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Human resource development requires a strategic learning approach

People play a crucial role in a company’s ability to produce products and services and, moreover, in a country’s ability to improve productivity and economic growth. The role of human resource development (HRD) is therefore essential, especially in a country like South Africa in which its human resources are underdeveloped and the potential of its people is not fully realised. Subsequent World Competitiveness Reports have identified the lack of people development as one of the major stumbling blocks in regard to the South African economy’s ability to compete in the global marketplace. No country can sustain economic development and international competitiveness if its human resources are not developed to contribute significantly to the economy. Likewise, while the highest level of future economic growth is expected from African countries, these initial anticipated high levels of economic growth (albeit from a low base) may not be sustainable. The need for strong national systems of human capital development can therefore not be over-emphasised.

The field of  HRD in South Africa and abroad has evolved so rapidly over the past ten years that traditional training is under threat. Traditionally, training has been seen as a tool to give employees knowledge and skills to perform their work more effectively. Today this view is changing. Now with the emergence of talent management as a new business discipline, an increasing number of companies view HRD as an important business imperative to enhance competitiveness and overall business performance. South African companies that use HRD as a strategic business strategy are likely to outperform their competitors who fail to do so. Thus, HRD encourages a strategic learning approach when you commit to attracting and developing talent in driving business performance.

HRD can be defined as all the processes, systems, methods, procedures and programmes an organisation employs to develop its human resources in order to equip its employees to be able to contribute to organisational performance. From this definition it is evident that HRD encompasses both training and non-training interventions. People must be continu­ously developed, whether this process occurs as part of a training intervention or as a component of people and talent development that occurs on a daily basis.

The role of HRD has broadened beyond training programme design. Effective instruc­tional design remains important, but HRD practitioners are increasingly asked to create innovative systems and mechanisms to ensure performance improvement in the workplace. In addition, the speed of technolocial and other changes, both in the workplace and the broader business and social envrionment, requires more dynamic and flexible approaches to learning. The HRD practitioner is no longer only a trainer, but becomes a consultant to the rest of the organisation in providing the support that enables the achievement of business objectives.

From a South African perspective, HRD is increasingly influenced by the new skills de­velopment system based on skills development within occupations, which is to be driven by the quality councils and in particular the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO). In this new paradigm, the emphasis is on what the learner must be able to apply in the workplace as a result of learning. HRD practitioners should align their HRD pro­grammes and systems to support the implementation of a QCTO system. HRD is also a key element of the National Skills Development Strategy and other supporting government initiatives aimed at alleviating poverty and inequality, and improving our competitiveness as a nation.

HRD forms an integral part of business improvement in South African organisations and indeed in companies all over the world. It is evident that there are new and increasingly complex challenges for the HRD manager who wants to make a significant contribution to organisational perform­ance in an increasing complex and fast-changing business and social environment. A strategic learning approach is needed to optimise HRD and to position strategic learning as a key element of talent the foundation  for business performance and ultimately our success as a nation.

This article is an extract from the book edited by Marius Meyer entitled “Managing Human Resource Development: A Strategic Learning Approach”   5th edition (2017) published by LexisNexis.

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