the Maths, Accounting, and English intervention and journeying with them through the different academic and career development stages into executive level employment, as well as entrepreneurship.

”The strategic development of our programmes respond to a call for transformation through developing a world class workforce and creating an impact where it is needed the most. Our beneficiaries form a big part of FASSET’s ultimate goal to contribute towards South Africa’s financial and accounting services landscape to ensure it stands tall in the company of its international counterparts.”

The beneficiaries of these programmes, who Mafuleka says come with innate talent already, are re-skilled and upskilled to be able to cope with a working world that is changing at a fast pace.

This ever-changing world of work requires skills development to be prioritised from all spheres.

For people to be competitive and be assets in the world of digitalisation, the programmes capacitate beneficiaries with essential skills which will allow them to enter the world of work with all guns blazing and provide them with a world view in bringing the future to the present. We have also ensured this through the distribution of laptops to our beneficiaries which enhances their experience.

The question remains: How will these programmes assist in the overall empowerment of South Africa and its people?

South Africa, sadly, is a country that is marred with uncomfortable statistics when one considers data such as the unemployment rate, which currently sits at a staggering 32.6%.

However, as a skills development driver, it is mandatory for FASSET to grab the bull by the horns because when done strategically, skills development can help reduce unemployment, increase productivity, and improve standards of living. Essentially, it makes for a much brighter South Africa of the future.

”Through the various programmes, participants, especially the youth, acquire skills which are vital in the world of work. Skills Development initiatives, especially for previously disadvantaged groups, help to level the playing field and reduce inequality in the economy. FASSET ensures that with all its programmes and initiatives, the organisation does not shift away from the government’s strategic frameworks and policies, such as the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP), National Development Plan 2030 (NDP), and National Skills Development Plan 2030 (NSDP), to name a few,” Mafuleka, who holds a Postgraduate degree in Accounting Sciences from the University of South Africa (UNISA), explains.

To further diversify their programme offering, FASSET has committed to fund 400 candidates through the Project Achiever programme.

The Project Achiever programme assists accounting professionals by preparing them academically and practically to write the South African Institute of Professional Accountants’ (SAIPA) Professional Evaluation (PE) exam in order to learn the prestigious designation of Professional Accountant (SA). According to SAIPA, ‘the examination punctuates the end of every aspiring Professional Accountant (SA)’s Initial Professional Development (IPD) phase of training and is a rite of passage to full SAIPA membership’.

”Our partnerships with most of the Provincial Treasuries and the Development Bank of South Africa are some of the ways in which FASSET aims to reach districts and municipalities to participate in the initiatives of the District Development Model. In partnership with Graca Machel Trust, FASSET addresses the challenges experienced by female entrepreneurs through the Women Creating Wealth programme. This impactful intervention is aimed at developing 600 women led SMMEs in the financial services sector,” Mafuleka says of other planned programmes.

Partnerships and the sector at large

For FASSET, partnerships with various institutions of higher learning are key to achieving their goals. Colleges are vital in helping young people to capacitate themselves with necessary skills. They train young people to develop the skills and knowledge that are required in the labour market.

In particular, Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and Community Education and Training (CET) colleges need not be on the periphery anymore, thus it is important for FASSET to garner their support as the work they do impacts their delivery of their mandate, and vice versa.

For instance, CET colleges, which are community centred, have been game changers in the Post-School Education and Training (PSET) system and they have allowed FASSET to tap into the rural areas and initiate programmes which uplift and develop ordinary people, putting the spotlight on them rather than being on the periphery.

In the previous financial year, FASSET donated laptops and six mobile classrooms to the KwaZulu-Natal CET, kwaHlabisa campus and the outcome thereof were success stories of learners being able to support their small businesses through digital processes such as online advertising and communicating to customers and prospective investors via email and other digital communication avenues.

Further to this, the CET programme also provided stipends to learners, which were then used as capital for their businesses as well as financial support for their families.

”This is a win-win situation, as FASSET gets to fulfil its mandate of rolling out skills development programmes which increases the flow of new finance and accounting entrants, whilst TVET colleges receive various funding and grants which benefit their students, staff, and the TVET sector at large,” Mafuleka, who began her career as a Financial Reporting Manager at the National Ports Authority, explains.

”The effect that these partnerships have on the calibre of candidates available to enter into employment or venture into entrepreneurship has an immense impact on the economy and the long-term sustainability of the sector.”

Sadly, the recent negative stories surrounding the finance and accounting sector, such as the saga surrounding one of the big audit firms in South Africa and those involving big corporations in South Africa, have immensely lowered trust in the profession. Such scandals have brought about scepticism for those who had wanted to venture into the FAS sector. To this end, FASSET has funded workshops on ethics.

In addition, it is a cause for concern when out of the 50 749 Chartered Accountants in the country, only 8 521 are black Africans. On the upside, it is encouraging that black African females make up almost 50% of the 8 521, however, these numbers need to be improved upon as a matter of urgency, insists Mafuleka.

”This is also impacted by the downward spiral in the number of learners who choose mathematics and accounting streams at high school level which we, as FASSET, hope to influence positively through our Maths, English, and Accounting programme. In the current year alone, we have reached more than 3000 learners through this programme,” she continues.

”Another thorn for the sector is the human capital flight or brain drain which has led to a shortage of auditors in the country due to competitive salary packages being offered abroad. With all these challenges noted, FASSET interventions are designed to shift the narrative as quickly as possible.”

For the gaps to be filled as quickly as possible, Mafuleka believes that there are a number of key facets which need to be addressed.

The Bachelor of Law soon to graduate explains: ”Transformation, gender diversity, and the continuing decline in quality of accounting and financial management in the public sector are ongoing concerns. Regulatory changes that are set to disrupt the industry include the mandatory regulatory frameworks. Key trends include the marked decline in the number of auditors and chartered accountants in recent years who have been dropping out of the profession; the declining pass rates of candidates sitting for the board exams; and finance and accounting related professionals opting for the corporate world because of its appeasing salary packages. Fasset has been intentional in funding the programmes with the National and Provincial Treasuries for capacitation and upskilling finance and accounting professionals.

”Better awareness needs to be a primary initiative by all partners in the sectors to attract more entrants, while also ensuring that support is easily accessible to these entrants at various levels of their journey to ensure success.”

The Sector Skills Plan of FASSET has indicated that shortages of finance and accounting services skills still exist at all levels, from clerical, technician, and administrative to professional and managerial. This is what FASSET is aiming to change under Mafuleka’s guidance.

Providing top class leadership

As a leader of such an important entity, Mafuleka has had to deal with her fair share of stress—something which all modern leaders are exposed to on a daily basis.

According to the World Health Organisation, ‘promoting and protecting mental health at work is a growing area of interest and can be supported through legislation and regulation, organisational strategies, manager training, and interventions for workers’.

It is therefore so important for those who are forced to deal with stress to take a step back and manage it, as the longer one pushes stress to the side, the more one’s mental health will suffer.

Christianity plays a big role in this regard for Mafuleka, who also admits that she is starting to understand the importance of taking breaks to clear the mind.

”Prayer is a cornerstone of my personal arsenal. Reminding myself and focusing at times of stress on how valuable the work we do at FASSET is what keeps me level-headed. However, I am also learning to pull away and take breaks when the body and mind require time off to refuel,” the 2018 winner of the Woman of Stature Award for ‘Woman of the Year in Finance’ admits.

While looking after yourself is so important in high-level positions, there is also so much to be learnt from tackling the challenges that come your way. The biggest lesson that Mafuleka has learned to date is ensuring that everything she and the entity do is intentional and with excellence in mind, while she is also a big believer in a leader needing to be agile.

”The impact of our programmes and the ethical conclusion of our programme processes is of importance. Not only because we are a public entity, but also as a driver in education and skills development which are an underpinning value to the improvement of our economic landscape,” Mafuleka, who previously served as the CFO of state coal mining company African Exploration, Mining, and Finance Corporation (AEMFC), avers.

”A leader that is too conventional at various times tends to be their own stumbling block because at this juncture, the world is moving at a fast pace, therefore it requires leaders who can adapt and set the tone of being trailblazers among the employees and peers in the world of work.

”Leaders who are resistant to change find themselves being left behind, which in many cases cannot be remedied. A leader being left behind is detrimental for an organisation because employees are guided by the vision of an organisation which is led by the leader. The assembling of distinct individuals with expertise allows for a team that is dazzling in the execution of their tasks.”

What does the future hold for Mafuleka at the helm of FASSET?

Well, she believes the most important aspect is ensuring the SETA delivers on its mandate in the most impactful and beneficial way for its stakeholders and benefactors. This, in turn, will bring about the prolonged and sustainable success they desire for the entity and all who fall under its umbrella.

”I would love to see the innovative programmes produced during my time continue to build our nation and transform the sector. There is so much more to do and pioneer, but it is important to not shy away from what has been done already as that will guide future steps. With that being said, the journey has already displayed great strides,” she concludes.

And we look forward to seeing just how far FASSET can rise under your leadership in the years to come.

Ralph Staniforth is the Production Editor of Leadership Magazine

FASSET’s multifaceted mandate

FASSET’s role extends beyond mere governance, as the organisation is entrusted with a multi-faceted mandate:

• To develop the competence of employees and potential employees by; improving the quality of life of employees, their prospects of work, and labour mobility; improving productivity in the workplace and the competitiveness of employers; and promoting self-employment in situations where the sector is experiencing job shrinkage.

• To increase the levels of investment in education and training and to optimise the return on this investment.

• To position this sector as the ‘sector of career choice’ for prospective learners and entrants into the labour market.

• To encourage employers and employees to adopt a culture of life long learning through: the workplace as an active learning environment; providing employees with the opportunities to acquire new skills; and providing opportunities for new entrants and potential entrants into the sector labour market and enhancing access to opportunities to gain work experience.

• To support the objectives of the Employment Equity Act of 1998.

• To enhance access to learning opportunities and to facilitate the recognition of prior learning.

• To ensure the quality of education and training in the sector.

• To expand the provision of education and training in this sector through sound partnerships with public and private sector service providers.

• To encourage greater cooperation between the public and private sectors.

• To cooperate with the South African Qualifications Authority and other Setas, in support of the objectives of the Act.

FASSET’s mission is to enhance the flow of new entrants into the finance and accounting services workforce, to develop and foster the essential skills of the sector, and to facilitate the transformation of this sector

Functions of FASSET

• Facilitate strategic human resource development planning within this sector.

• Propose education and training standards and qualifications to bodies registered with SAQA and be responsible for developing education and training standards.

• Monitor and audit achievements in terms of those standards and qualifications.

• Accredit providers, assessors, and moderators of education and training in this sector.

• Assure the quality of education and training in this sector without itself being a provider of education and training.

• Analyse and prioritise education and training needs within this sector and develop skills development strategies to address identified priorities.

• Enhance access to learning opportunities including: Career paths and progression pathways; NQF qualifications; and Learnerships.

• Manage and administer all learnerships within FASSET.

• Manage the administration of levy disbursements in this sector.

• Promote a culture of learning within this sector and encourage active employer and employee organisation participation in the strategies and activities of FASSET.

• Promote and market FASSET through regular communication with all stakeholders and potential stakeholders.

• Perform any other function required by SAQA in terms of FASSET’s registration.

• Perform any other function that must be performed by FASSET in terms of the Skills Development Act or any other applicable law.

FASSET’s inaugural women legacy programmes

Mafuleka has driven the implementation of the following inaugural women legacy programmes:

Women Legacy Leadership Programme: This programme focuses on the empowerment and development of women’s leadership skill sets. It is implemented through a strategic partnership with the Wits Business School (WBS) and International Women Forum of South Africa (IWFSA)/Duke Corporate Education. A targeted number of 2 000 women will go through the programme.

Women Wealth Creation Programme: This programme focuses on economic inclusion of women in the SMME space. FASSET has partnered with the Graça Machel Foundation to deliver this impactful intervention aiming at 600 women-led SMMEs in the financial services sector.

Mafuleka explains the importance of these programmes as follows:

“These programmes leverage leadership education to empower young women in both the private and public sector, as well as growing and strengthening female-led businesses to be competitive and robust; thereby contributing to the economic growth. This becomes a form of inspiration to lift others as we rise. In captaining such initiatives, I know I am fulfilling my responsibilities in serving my country and the world at large. I believe that the next female Minister of Finance will come from the group of 2000 empowered women leaders,” Mafuleka explains.

“The course material is curated by our implementing agents and covers a wide spectrum of disciplines that also encapsulate social and leadership skills through mentorship. The mentorship element is designed to offer support and access to established women leaders. IWFSA have included a global immersion component which exposes our beneficiaries to best practices from other parts of the world. I envision the legacy creating a network of empowered individuals who will continue to uplift and inspire others, ensuring that the legacy of change endures for generations to come.”

By Editor