Confidence is key to building success in the workplace

Study after study shows that failures in social skills such as assertiveness and confidence lose graduates jobs. Skills-poor South Africa has 200 000 unemployed graduates, according to StatsSA, and state utility Shosholoza Meyl, mainline railway operator, reports that it is hiring female graduates as cleaners.

Major international accounting and consulting firm KPMG has written to deputy president Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka about the situation, says director Tshidi Mokgabudi, and the University of Cape Town's Dr Mike Herrington, director of the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the UCT Graduate School of Business, who compiles the annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, says too many young people give up before they have really begun: a lack of self-confidence and assertiveness cripples them.

The 2007 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) - a not-for-profit academic research consortium - surveyed 2 000 young people aged 18 to 34 and found that youth entrepreneurs had not "significantly increased" since 2001. With 26% to 40% unemployment, instead of an increase in survival entrepreneurs, the trend shows that many of those unemployed are doing nothing.

Liza van Wyk, CEO of Johannesburg-based national training organisation BizTech, says their skills training course, Mastering Confidence, Influence and Assertiveness Skills, is consistently well-subscribed. "Those graduates and staff lucky enough to get a job often don't advance as they should because they lack the confidence or social skills to manage others properly, to place orders confidently or to interact with co-workers or customers in an effective manner.

"Where not enough young people seem to learn these skills at home or in educational institutions, it has become increasingly important for businesses to send their staff on courses … to get the job done well and to see otherwise-talented people begin living up to their full potential in the workplace and in life."

Van Wyk says there are simple exercises to boost confidence. Training to improve presentation skills helped significantly. Many top executives find that belonging to business groups or toastmasters also helps build confidence.

Other tips include:

• Seek out constructive, positive-thinking people.
• Dress well, walk tall, act confident.
• If you fear someone, visualise being pleasant and getting along well.
• Allow time for thinking and planning: make a list, measure progress.
• Give compliments generously.
• Learn new things, keep developing skills and acquiring new interests and meeting new people.

"Those tips are very simple and very basic," Van Wyk says, "but on BizTech's Mastering Confidence, Influence and Assertiveness course, we give a range of other more detailed hints and have workshops within the course where delegates can begin trying out a range of other new techniques.

"It is quite a remarkable course because when we begin there is a room full of nervous, desperately shy people and by the end of the two-day course they are animated, open and actively involved in learning new techniques and applying them." - Sapa

• For further information contact Liza van Wyk, CEO BizTech, on 011 453 5291 or 082 466 8975 or visit

Published on the web by Cape Argus on June 24, 2008.
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