Summit TV speaks to BizTech chief executive Liza van Wyk about skills and productivity in South Africa

DAVID WILLIAMS: Welcome to Business Q&A. I’m talking to skills training organisation BizTech chief executive Liza van Wyk about our general skills and productivity situation. Liza, you’ve got some figures - Productivity SA, the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook (WCY) - and the conclusion is that we have the worst brain drain in the world, the worst skills shortages, and our productivity is dropping in a survey of 55 countries.

LIZA VAN WYK: Absolutely. We have dropped to 50 from 38 last year out of a total of 55 countries that were researched so things are not looking good in terms of that.

DAVID WILLIAMS: What do the figures show - what areas do they survey?

LIZA VAN WYK: They look at a number of areas productivity being one of them - but also they look at efficiencies, they look at government efficiencies, management competence, financial competence. There is really a wide spectrum of aspects they look at…

DAVID WILLIAMS: The brain drain in particular - we know about this, we hear anecdotally of people leaving the country - it sounds appalling…

LIZA VAN WYK: It’s not an ideal situation at all. If you look at the context of the country at the moment I think that a lot of people are feeling uncomfortable in terms of the crime situation being experienced, I think for the first time in a long time were experiencing some political uncertainties - and now with load shedding that’s just compounding the problem even more.

DAVID WILLIAMS: If you add the three together isn’t that really what’s hit confidence?

LIZA VAN WYK: I think it has hit confidence. I don’t think that’s the only issues. If you look at the telecommunications situation in South Africa that is something that’s been impacting us for quite some time - and that certainly isn’t helping either.

DAVID WILLIAMS: You’re a training organisation - what is your evidence at the cold face of what you do of these things?

LIZA VAN WYK: If we look at today we had load shedding ourselves for a number of hours this morning and our data lines from Telkom were down. Fortunately we have a generator so the load shedding on us was not as impactful as it could be for some companies - but in terms of telecommunications we weren’t able to send emails, and that directly impacts our business’ profitability.

DAVID WILLIAMS: What are you going to do about this? You’re a training organisation - in a sense you have to rectify or compensate for what’s happening…

LIZA VAN WYK: The best thing industry can do is really look at training in terms of their personnel because I think if we make better decisions as a country across all industries that’s going to improve our competitiveness.

DAVID WILLIAMS: What is to be done here? Short of stopping crime and switching on the lights reliably - is there something we haven’t thought of? Are there more creative ways of doing things?

LIZA VAN WYK: I think we need to have a look at how South Africa compares to other countries. If you have a look at the training that South Africa does in terms of skilled workers - according to the World Bank investment climate survey they showed that South Africa trains only 44.6% of skilled workers. If you compare that with Brazil they train 77.3% and China 69.1%. There’s a massive difference there. Also, if you have a look at the statistics SA in terms of unemployed graduates - in 2004 it was 60,000 which was a horrific figure itself, but in 2006 that was even worse at 200,000. If we are not able to use our resources in the country that’s going to impact our productivity.

DAVID WILLIAMS: You mentioned all those graduates - that wrong kind of graduates for what we need presumably?

LIZA VAN WYK: Definitely. I think what we are finding is that the universities are putting people out into the workplace with degrees - they have high expectations of getting a job, and they should do - but what the industry is finding is that the graduates coming out are not always suitable for the workplace. They are lacking very often in life skills - they also have a theoretical background rather than true workplace skills that can be used immediately. Business is looking for people that it can make productive immediately…

DAVID WILLIAMS: Sounds like we just have to be more creative…