CHRO Andile Mabindisa is steadily building the SET ICT skills pipeline

The CSIR’s group executive of human capital and communication finds inspiration in the ‘me zone’ when running.

Running, which started out as a way to become healthier, has become a “me zone” period for Andile Mabindisa, CSIR group executive of human capital and communication.

“I started running in 2009 after I had gained a lot of weight, largely due to the amount of inactive time on flights and in airports when I was travelling a lot because of my job. One day as I was going up the stairs in my house, I found that I was out of breath. That’s when I made the decision to start running for health purposes,” he says.

Since then, he has never looked back, and has completed eight Comrades marathons, eight Two Oceans marathons, the Paris and Rotterdam marathons, and has his sights set on completing the Boston and London marathons in future.

He adds, “Today, running is more than just for health reasons, it has become mental and spiritual as well. When I am running it is my ‘me time’. I analyse, reflect, pray and make decisions in my own zone. I really enjoy that.”

Andile has found that this has also become part of his growth in the wellness space, especially now with the pandemic and related lockdowns affecting people’s mental health.

There are a number of other factors that have contributed to the seasoned HR leader’s personal and professional growth over the years.

“I gained independence and started making decisions on my own at a young age, when my parents decided to send me to boarding school. At tertiary level, I learnt about leadership. At the time I was shy, but I realised that in order to make it in the world of work, I needed to get out of my introverted shell and learn leadership skills,” he says.

As secretary-general of the Catholic Students Association at university, he did just that. “We opened a number of branches and encouraged students to attend church and be politically aware. This helped in terms of building my leadership skills and networks. I am still in touch with people from that network today,” he says.

Religion plays an important role in the father-of-two’s life, helping him to connect with himself internally and reflect.

He credits personal growth in his life to the family space. “I have been married for 23 years and have a supportive wife and two daughters. One is 17 and the other 20 and both are at university now. They help to keep me grounded as a human being.”

Diversity and inclusiveness is also close to Andile’s heart and he credits his career for giving him the opportunity to travel the world and gain exposure to different cultures and mindsets.

It wasn’t entirely unexpected though, as he was interested in this aspect of study at university, having decided to study psychology and social anthropology at tertiary level.

“My dad was a personnel manager at Anglo American mines in Klerksdorp, so I spent my time with him during the school holidays. This inspired me to pursue a human resources career,” he says.

He adds, “My time at previous companies gave me the opportunity to travel the world. I have been responsible for 33 countries in Africa and also continents like Australia and South America, so I have had exposure to different cultures and mindsets. I also used to travel a lot to Chile and was in London every fortnight for meetings.”

This career trajectory gave Andile the unique experience of experiencing different cultures firsthand – and also taught him how to deal with the concept of diversity on a broader scale and look into the issues of inclusiveness.

Talent management
When probed about his most memorable recollection of international cultures in relation to South African culture, Andile says, “I remember how the French appreciate a good South Africa party ekasi.”

Andile is also passionate about talent management, having spent time at Shell and Anglo American, companies “at the forefront of talent management”. He says, “I learnt a lot in that space, how to do things differently in the talent management space, how you attract, how you retain, how you engage.”

Now, at the CSIR, he has put all these lessons to good use. “We have put a number of programmes in place to answer the president’s call to combat the unemployment rate through bursaries and work experience programmes. The CSIR is the first state-owned enterprise that implemented the YES initiative. Last year we provided 66 unemployed graduates with work experience and this year we will be doing it again. We also sponsor close to 580 students in undergraduate and postgraduate studies, especially black South Africans and females at PhD level,” he says.

Andile adds, “We are also building 4IR skills and capabilities and focusing on youth with disabilities. This is being done outside the traditional economic geographies of Johannesburg and Cape Town. We need to continue to build scarce and critical SET skills within the national system of innovation, by going to high school level, and internally, through focused staff development programmes. In this way we can build a strong talent pipeline and widen the pool of science, engineering and ICT skills in the country.”

Internally, the CSIR is already making inroads in the skills pipeline, with the research institute celebrating the appointment of its first three black chief researchers in December 2021. “We are building a strong pipeline, including female black researchers who are geared to become chief researchers. This is part of our people priorities,” he concludes.