Reflections on the current state of Learning & Development: Summary Notes

The HR Think Tank recently hosted an open discussion in Johannesburg and in Cape Town to unpack ways to improve learning and development in South African organisations. The two sessions were attended by HR Think Tank members as well as other organisations.

Following is an integrated summary of the two discussion sessions along with some key learnings and recommendations.

5 June 2018 • Johannesburg


Marius Meyer, SABPP

Portia Heynes, Group Learning & Development Manager, Sun International

Suretha Esterhuysen, MMI Holdings Group Head: Learning Initiatives

12 June 2018 • Cape Town


Liesl Damain-Harris, Head: Learning & Development, Ogilvy South Africa

Judy Robison, General Manager - HR, WNS Global Services SA

Robynne Schneider, Group Learning and Development Manager, Oceana Group Limited

Germinah Nyikana, Learning and Development Manager, Clicks Retailers

Delegates represented corporates, higher education and consulting.


Staff training

South Africa’s rank on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report

2016-2017: Rank 19th (out of 138) Score 5.0 (out of 7)

2017-2018: Rank 39th (out of 137) Score 4.3 (out of 7)

(Executive opinion survey answer to the question “In your country, to what extent do companies invest in training and employee development?” [1=not at all; 7=to a great extent])

South Africa’s ranking on INSEAD’s Global Talent Competitiveness Index

2017: Rank 44th (of 118) Score 44.06 (out of 100)

2018: Rank 40th (of 119) Score 44.06 (out of 100)

(Score based on World Bank survey of firms – share of firms offering formal training)

Quality of management schools

South Africa’s rank on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report

2016-2017: Rank 21st (out of 138) Score 5.4 (out of 7)

2017-2018: Rank 45th (out of 137) Score 4.5 (out of 7)

(Executive opinion survey answer to the question “In your country, how do you assess the quality of business schools?” [1 = extremel


Opinions on South Africa’s ranking on the “staff training” indicators:

  • Consensus was that the results from the surveys are partly true. The economic downturn would naturally have an impact on the spending on training – L&D gets cut first because businesses often don’t see it to be as important as other functions. With vacancies not being filled, there are fewer people to train, and remaining staff often have to take on responsibilities of vacant roles in addition to their own, so that they have no time for training.

  • Rather than a decline in spending, there has been a shift in spending, with less spending in areas that do not work, and more targeted spending on successful interventions – for instance there has been a shift to use leaders as teachers instead of hiring outside consultants, and many organisations have established their own accredited academies to make sure their training needs are met.

  • In many companies, L&D budgets have not decreased, but have increased (by more than 5% for the majority of the attendees at this discussion) and in some cases this is because the L&D function has been coupled with the BBBEE compliance function.

  • It was also mentioned that companies do spend a lot of money on training, but in some ways this is akin to throwing money at something, which isn’t necessarily the right move.

  • It therefore seems that the Executive Opinion Survey does not provide enough depth and context for a proper evaluation of the learning and development situation. Learning takes place in many different contexts that don’t always translate into Rands and Cents (for instance in a conversation over coffee). Establishing the ROI on L&D is more complicated than that.

Opinions on South Africa’s ranking on the “quality of management schools” indicator:

  • Training is regressing in South Africa, and business schools face the challenge of providing training that is relevant.

  • The quality of business schools has not dropped across the board, there are still pockets of excellence. Some business schools are actually doing a lot of impressive innovative things.

  • A survey that only collects responses from executives is necessarily limited in its findings.

  • Getting C-suite into learning is problematic, so when the executives ranked quality of management schools it could be that they based their opinion on their experience many years ago.

  • However some felt that there has been a clear lowering of standards, and every second person can now obtain an MBA. Not all executives are as competent as we would expect them to be.

What have been some of the major changes you have experienced over the last 3-5 years?

  • Many of the changes have been driven by regulatory requirements (especially in the pharmaceutical industry).

  • L&D strategy has become more closely linked to business strategy.

  • There is a greater recognition that we are better off forming partnerships.

  • The greatest impact is often not to focus L&D on executives, but on middle management and other employees.

  • Big changes are increasingly experienced on a monthly basis, which requires flexibility and agility.

  • To better support the company’s requirements, many organisations are establishing their own academies or accredited courses rather than trying to get outside agencies to cater for specific needs.

Are we spending in the right areas? Is our focus on ICT for instance sufficient? Are organisations spending enough to prepare their workforce for the 4th Industrial Revolution?

  • Our focus on ICT and use of technology is not sufficient, but we are hampered by the capacity of employees we train – many of them require training at a very basic level, because they only have a Matric.

  • The degree to which a shift is happening toward preparing for 4th Industrial Revolution varies by industry, because the 4th Industrial Revolution will impact some faster than others.

  • Most South African organisations are not spending money in training that prepares the workforce for the 4th Industrial Revolution. It seems that learning and development practitioners still do not have their heads around what this means for them, they are bogged down with the day-to-day training that takes priority. Urgent atten