Skills shortage has become one of the most common enemies to economic development, not only in South Africa, but across the globe. It is a problem that hinders both business and economic growth. Therefore, forward-thinking businesses should play an active role in skills development.

This is particularly true for service-centric businesses such as Goscor Lift Truck Company (GLTC). For me, skills development is tantamount to a competitive advantage. When you invest in skills, employees are immediately aware that their responsibility is more than just a job or a means to an income.

That GLTC is a leading materials handling equipment provider is no point of contention. However, the provision of innovative gear is only one thing, and being able to provide consummate aftersales service to our customers is quite another. Consequently, we have recently invested significantly in our aftersales capabilities.

For example, this year alone we have invested heavily into our branch facilities across the country. A case in point is the relocation of our Port Elizabeth branch into a larger premises that doubles the size of the previous one. In July, we also relocated our Nelspruit branch into a larger facility. In both circumstances, the growth of the business and the need to accommodate the necessary expansion was the major factor behind the moves.

However, at Goscor we believe that it’s not enough to invest in branches and facilities, but also to invest in skills development. We believe that every business should lead the development of its own people. Following the recent establishment of our merSETA accredited Training Centre, we are now armed with a facility that will allow us to build a pool of technical skills that we need to better support our customers.

The Training Centre will offer an NQF Level 3 qualification. It will operate nationally, accommodating both new trainees and existing GLTC employees from around the country on an annual basis. For new technicians, training will include an introductory course to GLTC’s business, before covering the full internal combustion (IC) and electric forklift product range.

The astronomic capital investment in this worthy cause is based on the company’s fundamental driving principle premised on the understanding that a successful company cannot exist if the society around it is failing. Bear in mind that South Africa’s unemployment rate currently stands at over 25%, with even higher rates for youth, at more than 50%, according to the World Economic Forum. It is critical that as a country we are able to turn our fast-growing young population into a dividend rather than a burden. Education and training for future skills is a critical part of realising that potential.

The root of unemployment is not only a lack of jobs; a key underlying factor is also the inadequately educated workforce. And this challenge is likely to be increased in the coming years due to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, characterised by fast-paced technological progress combined with other socio-economic and demographic changes, which will further transform labour markets.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs study, the result could be a net loss of over 5-million jobs in 15 major developed and emerging economies – including South Africa. These patterns may even be more intensified in other African economies, unless all key stakeholders start pulling together as a matter of urgency.

I am excited to see that in South Africa, government, business and labour are starting to pull together to tackle the big elephant in the room – skills shortage – in order to reduce the scourge of youth unemployment in South Africa. However, for us, there is also need for a balance between honing attributes that have always been valued in the workplace and learning to breed the new skills the workplace needs.

The world is moving fast and rapidly changing – employers need to make sure that their employees are skilled and well-equipped to deal with these rapid changes. In our case, technology is changing fast, and it is key to keep technicians well-versed with the new changes to ensure that machines operating in the field run optimally all the time.

With the establishment of our Training Centre, benefits for us are never ending as we will be able to continuously improve the skills of our workforce, which in turn will drive a world class service support system. Customer uptime will improve as technicians will be properly trained and confident in their capabilities to go about their business.

Available research suggests that skills demand will change significantly over the next five years as the technological revolution continues apace. As machines continue to get sophisticated by the day, we have to keep aligning our technicians with these rapid changes.  It is a continuous drive to always stay ahead of new changes.

To respond to these needs, in future we will deal with our principals’ factories closely to align our local training programme with their product and technological developments. For example, by the end of 2019, GLTC will have factory-accredited Demonstrated Performance (DP) service training. This will allow us to have full access to all new Crown factory improvements/technologies. We will then apply the latest technological upgrades through our newly-developed Training Centre.

In conclusion, I also believe that our skills development initiatives should start considering the future. In a world where repetitive tasks are handled by technology and artificial intelligence, our skills development strategies should aim to develop creative thinkers, innovators, risk-takers and problem solvers.