The Skills Gap

Local industry lagging - lack of skills to blame

Published in Engineering News – On-Line

By: Sylvester Haskins

Published: 16 Nov 07

The local supply chain and logistics industry is lagging behind international markets, says the Association for Operations Management in South Africa (SAPICS) president Ken Titmuss.

Titmuss, founder of Cape Town-based education and consulting firm Kent Outsourcing Services says the lack of development and training in the industry is more than just a skills gap. "It is an industry skills crevasse," he emphasises.

"The fact is that, globally, knowledge has grown exponentially, and those working in our industries have not kept up with recent developments," he says.

A huge amount of waste and cost is negatively impacting on most supply chains and local industry is not implementing best practises that will, in the long run, enable them to become more competitive, and both retain and expand their business, explains Titmuss.

"Generally, our top management is largely unaware of what these best practices are and appear to be unwilling to find out and learn, let alone implement."

Titmuss says that many of the supply chain management concepts have, in the last ten years, been phased out of operations into the supply chain.

"If something is not done quickly, we can quickly fall behind, which we can’t afford to do if we want a strong manufacturing sector," urges Titmuss.

He says that the global nature of South African supply chains makes it imperative for local professionals to keep up with the rapidly developing skills and knowledge in the industry.

"I believe that the penny is beginning to drop as companies look for the necessary supply chain skills and are unable to find what they are looking for out in the marketplace."

Titmuss says that supply chain companies are generally unwilling to educate their staff in the new development and best practice as they see this as an expense and not an investment in the future.

South Africa is doing less than half of the education and training in the supply chain industry, compared with other industrialised nations, according to a recent survey.

"In more than 15 years of providing consulting and education services in the fields of manufacturing, materials and supply chain management in South Africa, I believe today we have more people than ever before who don’t really know how to perform their jobs with regard to best practice," stresses Titmuss.

"A vast skills gap is developing in the local industry and senior managers are the ones in need of training and development. In my experience, many top managers in the supply chain field are still working at the basic, ‘kindergarten’ level," he says.

Titmuss would like to get management into industry training courses provided by SAPICS in order to keep up with best practice and to "keep ahead of the game".

One day a week in the classroom would be ideal, he says.

"In today's rapidly changing world, if you and your employees are not spending from 15% to 20% of your time updating your knowledge in your particular field, you are falling behind."

Titmuss questions the inefficient implementation of existing plans to develop the capabilities of people in the industry when sufficient tools are available for training.

He believes that many companies treat the Skills Development Levy (SDL) they pay monthly to their Sector Education and Training Authorities as a tax and they do very little to educate and train their employees, and in the end, they claim this tax back.

"I don’t see the problem; they have paid for the education through the SDL, and now is the time to educate their staff and claim the SDL back," he reckons.

"There is no point in sending middle management on courses to learn best practice only for them to be demotivated, and told to carry on doing what they are currently doing by a boss who doesn’t understand and appreciate what they have learned," he says.

Titmuss, in his capacity as authorised education provider for SAPICS, provides training for stakeholders in the supply chain through the appointment of more authorised education providers (AEPs).

The AEPs provide training in both SAPICS educational programmes and the certificate programmes developed by the American association for operations management (APICS).

SAPICS has been around for 40 years, and is a nonprofit organisation with limited resources, but it has been successful in educating a few thousand people in lower-level qualifications as well as several hundred people in the APICS certification in the Production and Inventory Management international qualification.

"This is not just a drop in the ocean if you consider that every manufacturing organisation should have at least one person of this calibre. In addition, many of these persons qualified to this level were ‘white’ and have unfortunately sought greener pastures elsewhere," comments Titmuss.

The training programmes offered by SAPICS cover the fields of manufacturing, logistics and distribution, as well as materials management.

The association’s current education programmes are offered extensively in a national capacity in South Africa, and as far afield as Namibia, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania, through a growing network of AEPs, comments Titmuss.

He encourages local industry to remain competitive by implementing best practices or companies could find themselves out in the cold in the context of keeping up with global supply chains. "It only takes the stroke of an accountant’s pen, halfway across the world, to determine that it is cheaper to produce a product elsewhere. There is a real danger that we could quickly find our products being manufactured in China and many South Africans out of work. It has happened more than once recently," concludes Titmuss.