High demand, low supply

Political
conflict and lack of funds block training and development in Africa and the
Middle East, says Alan Hosking

While
the education and training needs in African and Middle East countries are
overwhelming, they generally do not enjoy a high priority on government
agendas. There are just too many other things which vie for, and get,
government time, attention and funding.

Referring
to the ongoing political conflicts endemic in both these regions, but
specifically in Africa, Ivan Latti, chairperson of the South African Board for
Personnel Practice (SABPP) and former group HR manager for ABB Sub Saharan
Africa, puts it bluntly: "When your house is burning down, you don’t go
off for a mathematics lesson."

Latti,
who now travels and trains extensively on the African continent, claims that
for decades, political turmoil has severely hampered attempts to address skills
shortages, which have their roots in ineffective education systems. In Gabon,
Liberia and Rwanda, for example, he says education is not even sensible.

Because
some governments do not appear to be interested in addressing education and
training problems, it is left to outside agencies to try and do this. The
USAID-funded Global Training for Development Project (GTD) is active in six
African countries, namely Uganda, Zambia, Ethiopia, Guinea, Benin and Senegal.
The organisation is engaged in various projects such as "third-country
training" of parliamentarians and monitoring MBA students in the US.

Third-country
training is also funded by the UK Department for International Development
(DFID) and managed by the British Council in South Africa. Britain provides the
funding, the training takes place in South Africa and the student comes from
one of the African countries that lacks training facilities.

The
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is active in 33 African countries.
It provides entrepreneurial, vocational and managerial training to all sectors,
ranging from government ministers to farmers, and includes programmes
specifically for women.

Multinationals
operating on the African continent meet skills shortages in their own creative
ways. To navigate their way through the treacherous waters of political
agendas, archaic organisational structures and caste systems that see junior
people in companies treated as servants, expat managing directors run companies
with iron fists. As one German MD in West Africa, who prefers not to be named,
put it, Africa is not for "softies".

The
MDs have back-up systems in place, with expat administrators and accountants
working in back offices to "fix everything". Project co-ordinators,
who not only do the job but also teach locals some of their skills, are brought
in as well.

Few,
if any, HR directors of multinationals are based in Africa. Most are based in
America, Europe and South Africa, and have HR managers at the local level who
report to them. They get off-shore trainers in to run customised courses to
meet their companies’ needs, acquire training videos for staff and send key
staff on off-shore courses and conferences.

Other
obstacles to training and developing local staff include expectations of
company care and lifelong employment (resulting in a lack of interest in
personal development), tribal rivalry in the workplace and cultural
constraints, which inhibit the use of new learning.

Disinvestment
in education and the ongoing brain drain – just about all the promising and
upwardly mobile, skilled locals leave Africa – have also played a role. Skills
challenges start at grassroots level, with access to basic education and
dysfunctional education systems a problem in many countries. In addition, few
governments have policies in place to feed business needs back into educational
curricula.

An
exception to the rule is the South African government, which inherited a legacy
of neglect in terms of the country’s human capital but has increased access to
education and introduced legislation (Skills Development Act) in an effort to
improve skills in the market place.

In
the Middle East, skilled information technology (IT) professionals are in short
supply. A survey conducted by research firm International Data Corporation
(IDC) and commissioned by Cisco Systems indicates that by 2002 the shortfall in
the number of people with the skills to design, build and manage the IT
networks needed to drive businesses and governments will stand at half a
million. End-user spending on training is therefore expected to grow from about
$60m in 1997 to over $180m by 2002, an investment which is regarded as probably
still not enough to keep Arab countries in the race.

UNDP
advisor Jerry Szeremeta points out that by 2015, the Arab states will need about
seven million skilled IT people to meet market demands. Another prediction is
that the Middle East will see a 30% shortfall of networking engineers by 2005,
resulting in a huge demand for top-level technology training. According to
Rowland Griffiths, regional director of Cisco Systems Middle East, the Middle
East’s skills gap widens as European and US companies attract the most
promising IT professionals from the region.

While
most Middle East states appear to be trying to create educational systems that
will promote economic growth, experts do not believe the examination systems
are able to provide a valid assessment of student ability. There are also
problems at university level, where a general lack of academic freedom,
political control, and co-ordination between education and employment needs
have resulted in poorly prepared graduates with unneeded skills.

Attempts
to address technical skills training have not met with much success, for
numerous reasons. The Egyptian government was able to increase enrolments but
the quality of the education was doubtful because of insufficient equipment and
suitably qualified teachers. Turkey, however, has obtained World Bank support
to establish vocational schools.

Against
this backdrop, therefore, multinationals are forced to look after themselves
and hire expat skills where necessary, resulting in locals often staying on the
outside looking in. Where governments are not serious about playing their part
in developing the skills of their people, market forces will dictate that
companies continue to employ those who have the skills to do the job and ignore
those who can’t.

Further
information

For
more details, log on to the following websites

www.afbis.com
www.mbendi.co.za
www.dwtc.com

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