How the election will impact HR in South Africa

Education is arguably the most pressing issue for a profession whose core focus is talent.

Regardless of the political landscape, talent will remain the key differentiator of organisational performance. Now that citizens have cast their votes, HR executives should remain mindful of what impact the election results could have on their organisations. Because, no matter what happens, they will still have to partner with their CEOs to determine the results impacts their talent strategies, providing support to parts of their workforce that may not be satisfied with the outcome. They will also have to enable their leaders to navigate through any uncertainty that may ensue after the votes have been counted. But those are the immediate concerns. There are also some long-time effects of today’s election that will impact the HR profession in one way or another. 

A the top of those is education. South Africa’s ailing education system is one the the most commonly raised issues whenever CHRO SA community members meet to discuss their challenges, primarily because it is the biggest factor in determining the quality of the country’s talent pool, which many would argue leaves a lot to be desired. This is not only the fault of the tertiary institutions but is also a reflection of poor early-childhood, primary and secondary education alike. One thing that most South Africans and indeed HR leaders would agree on is that the Department of Education’s decision to reduce the matric subject pass mark from 50 percent to 30 percent did more harm than good. So any effort to correct this would surely be welcomed. Furthermore, the fact the the country needs more students who excel in STEM subjects cannot be emphasised enough. Failure to get this right is exacerbating the trend of increasing graduate unemployment with students acquiring degrees that are not marketable to employers. 

With regard to the tertiary institutions in particular, the matter of how higher education is funded will have to be tackled as the government is unlikely to be able to sustainably subsidise everyone that cannot afford it.  Any solution to this problem will require a collaborative effort from stakeholders working alongside the government, including the private sector, industry and research councils. There is also a need for a change in the mindsets of employers who must review their approach to recruitment, whether that means rethinking the mandatory requirement of a university degree - something, FNB Wealth and Investments’s Tshidi Khunou says the country is not ready for - or simply recognising that a registered and accredited qualification from a registered and accredited private institution is at the very least on par with one attained at a public university, as the Independent Institute of Education’s Nola Payne states in this article. What is certain is that, without addressing these issues, or at least prioritising them, HR leaders will continue to face an uphill battle when it comes to finding and developing the right kind of talent for their organisations.