Enhancing evidenced based human resource development implementation capabilities in local government

The Local Government Sector Education and Training Authority (LGSETA) commissioned the University of the Free State (2024) to assess the applicability of evidenced based human resource development (HRD) practices for local government. The study concluded that HRD is not being effectively measured and managed despite the 26-year-old enabling HRD legislative framework comprising of the Skills Development Act of 1998 and the Employment Equity Act of 1998.

The study’s findings point to a lack of understanding, application, and integration of evidence-based HRD in the local government sector. This was highlighted by the 572 participants in 17 municipalities across five provinces. The participants included managers, non-managers and HRD professionals. 

From the gathered evidence it is concluded that ethical values are poorly practiced in municipalities. This is evident in the lack of managerial commitment to equal opportunities for the development of people and the lack of sufficient support for the development of people (human resources). People development is not a priority and performance management is not taken seriously. The competencies and contributions of staff to service delivery are not fully recognised. There is a clear lack of ethical conduct by managers contrary to the code for ethical leadership for local government. 

The study established that an HRD policy problem is evident in municipalities. There may be HRD policies but the implementation is not consistently done and staff are not informed sufficiently of the content of HRD policies and how this affects them. The HRD policy stands in isolation and the links with the integrated development plan (IDP) (strategy) and internal transformation (employment equity and performance management) are poor. The different role players as identified in the Municipal Staff Regulations are also not explicitly identified. 

One of the key findings of this study is that skills development audits are poorly conducted with the result that HRD interventions are not undertaken in line with employee staff development plans. The municipality does not apply a variety of approaches such as formal and informal development and employees are not presented with opportunities to practice new competencies post-skills development interventions. There is no agreed procedure for the implementation of HRD in the workplace and it is broadly recognised that the policy of recognition of prior learning (RPL) could potentially be beneficial for specifically blue-collar workers. However, RPL is not implemented efficiently and effectively in municipalities. 

Although the Municipal Staff Regulations stipulate that line managers in departments should perform a more hands-on role in HRD, evidence gathered indicates the contrary. HRD plans for departments are not in place. The organisation of HRD in municipalities is problematic and line managers are not equipped to manage the implementation of HRD projects. HRD outputs are not included in the key performance areas for line managers and HRD interventions are not monitored by the department managers. The Skills Development Facilitators (SDF), the principal HRD internal consultants are not trusted and considered as knowledgeable subject matter experts. They are not taken seriously. The role of the SDF in most municipalities is reduced to an administrative clerk instead of the senior change management facilitator demanded from the functionary. Line managers, HRD professionals and non-managers are also not collaborating effectively to achieve HRD objectives. 

The study also found that although the statutory training committee system has been in operation since 1998, there is low awareness of the function of the training committees and their representation throughout the organisation. Committee members do not understand their roles and responsibilities and employees do not receive regular feedback on matters pertaining to HRD. From the evidence gathered, it is concluded that councillors and shop stewards (key internal stakeholders) do not understand their HRD roles and responsibilities. And senior managers are not supportive of HRD programs for employees, this despite people management being identified as a key competency for senior managers.  While the LGSETA, the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and the Department of Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs are collaborating, evidence gathered suggests the is a need for greater cooperation. Finally, municipal employees are not aware of the potential impact of the Municipal Staff Regulations on municipalities.

The Municipal Staff Regulations place municipalities on a new trajectory with a renewed emphasis on increasing organisational capabilities through linking organisational structure and strategy and a focus on performance and development. In practice, potential new organisational capabilities and knowledge that could potentially benefit the municipality are developed but not harvested and applied. There is also a glaring absence or awareness of change management plans. They are considered risks for effective HRD implementation.

From the research findings, it can be deduced that key indicators in support of knowledge management are not implemented effectively. More than half of the participants indicated that they do not know about knowledge management, indicating a clear lack of communication. The performance and development system is not being implemented effectively and data analytics are not used to inform HRD decisions. It is also not known amongst the research participants whether HRD systems integrate with existing municipal ICT systems.

The work skills plan evaluation report is the only tool used by the LGSETA to evaluate municipal HRD performance (capability). However, it is not applied consistently across all the provinces. The LGSETA as the authority on HRD should align with the Auditor General’s office, to audit the HRD performance of municipalities. Evidenced-based HRD practices provide municipalities with an institutional model to ensure that HRD performance of managers are included as part of material irregularities reporting in line with the Public Audit Act of 2004. An increase in HRD management controls will ensure that municipalities become more capable, responsive and agile to address the plethora of challenges (financial and human resources) facing local government.

Human resources (people) are the most important strategic resources in municipalities and the effective management of the HRD will foster trust and increase municipal implementation capabilities. This will place local government on a completely new trajectory with effective and efficient management of HRD and knowledge at the centre of the transformation efforts of local government. This will contribute to Sustainable Development Goal 16 (strong institutions) and hasten the professionalisation of local government as advocated by SALGA.  

This article is part of a series reporting on research commissioned by the Local Government Sector Education & Training Authority (LGSETA) (Contact: matodzir@lgseta.org.za)

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