By Howard Wallack

We’ve continued to have a robust and diverse schedule—meeting four additional organizations. One was in Johannesburg and three others were in Cape Town, which is where we spent the weekend. We thought things were complicated here in South Africa, but now we see how complex and layered the country and its HR environment really are, and how very, very different it is from HR in the U.S.

A visit to the South African Board for People Practices (SABPP), an organization that combines the functions of the HR Certification Institute (HRCI) and the SHRM Foundation, introduced us to the HR Registry in the country as well as its HR Research Initiative.

Headquartered in Johannesburg, the SABPP is recognized by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). That is the statutory organization that is responsible for the National Qualifications Framework (NQF), and in turn SABPP recognizes 47 entities, including 23 universities as learning providers. Here HR certification is not by examination, as it is in the U.S. Rather, educational qualifications, job level, and experience are used to determine where an HR practitioner fits and registers into a five-tiered scheme. The levels are: HR Technician, HR Associate, HR Professional, Chartered HR Professional, and Masters HR Professional. Cost for registration begins at the U.S. equivalent of $148. It’s valid for one year and is maintained in subsequent years through accumulation of continuing professional development credits and a renewal fee.

On the research side in conjunction with the University of Johannesburg, SABPP has produced research on women in the workplace, as well on ethics, HR risk management, and wisdom from HR mentors. They’ve also developed and are promoting a national HR competency model and development of HR standards for South Africa.

In Cape Town, the Best Employers organization works to benchmark HR policies and practices to gauge a company’s employer value proposition. Through a very rigorous survey, supplemented by in-depth interviews, the effort examines more than 80 benchmarks in the five broad categories of primary benefits, secondary benefits, career development, training and development, and culture management. The result of the effort is not a comparative ranking between companies, but rather timely and actionable feedback for internal use within participating companies to focus on the drivers for their own HR operational success. In addition to serving 73 ‘best employers’ organizations with benchmarking data and feedback, they publish an annual Careers guide for students entering the workforce.

We then heard from the national coordinator of the South African Graduate Recruiters’ Association (SAGRA), which serves 140 corporate members, mostly multinational and large national firms, and works to connect and advance the graduate recruiting industry. The SAGRA Candidate Survey and The SAGRA Employer Survey reflect both the supply side and demand side of employment. In the context that only 12 percent of blacks are currently enrolled in higher education (yet blacks make up 80 percent of the country’s population), and only 30 percent of those black university entrants complete their studies on a normal schedule, SAGRA and its corporate members face the constant challenge of complying with black economic empowerment goals—difficult to meet in light of the aforementioned numbers.

Lastly, we had a conversation with the executive director of corporate services and the HR director for the City of Cape Town, who shared their challenges, operations, and insights on HR practices in the public sector with our delegation. With 98 percent unionization of its staff of 27,000 employees, the city has experienced some high and disruptive turnover in its leadership.  Now stabilized, the city’s HR staff of 300 manages both transactional and strategic HR activities (administration, payroll, benefits administration, recruitment, labor relations, talent management, training and development, organizational management, and business improvement).  Within this context their greatest challenges are skills and talent management, and development of competency frameworks.

Howard Wallack is SHRM’s Director of Global Member Programs and Global Business Development. Senior HR professionals will be participating in the HR management delegation to South Africa through November 7. Part four of Howard’s adventures in South Africa continues Wednesday, Nov. 7.