Acceptance Speech by Marius Meyer on receipt of Honorary Doctoral Degree from The Vaal University of Technology on 11 September 2018

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Chancellor, Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Gordon Zide

Members of Council

Valued Partners from Business and Industry

Members of various Media Houses

Staff, Trade Unions, Student Leaders

Graduands, Parents and Relatives

Distinguished guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

 

It is a great honour and privilege for me to stand before you at this graduation ceremony at the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) and to accept this special doctoral award today. But to me, it is more than an individual recognition today, it is the formal acknowledgement and endorsement of the growth and development of the science and practice of management, and in particular the profession of Human Resource (HR) Management.

All professions started with one person who believed that his or her occupation should be professionalised, and then managed to convince others to join the journey towards professionalisation, and so over time, mature professions such as accounting, engineering, psychology, education and many others have developed and evolved. Today we add human resource management as a professional and specialised field as part of management science to this list of prestigious professions.

The field of human resource management is all about the people side of business, i.e. how we engage and utilise people to achieve the goals of an organisation. However, in pursuit of profits or other organisational outcomes in the public sector, we often see that humanity gets lost.  Just over the last week alone, we again witnessed the stark realities of how we have failed humanity in South Africa:

  • In Johannesburg, after a fire broke out at a government building, fire-fighters paid with their lives when they could not bring the fire under control. While the exact cause of the fire needs to be determined, it is evident that the safety of the building was not up to standard.
  • In Cape Town, eight workers lost their lives following an explosion at a factory.
  • These incidents happened after the worst six months in terms of mining accidents resulting in fatalities, with a record number of mine worker deaths in the mines this year.
  • In addition to the daily revelations at the state capture enquiry, we also witnessed the Steinhoff share price collapse, the largest corporate governance scandal in the history of South Africa while the former CEO claimed in Parliament that he did not know of any accounting irregularity.

In my previous role as CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP), I had the privilege to lead the HR profession.  Over a period of seven years, the SABPP team achieved several milestones.  Let me share some of these highlights with you.

  1. National HR Standards: In 2013 South Africa became the first country in the world with national HR Standards. These standards, ranging from strategic HR Management, to talent management to employment relations, and finally HR measurement provide clear guidelines for HR Managers on how HR functions should be managed.  The South African HR Standards attracted interest from all over the world, so much so that we are now regarded as a world leader in HR Standards.  In addition, most universities in South Africa aligned their HR curriculums and teaching to the HR standards.
  2. HR Audits:Following the development of the HR Standards, the need was expressed to also audit HR functions against the HR standards, similar to the way external auditors are auditing the finances and other functions of organisations. Thus, we also managed to establish an audit unit to audit companies against the HR standards. More than 200 auditors have been trained in most provinces, as well as in Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Lesotho to audit companies against HR standards.
  3. HR Competencies: The third major national project was to develop a South African HR competency model.  In South Africa we have the bad habit of importing business and theoretical models from other countries, without contextualising it to the local environment. Hence, the development of a South African HR Competency Model to guide HR practitioners, students and academics on the competencies needed to be effective in the workplace as HR professionals.  Now that we have registered more than 6000 HR practitioners against clearly defined criteria, I am proud to see how HR Managers are embracing the competency model as a foundation for their own personal and professional development.
  4. Commissioners of Oaths:The successes achieved with HR standards, audits and competencies opened the door for the further professional recognition of HR professionals, culminating in the approval of HR professionals as Ex-officio Commissioners of Oaths by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Advocate Michael Masutha.
  5. Leadership Standard:Most importantly, as the evidence and devastating impact of poor leadership in so many spheres of society became apparent in the private sector, public sector, government, state-owned enterprises and also non-profit organisations, we also developed a national leadership standard for South African leaders. This leadership standard provides practical guidelines for South African leaders on what good leadership is all about.

While I receive the special acknowledged from VUT today, it is also wonderful to see how VUT has grown in terms of embracing the professionalisation of HR with their academics and students.  I will mention some of these highlights:

  • All academics at VUT are registered HR professionals with SABPP which means that they have the highest percentage of academics being professionally registered of all South African universities;
  • In 2016, VUT received an award from SABPP as the higher education institution with the best work done in aligning their curriculum to the national HR standards;
  • VUT has the highest number of academic staff members involved in SABPP committees, they are therefore at the forefront of being part of the senior HR professionals governing the HR profession in South Africa.
  • VUT has one of the most active SABPP student chapters in the country, once again thank you to Dr Pierre Joubert and Lecturer Fathima Mahomed for empowering your students as professional student members of SABPP.
  • In two weeks’ time, VUT will host the HR Universities Forum (HRUF), a sub-committee of the SABPP Higher Education Committee to discuss HR curriculum, research, teaching and student empowerment by means of student chapters and student awards, once again VUT will be at the centre of the action. A total of 16 universities will be represented by academics and students here at VUT on that special day, and Dr Joubert is the Chairperson of HRUF.

I need to thank all the special people who have assisted me in achieving the outputs that led to the honorary award today.  In total there are almost a thousand people who contributed to the success of our projects. Some of them are board or committee members, others are HR standards facilitators, auditors, alliance partners and several other stakeholders.   Thank you to all of you, but a special word of acknowledged to those individuals who went out of their way to support me in achieving so many successes. They are:

  • The Current Chairperson of SABPP, Mr Siphiwe Moyo (also a VUT alumnus);
  • The Previous Chairperson of SABPP, Ms Elizabeth Dhlamini-Kumalo;
  • The previous Vice-Chairperson of SABPP, Dr Michael Glensor;
  • The COO and Interim CEO of SABPP, Mr Xolani Mawande;
  • Dr Penny Abbott, Research and Policy Advisor at SABPP;
  • Dr Pierre Joubert, HOD of HR Management at VUT;
  • Ms Fathima Mahomed from VUT for the continuous encouragement;
  • Mr Leon Fourie, for his friendship over such a long period of time;
  • My father, mother and mother-in-law who are also here today;
  • My wife, Hanlie and daughter, Nadia for all their support and sacrifices;
  • The Almighty God for His love, wisdom and blessings.

Lastly, a special thank you to the VUT Council and management for the award today.

In conclusion, while we celebrate the achievement of qualifications today, we are reminded of the continuous need for learning, growth and development. We need to bring humanity back into the workplace. The speed and complexity of change is expected to accelerate and we will have to be quicker, better and more responsive in a more uncertain and unpredictable working and broader socio-economic environment. As professionals from different fields, we are the people who will create the future workplace. We will make it happen. I invite you in joining me in creating better and more human organisations, and ultimately a better country.

I thank you and God bless you.

 

Marius Meyer

11 September 2018