RESEARCH THE KEY TO NEW FRONTIERS

The local government cannot stagnate, therefore, it is imperative that systems are in place to ensure that does not happen—and those systems are then filtered down to local government employees, writes Andrew Hallett

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When one thinks of government, one may automatically think of those in charge such as President Jacob Zuma right down to your ward councillor. These figures play a vital role, depending on their position, to ensure that the country, province(s), city(ies), suburb(s), and ward(s) work for the people that they are responsible for.

While the main figures in government are the ones we recognise first, there are government employees across different levels that keep the day-to-day cogs of the wheel turning. These are your regular government employees who you may not see, but deserve credit for the work they do and the hours they put in. While such employees do their best, it is vital that they receive the right training and abide by regulated frameworks to ensure they are able to carry out their jobs to the best of their ability.

As with any business in South Africa, local government requires constant innovation and change to ensure it keeps up to date with the changing times. Local government cannot afford to stagnate, so it is imperative that systems are in place to ensure this does not happen - and those systems should be filtered down to local government employees to implement.

In order to ensure that the local government sector is providing quality services and carrying out its functions, it requires that employees have the right qualifications and skills to fulfil its mandate. The Local Government Sector Education and Training Authority (LGSETA) plays an important interface to assist the municipalities and local government entities with facilitating skills development. According to the LGSETA's website, "As a local government sector education and training authority, LGSETA creates and implements various innovative skills development interventions aimed at assisting local government employees, the unemployed and other people such as ward councillors and traditional leaders working within the structures of local government."

As a result of the work LGSETA carries out, research is required in order to inform skills development, sector planning and decision making which assists local government to move forward and be at the cutting edge, thus ensuring it fulfils its mandate to serve the people. After all, knowledge is power.

LGSETA's Executive Manager of Strategy and Planning, Ms Nonhle Mashinini, says that before anything can be implemented, research is required to figure out the challenges facing all sectors of local government, and this includes the Skills Development Facilitators (SDFs) who work within local government.

The School of Public Leadership at the University of Stellenbosch conducted research on understanding the skills needs of SDFs. Ms Mashinini says that such research is vital in terms of where the LGSETA hopes to increase the potential of each municipal SDF, and overall each employee who will benefit from better skills planning and implementation.

Ms Mashinini further says: "This specific research talks about the challenges that are facing the SDFs in the local government sector.

Basically, the SDFs are the champions that manage skills development in the municipalities. Whether it’s a metro, a district, a local municipality or a municipal entity, SDFs are the ones that are driving skills development. So the reason for this research was to understand and assess the challenges faced by SDFs in driving or implementing skills development initiatives or skills development programmes. Be it a learnership, or training within the municipality, it all matters depending on the need. Our mandate as the LGSETA is to facilitate training within and across all municipalities and related entities.

"Everyone in the municipality must be trained depending on their needs or skills gaps including councillors, who are the political leadership, administrators, as well as cleaners. It is important to ensure that skills gaps are addressed and employees are capacitated and have the relevant expertise to ensure that they deliver the mandate of the municipality.

It may be all well and good doing this type of research, but how is it going to help those affected by it? What is going to happen in terms of the implementation of the findings? Far too often, research is conducted and little is done with the findings and this can be applied to any ordinary business and local government entity. Ms Mashinini is adamant that the research will be used for the benefit of all local government entities and municipalities across the country, and is excited to see the outcome when the findings are shared with those on the ground and the recommendations benefit those intended.

She says: "The outcome of this research will help to inform what we need to develop and adopt through the recommendations, which will help deal with some of the challenges, not all of them, but many of them. One of the key recommendations is to develop a framework that not only the LGSETA can use to address these challenges, but a framework that speaks to sector engagement and sector collaboration, which embraces many different roleplayers to actively commit and work together. Such rolepalyers include the South African Local Government Association Council (SALGA), and the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA). It also requires the unions in the sector namely the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) and the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (IMATU) to be part of the process.

All roleplayers and stakeholders need to sit down and deliberate on their role and responsibility in taking skills development forward in the sector.

Sector collaboration requires that you must have a clear framework of what exactly you want to see skills development do and the rollout within and across municipalities.

"So at this point in time, while the findings of the research have not yet been fully implemented, we have to go through this engagement with the different stakeholders including SALGA, COGTA, IMATU and SAMWU so that we present these findings and agree on a way forward so that all parties come together as a sector in order to deal with some of the challenges.

"Other challenges that I did not include here is the capacity of the SDFs themselves, as well as their positions within their organisation. Most are positioned at a very low level but they are expected to engage with members of authority. The strategy document, which is the Workplace Skills Plan (WSP), requires different structures in the organiation to engage and support the process but often such structures are very weak to guide and engage with the process. So we need to begin to talk about such issues as a sector and see how we can address and improve processes and systems to function more optimally. The WSP is a key document that is driving skills development. This process is driven from the helm of the Office of the Municipal Manager, which is a strategic function because that’s where the head of administration should take place and where the power is centralised. So the research will help us to address a number of challenges that are currently being experienced by SDFs.

She adds: "The research work has been completed and we are currently consulting on the completed research documents.

What I can say as far as research is concerned is that as the LGSETA we need to begin to take the research outputs seriously, as well as implement research findings because that will help us to address the current challenges faced at local government. When you assess the situation, local government does not embark on a lot of research, and we need to begin to veer more into that direction in order to help the sector to move forward."

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