COVID-19 unleashes a skills revolution in SA

Who would have thought a health crisis would trigger a national rethink on training and development? COVID-19 has accelerated the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and powered up digitisation, carving out new alternate learning pathways.


“With creative mindsets and methodology, training and development has entered a new sphere; out with the old, in with the new,” explains Dr Aarti Mahabeer, Head of Academics at the Graduate Institute of Financial Sciences (GIFS).


The migration to online education engagement platforms isn’t a quick fix. It’s here to stay. So, training providers need to quickly adapt by ramping up remote knowledge-exchange efforts.


“It certainly is a moment of reckoning for the education, training and development system,” says Dr Mahabeer. “Reskilling, recalibrating the way we think and the way we function, are all requirements to survive this fast technologically-changing environment. Flexibility, adaptability, openness to change, learning new technologies, software and leadership are vital to progress through 2020 and beyond.”


The overnight replacement of traditional learning environments with remote-based, digitally-driven platforms is not the only critical change spearheaded by the global health emergency. Increasing unemployment and organisations reassessing roles and responsibilities within their teams, are ramping up demand for new skills and competencies to cope with the changing work environments.

“All people owe it to themselves to learn and equip themselves with skills which will be required into the future. We need to ensure that we stay relevant,” cautions Jeanette Hobson, High Performance Learning Specialist at GIFS. “We must be able to adjust to the ever-changing environment and landscape. On the other hand, our people within the Financial Services Sector require ‘coping skills’.  We cannot take a person out of their only known environment and change the environment completely and then expect the person to swim without any assistance.”


This calls for a recalibration on two fronts: what is being taught and how learners are empowered with skills and competencies – two critical areas that Hobson and Dr Mahabeer are helping redefine at GIFS.


Organisations need to see the significant value in enhancing generic management skills within their leadership teams. As fast-tracked digitisation picks up pace resulting in a more physically- and emotionally-remote organisational culture, soft skills also become an essential item in the corporate COVID-19 Survival Toolkit. Flexible workspaces require more sophisticated communication skills, greater collaboration, and being able to “connect” with people to build relationships in digi-spaces rather than face-to-face.


Leaders must be able to manage virtual teams via Zoom, Microsoft Teams or other communication and collaboration platforms. They need to know how to overcome challenges and motivate teams – virtually – during these uncertain times. Preparation is key in this new way of doing life, and learning how to lead in the new now is critical.


“Transformation is necessary and non-negotiable. Innate survival mentality does not apply. It’s not the fittest who will survive the pandemic – but those who are relevantly skilled,” Dr Mahabeer stresses. “4IR is a compulsory skill for team leaders, coaches, mentors, supervisors and managers, all of whom require skilling, upskilling and reskilling themselves to survive within the financial services sector. Knowledge is the ‘Art and Key’ to surviving 2020 and beyond.”


Dr. Aarti Mahabeer

Head of Academics


Jeanette Hobson

High Performance Learning Specialist

11 August 2020