Training as a strategy: Good for business
- Skills development is crucial for South Africa’s future, and for creating a modern and agile company.
- PackSolve has made skills development one of its strategic pillars and launched the PackSolve Academy for all employees to take part in various training initiatives.
- Now in its third year, the PackSolve learnership programme has grown organically and become very popular among staff.
- When done right, skills training can galvanise the workforce, promote the company’s strategy, and establish good relationships with unions and other stakeholders.
As part of its evolution as an agile manufacture, PackSolve has placed a lot more focus on the skills of its employees and their training opportunities. But even in this project’s early stages, the benefits are already becoming very obvious.
Late last year, a group gathered together for a class photo. Donned in graduation robes, they celebrated the successful completion of their training in PackSolve’s first learnership programme. Armed with their new knowledge, the students – all staff at PackSolve – can improve their current roles and can improve their skills and knowledge for future growth.
Skills development is a critical challenge for South Africa. It’s also a global phenomenon as modernisation places new expectations on professionals. At PackSolve, the two situations combined into a single requirement: as a responsible business, it should contribute to skills, and as an evolving producer, it must develop the capacity for agile manufacturing and continual improvement.
Skills are a strategic pillar for the industrial packaging leader, and PackSolve has been developing its training programme organically for the past few years. The programme had a slow start, but soon its benefits became clear – even leading to better union relationships.
“The knowledge gained has a huge impact on myself, and the classroom learning relationship was excellent. This learnership has a good influence on the culture of what people see and absorb,” said Mongezi Nkosi, one of the class of 2019’s alums.
His comment reflects what makes the learnership programme successful. PackSolve’s people work closely together. The greatest challenge of modernisation is not in the technology or processes, but bringing the company’s heart – its people – along. The agile culture it must adapt to remain a market leader expects skilled and flexible employees.
Strategic training enabled PackSolve to navigate both requirements.
“Internal training is a very practical way to see people’s potential,” said Doné Morkel, PackSolve’s Skills Development Facilitator. “There aren’t upfront expectations at this stage. The programme is there to see who wants to develop.”
This balance developed because the programme could follow an organic course. Its appeal has grown through word of mouth among PackSolve’s unionised workforce. The good impressions even improved union relationships, and shop stewards are students in the programme.
An organic start
Learnership programmes can make the mistake of trying to be too many things from the start. Outcomes might be carefully aligned to specific business roles or tax incentives. Quotas and nuanced training risk hobbling the initiative before it can find its feet.
Fortunately, PackSolve didn’t go in with a ton of performance indicators and outcomes tacked on. It narrowed the focus to NQF levels 1,3 and 5 in 2018, then raised the first level to NQF 2 in 2019. ABET levels are also offered for employees who want to improve their foundational skills.
The programme is voluntary but made available to all PackSolve employees. At first, it had to overcome a lot of scepticism – the original group of students was tiny. But as they shared their experiences, interest grew and more than doubled by the next training season. Several of the graduates also returned to further their studies. Now that the word is out, there’s no shortage of workers looking to upskill themselves.
PackSolve is committed to supporting these efforts. Those enrolled in the programme get onsite training and can access study leave. They are also supported by PackSolve’s management, who appreciate the strategic importance of skills training being part of the business culture. To ensure the programme gets the right focus and support, PackSolve appointed Morkel to focus on it exclusively. This has aided her to build a very hands-on approach:
“I’m always engaging with the students, talking to them and getting to know them. This is to make sure it runs well for them. One of the programme’s goals is to promote PackSolve’s strategy among workers, so it’s important that they feel the programme is for them and works for them.”
Skills for tomorrow
Future goals include bringing more women on board. Though manufacturing is a male-heavy industry, PackSolve has a considerable number of female employees. Several already participated and graduated, including one lady who studied during her last trimesters. But Morkel made it clear that she wants more women to join the classes.
Right now, there are no expectations of duties from the learnership programme, and PackSolve is still exploring how to align it with the manufacturer’s overall strategy. But it has already avoided many of the issues that dog other training programmes, such as rubber-stamping and employee apathy. Instead of stapling skills onto the company, PackSolve has enabled learning to grow into a part of its cultural foundation.