Why Africa needs to rethink workplace training

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Article by: Business Chief

Effective managers and entrepreneurs hold the key to Africa’s prosperity; the demand for training is greatest for new employees, managers and business owners on the continent.  

These are some of the findings of a new report recently released by the African Management Initiative (AMI), an organisation that provides workplace training for businesses across the continent. Titled Training Talent: Best practices in workplace and management development in Africa, the report draws on experience on the continent and global insights to identify solutions to the talent challenge in Africa. It is particularly focused on management and entrepreneurship.

It follows a 2012 review of the state of management education in Africa, and proposes interventions that are needed for the development of talent, and especially management talent, in Africa.

One of the major constraints of Africa’s economic development is the lack of management and entrepreneurial capacity across the full range of companies and organisations. AMI seeks to create a solution that is deeply embedded in the experience of the continent, using African material created by Africans for Africans, while drawing on the best insights that global practice and research can offer in the fields of learning, technology-enabled learning, and management effectiveness.

“With that in mind, this report reviews current global thinking about learning, and in particular about learning to manage. We argue that blended learning has several advantages over purely online learning, and several practical advantages over purely in-person learning,” says Jonathan Cook, Chairman of AMI.

“We draw on current thinking about best practice learning and management approaches, plus our own experience from the initial two years’ of AMI’s journey, to reflect on how to make blended learning most effective for managers and entrepreneurs in Africa. We do not attempt to repeat research already conducted by others, but rather to reflect on its significance for workplace learning and particularly management development.”

Cook provides eight conclusions that concisely summarise the report:

1. Effective managers and entrepreneurs hold the key to Africa’s prosperity.

2. The demand for training is greatest for job entrants, entrepreneurs and junior to middle managers. In South Africa alone, 480, 000 new managers will be required by 2030. But the need is often in small companies that do not have the resources to send their managers to expensive business schools.   99.6 percent of firms in Nigeria employ fewer than 10 workers and in Kenya alone it is estimated that there are 750,000 small and medium-sized companies.

3. What these managers and entrepreneurs need most are soft skills – what we call personal habits. Both AMI’s experience and our survey of Kenya’s HR professionals show that 21st century work-readiness skills and management ability are more important than technical and functional skills. Despite this, much of learning and development spend is still focused on technical and functional skills.

4. Embedding effective management practices into the routine of the company has more impact than focusing on individual competencies, according to recent research. The profound implication for learning and development practitioners is that they need to focus less on teaching knowledge to individuals and more on transforming what organisations actually do. We call these company habits. HR practitioners in Kenya cited change management as the highest priority outcome from their learning programmes.

5. To change behaviour we need learning methodologies that incorporate experience, practice, feedback and accountability, not just content and theory. This calls for approaches such as the flipped classroom, action learning and blended learning. These draw on the 70:20:10 principle that states that we learn most from experience on the job, then from interaction with peers, and least from content in lectures and texts.

6. Rapid developments in technology support these methods through virtual communities, engaging content, and data to individualise learning. They allow for company feedback, accessibility on mobile phones, and simple ways for users to create and share their own content. Users can now access learning and business toolkits when they need them, anywhere, at any time and at minimal cost.

7. The preferred solution is blended learning in which the economy, scale and convenience of online learning is managed through the intensity, practice and shared insight of face-to-face interactions. This works best in customised company programmes with peer learning and accountability processes that integrate learning and performance at work.

8. AMI data show that performance can indeed be transformed. Of those who participated in AMI blended learning programmes, 97 percent reported that they apply what they learn at work and 86 percent reported improved effectiveness. Among entrepreneurs/business owners, 85 percent reported an improvement in operating efficiency since engaging with AMI. A large majority reported that the AMI blended method was more helpful than other training providers they had experienced.