If the property and built environment sector wants to survive the challenges of automation and play a meaningful developmental role, it needs SMME support, more skills development and faster skills transfer, writes Sandi Mbutuma, managing director of SVA International, a member of the GIBB group of companies.
Skills transfer and management gaps in the workforce
The Property Sector Charter Council Transformation Report 20181 found that there are more than enough recruits and resources in the sector at junior level.
Property qualifications are relatively expensive to obtain, so the sector tends to have fewer graduates from previously disadvantaged groups. Black graduates are quickly absorbed into the sector.
A problem the sector faces, is that most skills development takes place at junior management level. However, the fact that junior personnel far outnumber senior staff limits skills transfer. Few mentors have the time to share their knowledge, and they are not easily accessible. This has the knock-on effect of slowing staff promotion.
It is common for professionals who have spent five years in the industry to see their careers stall at middle-management stage, as they struggle to access the skills they need to grow further. Right now, the numbers of mentors are adequate for the size of the industry, but this can certainly be amplified.
Lack of support for SMMEs
The value chain in the property and built environment sector is diverse and lengthy, from grass cutters and cleaners all the way to engineers and top executives. The SMMEs in the sector are often owned by professionals who have left companies to start businesses within the value chain. While there are pilot incubation programmes for SMMEs, these are not sufficiently industry focused. Most programmes teach general business acumen.
Sector codes have been amended to ensure that corporate business partnerships add value for SMMEs, and companies are now bound to allocate a portion of their profits to enterprise development. Partner companies must create greater value than simply offering SMMEs existing office space, software and stationery.
SMME support needs to be strategic, systematic and well structured, to ensure that established companies as well as the SMMEs benefit from the partnership. Companies can advise SMMEs on business objectives and policy frameworks, and programmes should be regularly audited to assess effectiveness and make necessary improvements.
There is still a need for initiatives focused on skills development, business coaching and mentoring. Programmes based on analysis of the supply chain, where entrepreneurs are recruited based on their turnover and the need for their services in the sector, have proved to be effective.
One particularly successful initiative has seen a large property organisation partner with SMMEs across the country for a period of two years, providing training and mentorship on business processes, etiquette, brand visibility and how entrepreneurs can position their business in their submarket.
SMME owners are taught to understand balance sheets, procurement and payment procedures and how to approach creditors. The government is also playing a role through the Expanded Public Works Programme of the Department of Public Works, which provides performance-based opportunities for SMMEs.
However, the critical challenge remains how to give property professionals the senior management skills that will see them thrive in corporations and SMMEs alike.
Women remain grossly underrepresented at board level in the sector. There has been slow improvement in this regard, and there are women in the industry who hold positions with voting rights. This is important, because voting power can change the landscape. I applaud clients who insist on having women on project teams. This is becoming evident at large corporations and represents a start towards addressing gender imbalances within the sector.
As the modern industry increasingly demands an innovation mindset from professionals hoping to remain relevant, architecture has a significant role to play. Architecture offers precisely this kind of innovation approach, being driven by design, which forces practitioners to think beyond their limitations.
Property development also demands constant innovation. Property owners need to be creative and innovative in building new business models in the accommodation and hospitality arena. Premium hotels have been forced to find new revenue streams, for instance by developing existing spaces into low-cost hotels.
This climate of disruption, change and innovation requires an increasingly complex set of skills – including design, property development and finance – which makes it even more urgent that skills transfer should be deepened and accelerated. Already, we are seeing students being attracted to architecture precisely because of the innovative complexity it fosters.
Reskilling staff for a digital world
Automation will mean that certain jobs will cease to exist. To mitigate this effect and minimise retrenchments, while retaining valuable human capital, companies need to commit to retraining and redeploying their workforce as situations demand.
Companies must introduce skills development programmes that redirect staff to places in their field where their skills can be better used and are aligned with the market. It is possible to retain staff, boost company effectiveness and remain profitable.
As our industry changes at an ever-quicker pace, the key for companies is to be equally quick in providing our people with the new skills they require.
Source: 2016/2017 State of Transformation Report for the South African property sector https://www.saibpp.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/2018-State-of-Transformation-Report-for-the-Property-Sector.pdf