From its inception in 2016, the SDF has sought to maintain information sharing and an effective working relationship with the ETDP SETA, other SETAs, USAf’s other CoPs and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). The national skills development legislative framework and national priorities have been the driving force behind these relationships. This is a critical partnership which needs to be nurtured to enable the SDF to meet its objectives. Joint meetings and workshops between the ETDPSETA and the SDF provide an opportunity to engage and address issues of common concern, share emerging priorities and identify areas of cooperation in order to promote the national skills development agenda.
In this meeting, held on 31 March 2021, Raphotle addressed the concerns that members of the SDF had raised regarding ETDP SETA’s discretionary grants to universities. According to the SDF members, one such issue concerned inconsistencies with information flow from ETDP SETA’s head office to regional offices. Raphotle said this and numerous other issues prompted the ETDP SETA to adopt a centralised model for the administration of funding applications and implementation processes. A natural and feasible solution was to partner with USAf and make the organisation an engagement interface for all public universities. He said the ETDP SETA had witnessed USAf’s relationship-enhancing efficiencies in all processes concerning universities. For instance, in 2020, USAf, through its Directorate: Operations and Sector Support, administered close to R420 million worth of grants from the ETDP SETA to universities for 2020/2021. While the bulk of this funding was channelled into students’ bursaries and historical debt, some of it will enhance technological capacity development in academics, in a programme set to continue until 2022. Raphotle said on the strength of the positive results they were witnessing from these arrangements; the ETDP SETA was open to USAf’s advice regarding the adoption of a similar model for discretionary grants.
In addition to addressing the SDF’s concerns, the March meeting also focused on how universities can navigate the work modalities that the CoVID-19 pandemic has hugely influenced. The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Director: Human Resources Development, who is the former chairperson and is now a member of the SDF Steering Committee, Dr Michael Cloete, emphasised the need to adapt to change. He said that it was no longer about leading a balanced home-and-work life, as has been preached for decades, but rather about employees, especially those still working remotely, beginning to learn and adapt to an integrated life. Dr Cloete said Skills Development Practitioners at universities needed to find ways to:
- Train people in being effective while working remotely and creating a boundary between their work and home;
- Coach managers in remote people management; and
- Re-design learning and development to retain the benefits that a classroom setting offers.
- Promote sharing of information and knowledge resources on skills development and implementation of strategies in the context of the Skills Development Legislation;
- Support transformation of the higher education sector;
- Influence the institutional, regional, and national integrated talent management processes to ensure optimum identification of appropriate competencies required, sufficient and timely budgeting at all levels, optimum tracking of learning and development, quality and timely employee development and integration with Human Resource functions;
- Promote and ensure that best practice in skills development in South African HEIs contributes to the long-term sustainability of the higher education sector;
- Facilitate collaboration, networking and sharing of knowledge through the development of collegial relationships;
- Influence policies, legislation, and integrated talent management processes at the national level by commenting on draft legislation vigorously and pro-actively via relevant USAf structures;
- Influence ETDP SETA skills development processes through representation on different ETDP SETA structures and regular consultative discussions; and
- Position and promote the SDF as a critical resource at institutional, regional and national levels to support the higher education sector in attracting, developing and retaining human capital.
Projects undertaken by the Forum include identifying scarce and critical skills for the sector, developing the mini sector skills plan, universities’ compliance with the Work-Skills Plan/Annual Training Report, and sector responses to relevant issues.
Nqobile Tembe, the writer, is a Communication Consultant contracted to Universities South Africa.