Supply Chain Education – South African Challenges and Opportunities

The Challenges

The supply chain skills challenge is experienced across the supply chain profession and well understood in all sectors of the economy.  In South Africa especially, we recognise that there are some significant problems.  Unfortunately, too much debate (and whining), and too little action, dramatically reduces our chances of success…

To understand the challenges and the opportunities for change, it is necessary to distinguish between five different education and training areas, namely:

  • In-profession education and training;
  • Development of operational supply chain skills through learnerships;
  • Aligning tertiary education, and thereby, in turn, overcoming professional jealousy at universities;
  • Basic business and science skills development, and leveraging the school curriculum; and
  • The importance of research in building an education culture.

The immediate reaction by the profession to the above may well be that these sound theoretical and far too complicated to achieve.  However, none of them are that complicated and thus they are easy to target.

In-Profession Education & Training

“Almost all organisations would proclaim that their people are their greatest asset.  The interesting test is to see how much time, effort and money is spent in the education and development, or even the maintenance, of these valuable assets.  For a long time, organisations (or their Human Resources departments) have blamed the complex accreditation process on the lack of structured education.  In some way, that is like not maintaining core plant and equipment because the ISO9001 manual has been lost”, Cobus Rossouw, Managing Director of Volition Consulting Services, explained to SmartProcurement.  Employers thus need to recognise that training is essential and allow their supply chain professionals to develop their skills continuously.

Most organisations furthermore disregard the extent of internal knowledge and the willingness of people to share this knowledge.  Opportunities should be created for senior supply chain professionals to translate their experience into structured learning for their junior colleagues.  Not only can this be highly motivational (i.e. being recognised and giving something back), it can also provide an excellent opportunity to renew old thinking (forcing the teacher to update his / her own knowledge as part of the educator role).  This approach will remain a mere concept as long as organisations refuse to create the capacity – thus freeing up time for teaching and learning.  It is even possible to include this internal training in the organisation’s workplace skills plan and receiving some of the skills development levy back to support the internal education and development effort.

Learnerships are the new apprenticeships and most people underestimate the importance and value of this education and development opportunity.  Learnerships are about basic skills and should not be about management capability.  For that reason, it is not appropriate to refer to a learnership in supply chain management, but rather to operations, logistics, transport, warehousing, customs clearing, buying, etc.  If anything, it may well be appropriate to include some supply chain management context in the education (e.g. cross-functional integration, customer service improvement, etc.).  “The challenge and opportunity is to educate young people about how to plan factories, how to pick product in warehouses, how to organise the loading of vehicles, how to complete a customs declaration, how to issue a purchase order or how to receive a delivery of raw materials.  That is what learnerships are about – and thus there is a desperate need for this type of education in order to ensure that these critical capabilities are available in the workforce of tomorrow”, Rossouw continued.

Further to the education imperative, employers should appreciate the benefits of learnerships.  Discretionary grants are paid for these programs which mean that other organisations’ skills development levies can be applied to pay for your education efforts.  From the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) perspective, learnerships can result in 6 points on the generic scorecard.  Comparing that with the 10 points for management control (which is very important from a transformation perspective and is receiving lots of attention), it is hugely significant.  More importantly, it should be easier and significantly more value adding to have 5% of employees participating in learning programmes than to have transformation of more than 40% of top management or more than 50% of the Board of Directors.

Aligning Tertiary Education
Tertiary education institutions are responsible for the education of core professional skills.  For a new profession like supply chain management, they have done a very good job.  Due to high demand, business schools, engineering departments and commerce faculties, the supply chain and operations management capabilities have all developed significantly. The unfortunate reality, however, is that professional jealousy is now compromising the effectiveness of tertiary education.  Despite most institutions being resource and / or cash-strapped, little cooperation is taking place within universities.  The profession thus has a responsibility to guide academia towards the most effective provision of supply chain education, by incorporating all the available and important skills.

Leveraging the School Curriculum
The primary school curriculum includes “Economic and Business Sciences”, which provides a very important foundation for supply chain management.  Without understanding demand and supply, profit and tax, and the economic cycle, none of what we do to improve business operations makes any sense.  Clearly mathematics plays as an important part of the development of basic business and science skills.  The risk is that most students are more focused on other exciting subjects, like geography, history or languages.  The even bigger risk is that our over-stretched (and under-paid) educators do not understand mathematics or business studies themselves. If supply chain practitioners can, however, leverage the school curriculum, this would enable these professionals to contribute towards creating awareness and interest in these sciences.

The Importance of Research
In South Africa, research is generally neglected.  Despite fantastic institutions (universities, CSIR, etc.), industry does not fund research and does not apply the findings;  this is a huge loss.  In some way, this failure also contributes to the poor education culture. As a remedy, supply chain professionals should leverage international research by participating and using the outcomes / learnings to improve the supply chains that they are involved in locally.

“The skills crisis can only be resolved through the active participation of a broad base of supply chain professionals.  This is not somebody else’s problem, and as such, each one of us can and must contribute”, Rossouw concluded.

Article submitted by Cobus Rossouw, Managing Director of Volition Consult
ing Services.

Cobus Rossouw can be contacted at the details below:
Cell:  +27 83 646 1000

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