Supervisors are the key link to improving South Africa’s labour productvity

Supervisors are the key link to improving South Africa’s labour productvity

18 October 2012: South Africa’s labour productivity has reached a 46-year low according to recent Adcorp figures. This figure can be attributed to a major gap across all South African industries, whereby supervisors lack efficient training and are not properly equipped with the right skillset to fulfill their role.

This is the view of Arjen de Bruin, Operations Solutions MD at OIM International – a leading business consultancy firm, who says companies are able to improve productivity levels by an average of 10% to 15%, by ensuring that supervisors receive practical on the floor coaching with relevant training to help them fully understand their role as the drivers of sustainable workforce productivity.

“The biggest impact on a workforce is the supervisor, as he or she is responsible for managing all processes, removing obstacles and assessing overall workforce productivity. Supervisors therefore need to possess efficient problem solving techniques, plan correctly and be able to communicate daily tasks effectively to the team as these skills are critical for ensuring workforce throughput,” says de Bruin.

De Bruins says 80% of a supervisor’s time should be spent ensuring the team is maximizing production output thoroughly each day. “Instead, what we find is that 60% of the time supervisors are busy with passive supervision, admin or HR-related duties and getting involved in production, as there is often a skills deficit and the supervisor has no other choice but to fill the gap. We have also noticed the supervisor fall into a comfort zone with work that is familiar.”

De Bruin argues that by working on a supervisor’s key competences, where he plans his day correctly, communicates tasks effectively to his team, takes care of his staff, remove obstacles through problem solving, develops his staff where there are skills lacking; he will become more efficient in carrying out tasks and be able to increase business production.

“These competencies are the basis of a supervisor’s role and it is therefore important that enough time is invested training supervisors to ensure that they understand them and to ensure they are equipped with the necessary skills. However it is important to note that the time invested in improving people’s skills, must be reflected in increased output and quality. Moreover, by implementing constant performance feedback and measurement, performance will be optimised across the business.”

De Bruin says when supervisors and their labour force are provided with structure, alignment and focus in their day-to-day activities, individuals will have a shared purpose and direction of their role. Similarly, for supervisor to be effective leaders, consistent communication and engagement needs to happen in order for them to understand how their roles contribute to the success of the company.

These key disciplines need to be integrated into a training programme that combines practical on-the-floor coaching and continuous assessments. De Bruin refers to a pilot project that used this training programme on a South African mine, conducted by OIM International earlier this year. All supervisors of the mine were assigned experienced operational improvement consultants and underwent intense training, on-the-floor coaching and practical assessments. Supervisors were observed, coached and together with the consultant co-created operational solutions, throughout a typical day and everything they did was recorded in order to get a detailed understanding of their work processes and work environment. The duration of the project lasted eight hours a day, five days a week for four months.

According to de Bruin, when companies implement a training programme and or workshop, many do so following a classroom format whereby supervisors are simply given a training guide and told to study it. “What makes this training programme different is proper on the floor coaching is provided to supervisors to inculcate the on the floor implementation. Supervisors are then assessed to determine what their competency strengths and weaknesses are, and evaluated against these in order to ensure success in the supervisory role.

De Bruin says the aim of the project was to optimise labour productivity at the mine in order to increase throughput, by focusing on empowering the supervisors to increase their own productivity. The project also ensured that the supervisors were better equipped to handle day-to-day work by understanding what their full role entails and how to apply that knowledge.

The results of the project showed that the competencies of the supervisors increased by an average of 10%, while planning and execution competencies increased by 30%. As a result production output improved between 15% and 25% over the four months.

“These results show a directly link between the intervention’s effectiveness and increased output. We believe the success of the pilot can be ascribed to the unique combination of defining the required competencies, converting them into operational measurements and efficiencies, and practical on-the-job coaching support by workshop training, assignment and on-going assessments.”

De Bruin says these the results highlight the importance of the training as it not only impacts the supervisors by making them more efficient, but also empowers them to manage their teams more effectively and increase the workforce productivity in the long-term,” concludes de Bruin.

The pilot is currently being rolled out to open-pit mines and plants.