SABPP interim CEO Xolani Mawande on the flaws of HR in SA

Xolani explains what the organisation has been doing to improve the quality of HR in South Africa.

There are many things that have gone wrong within the HR profession and we believe it’s a case of simply not having had the right checks and balances in place. For example, the scourge of fraudulent qualifications in recent years is a failure of HR, which is supposed to be the gatekeeper within any organisation to prevent such occurrences. 

The South African Board of People Practices (SABPP) is a professional body for HR practitioners at all levels. We register HR managers, HR officers, executives, HR academics and anyone else throughout all ranks of the profession providing they have requisite qualifications and experience. In this way, the SABPP is comparable to bodies like the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), which is the professional body for accountants. 

It is also a quality assurance body and can be described as an HR SETA (Sector Education and Training Authority) that is comparable to the INSETA, which is a SETA for the insurance industry. 

So our role is twofold. Firstly, it is to be partners to HR practitioners along the journeys of their careers. Secondly, it is to ensure that the training for HR students is at the right levels so that we have better-equipped professionals in the future. In this instance, we do both SETA level (NQF level 4, 5, and 6) training and accreditation of tertiary academic programmes. 

Setting standards

Also central to the role of the SABPP is the setting and monitoring of HR standards. HR professionals found that their ability to properly execute our mandate was limited by the lack of proper HR standards. There were no minimum standards upon which they could evaluate an HR function at an organisational level.

We found that one cannot ascertain whether a company's HR division is excellent or poor when there is no basis upon which to compare. So, after an intensive period of consultation and collaboration, we came up with the national HRM System Model and Standard, which was launched in August 2013, and was the first of its kind in the world.

We also audit various companies’ HR functions based on those standards and, after three years, we audit them again to assess the kind of progress that has been made. It's something that they can use for the development of their own HR practices. It's a 360-degree evaluation of all the HR capabilities.

The model, which contains 13 standard elements grouped by the classic quality assurance model of planning, implementing, reviewing and Improving, was initially based on the question of whether HR should become a statutory profession. At the moment, it doesn't seem to be taken as seriously as it should.

It should not be the case, as it is in many organisations, that employees who fail in other roles can simply be deployed to HR as if it is the simplest and among the least significant within a business. That may have been the case 20 years ago, when HR was almost purely an administrative function but things have changed. In an age where technology has changed the way we think about work, HR has had to become far more strategic in the way companies get the most of their people. 

Education is the main obstacle 

The biggest challenge facing HR at the moment is the lack of competent people, which is a result of the poor education system. Almost every problem stems from a lack of talent. Transformation, for instance, is limited because there aren't enough black candidates for many of the senior roles in organisations and that leads to companies appointing people that aren't competent. Other companies fail to transform completely and blame it on the poor education system even though there are people who can do the job. 

Students are being taught mathematics by teachers who themselves struggle with the subject and that leads to more problems down the road. While we do appreciate the work that organisations like the Partners For Possibility are doing in this space, it is simply not enough because, as things improve, the world of work continues to evolve even more rapidly. Technology is changing the types of skills that are needed for organisations to remain competitive in the age of disruption. We have to improve our education so drastically that we have to think beyond what our immediate skills requirements are and that is almost an impossible task for a country like ours with such high rates of unemployment.