HR Students As The HR Talent Pipeline? Entitlement Versus Empowerment

January 29, 2018
PRESS RELEASE: SABPP launches Employment Equity, Diversity and Transformation Awards
March 5, 2018

By Marius Meyer, CEO: SA Board for People Practices (SABPP)

Talk as guest speaker at SABPP Student Chapter Launch, University of Johannesburg

(Auckland Park Kingsway Campus)

22 February 2018

Distinguished academic leaders, academics and support staff, guests, students, and SABPP Head office visitors.  Today is a special day: you are receiving your certificates as student members of SABPP.  In future, not very long from today, you will also be qualified as graduates from the University of Johannesburg.  Congratulations on achieving yet another major milestone in your life and career journey.

Life is about certificates, you start your life with a birth certificate and you end it with a death certificate.  Most of you may also accumulate marriage certificates, and if we believe national and provincial statistics, some of you will also obtain divorce certificates.  But today, even before you graduate, we bring you your first post-matric certificate, a SABPP certificate as a student member of the HR Professional and Quality Assurance Body of South Africa.  This will be the first of several certificates from SABPP. Your next certificate will be your official professional registration certificate when you are fully registered as a HR Professional in accordance with the NQF Act.



Today I want to honour 13 people who are members of both the UJ and SABPP families:

  1. Professor Theo Veldsman, previous Head of Department for being such a great academic leader and SABPP supporter. He helped us to develop the first set of HR Metrics for South Africa, as well as South Africa’s first Leadership Standard and Leadership Pledge.
  2. Professor Anita Bosch for publishing the SABPP Annual Women’s Paper for several years now.
  3. Professor Adele Thomas a member of the SABPP Ethics Committee.
  4. Professors Freddie Crous and Leon van Vuuren (now at Ethics SA) compiled the SABPP Ethics Code.
  5. Mr Mpho Magau, lecturer and member of the SABPP HE Metrics Working Group.
  6. Dr Cookie Govender, previous Board member of SABPP.
  7. Mr Hennie van Graan, UJ lecturer who championed the first UJ student chapter.
  8. Mr Xolani Mawande, SABPP COO, lectured at UJ Soweto Campus.
  9. Dr Penny Abbott, previous Head of Research at SABPP and Master’s lecturer at UJ.
  10. Ms Renjini Joseph, lecturer doing her PhD using the SABPP Research Department, and outgoing Chair of the SABPP HR Universities Forum. She also wrote a chapter in a new HR textbook published by Van Schaik in 2018.
  11. Mr Pharny Chrysler-Fox and other team members managed to align their HR curriculum to the national HR standards.
  12. Ms Malebo Maholo and Ms Derisha Pillay, SABPP staff members and both successfully completing their honours degrees at UJ last year.

But let us look at the national picture. In many areas we are lagging when it comes to talent.  In several highly skilled fields such as engineering, pharmacy, information technology and science we have a shortage of talent.  Notwithstanding these talent gaps, as a nation we have performed well in certain areas.  In the highly specialised field of auditing South Africa is a world leader, and we should be proud of this achievement.  Likewise, South Africa is a world leader in corporate governance and integrated reporting, and some of our talented business leaders like Mervyn King have put South Africa on the map in this new era of moving boards forward with improved governance, sustainability and integrated reporting. In addition, talented South Africans have shown the world that South Africa is ready to share our pockets of excellence with the world at large. This has been showcased by some of our top talent ranging from Charlize Theron to Trevor Noah as they have achieved excellence internationally.

We live in exciting times with a lot of changes.  We have a new President and new changes are implemented on a daily and weekly basis. President Ramaphosa is busy with a new strategy as he indicated in the State of the Nation address last week.  Some of the changes are fast, and others are slower given the complexity and scope of the transformation required. As HR professionals we are change agents, we are specialists in change, and we can therefore make a significant contribution in ensuring the success of these and other changes in our country and within our spheres of influence.

We also realise that it is now 18 years after the year 2000, and we are only 12 years away from achieving (or failing to achieve) the goals of the National Development Plan (NDP).  Talent and people development is at the centre of the NDP, but with only 12 years to go, time may be running out to build sufficient talent pools in leveraging the NDP agenda.  In certain areas we are indeed lagging the world, such as technical skills.  Furthermore, the Sustainable Development Goals set for countries world-wide to achieve is in essence a talent agenda for countries, regions, continents and the world at large.  But these goals, like the Millennium Development Goals may prove to be elusive, if some of the basic elements of national development fundamentals such as education, poverty alleviation and equality programmes are not embedded into national cultures and systems.

However, South Africa is also the first country in the world with a National Talent Management Standard as part of the National Human Resource (HR) standards, and we are indeed proud of this significant achievement.  Making this standard a success is of utmost importance in ensuring that South Africa’s talent needs are addressed.  Failure to do so, will not only cause damage to business, but may deplete the early gains of our young democracy.  High youth unemployment and under-employment in the workplace cannot be perpetuated if we want to become a nation of achievers.  To continue on the path of a less than one percent economic growth is simply not the way to build a competitive nation.   Our 88th position on the 2016 World Economic Forum Human Capital Index leaves a lot to be desired and clearly indicates the need for a national approach to driving talent management in all spheres of society – from schools to higher education to the workplace.

In this vein, the science and practice of talent management provides hope that South Africa’s young talent is indeed our future leaders and specialists in turning the country around into a nation of high performing talent ready to achieve excellence in raising our competitiveness as a country. I salute our young talent, their managers, mentors, family members and companies for supporting them all the way to achieve this milestone in their careers.  Moreover, we are all reminded of the need to accelerate all current efforts in identifying, engaging, developing and retaining talent in South African companies.  We can all become talent leaders or continue to be talent laggers.  This time, time will not tell. There is simply no time to waste on debates about the talent war or talent gaps.

A purposeful approach to talent management should be our top priority at all South African organisations.  However, we will have to collaborate like never before.  Perhaps that is the new lesson for business from the new notion of coalition politics.  We need a clear focus on collaboration in setting the talent agenda for business, government and society at large.  Ultimately, as is the case in politics and sport –  individuals, teams, organisations and countries will be winners or losers. The strength of your talent management practices will determine in which category you will fall.  Now it the time for talent leadership.  It is my hope and wish that Talent Talks will put talent at the centre of our conversations and discourse as we take our people, organisatons, country and continent forward with a renewed focus on talent as the real kingmaker in business, government and society.  Please let me know how you experience Talent Talks.  Welcome to South Africa’s Talent Talks, welcome to the new season of talent management. Let us all work together in getting talent management on top of our mind and agenda as we do our daily HR work.

But today I want to pose a challenging question to you:  Are you a student only, or a professional or both?  A graduate can show a piece of paper. A professional can show a piece of professional work.  A graduate has a piece of theoretical knowledge, a professional has professional competence, i.e. someone who can make things happen in the world of work.  The real world of work is about action, it is about the delivery of professional work in the form of high level outputs. Professional work is about the professional ability to make things happen in a professional way that has impact, relevance and credibility. I also want to ask you whether you believe in entitlement (i.e. getting hand-outs) or empowerment (empowering yourself and others).

The business world has changed significantly over the last couple of years. However, the sad news is that according to top economist Azar Jammine, a lack of skills development remains the biggest obstacle to economic growth in South Africa. We cannot afford to perpetuate the current unemployment rate of 27%.  Skills development is key in this regard, and your role as student practitioners is thus of utmost importance for the economic growth of the country.

Looking at graduates in different countries, it is interesting to note how graduation statistics for the 25 to 34 year olds differ significantly across nations (according to OECD as published in the Spectator Index on Twitter):

South Korea: 69%

Japan:  60%

Canada: 59%

Russia: 58%

UK: 49%

France: 45%

Poland: 43%

Germany: 30%

China: 18%

Brazil: 16%

South Africa: 14%

As a country, we are diverse. But we are simultaneously a nation of winners and losers. When it comes to certain areas we are world leaders, like banking, our stock exchange, auditing, and our governance system (King IV).  Then there are other areas where we are lagging or losing the battle, like HIV/AIDS, fraud and corruption, skills gaps, our education system, xenophobia, unemployment, inequality and crime.  It was announced recently that South Africans are the third fattest nation in the world.  As qualified graduates you are the leaders who need to help us turning this situation around.  We are now the first country in the world with national HR standards, so as you sit here today you are part of the solution.  The HR Standards are there – all you need to do is to successfully implement it.

As the professional body for HR professionals in South Africa, the SA Board for People Practices has a dual role, i.e. to execute its mandate to quality assure universities and other learning providers of HR programmes,  and secondly to act as a professional body for HR professionals. We are therefore also in a position to accredit UJ so that you as students, academics, parents and the business community can be assured that we have evaluated the quality of learning provision and assessment practices at UJ.  Under the leadership and initiative of our COO, Xolani Mawande, we have visited 22 universities.  We have formed student chapters all over the country, we have empowered the HR youth with knowledge and 22 universities have changed their curriculum and research agenda to the national HR standards.  This is higher education transformation in action.  All universities including UJ can become part of this initiative of providing world leadership to the HR profession and learning provision.

But what is professionalism?  Professionalism is the act of continuously meeting standards of ethics and professional practice in a chosen profession. Good news is that in accordance with the NQF Act, HR professionals can now register with SABPP and their designations are being uploaded on the National Learners Records Database at SAQA. More good news is that HR Professionals registered at the top four professional categories of SABPP (MHRP, CHRP, HRP, HRA) have now been approved by the Minister of Justice, Advocate Michael Masutha as Ex-officio Commissioners of Oaths. Thus, no more standing in queus at Police Stations or the office of an accountant to get your certificates and documents certified.  Just go to an HR Professional registered with SABPP. Go to your lecturers!  This is a major achievement and significant milestone for us as qualified HR professionals.

According to Meister and Williard the 2020 workplace will be radically different from that we are used to today:

  • You will be hired and promoted based upon your reputational capital.
  • Your mobile device will be your office.
  • The global talent shortage will be acute.
  • Recruiting will be done on social networking sites.
  • The world will be networked and you will need a networked mindset.
  • Corporate social networks will flourish and grow inside companies.
  • Lifelong learning will be a business requirement.
  • Work-life flexibility will replace work-life balance.
  • Diversity will be a business imperative.
  • Social media literacy will be required for all employees.

Many of you have done very well with your studies and even achieved distinctions.  However, some of you aim for 50% only.  That may have been good enough to pass, but the bad news is that the world of work is tough and competitive.  Employers do not want 50% graduates, they want 80% or 90% or 100% graduates.  How many of you want to get operated by a doctor who got 50% at university, or fly with an airline employing pilots who got 50% at university?  The quest for excellence requires top achievers, employees and professionals who go the extra mile in doing not only their best, but what is required by their employers and customers.  Ultimately, it is not your employer who pays your salary, it is your customers, and customers demand excellent service, not good or mediocre service.

I also want to provide you with 5 tips for SABPP student members in view of lifting our game as we get ready for the next 10 months of 2018.  I want to leave you with 5 tips that highlight the power you already have:

  1. Professionalism: Develop a professional mindset as a student so that you can prepare yourself for the HR profession when you exit UJ.
  2. Opportunity: Pursue all opportunities to excel in your studies, but start to network. The reality is that only 13% of all jobs are advertised. Decide on whether you want to be part of the 87% group or the 13% group and calculate your probability of getting employed.
  3. Wisdom: There is an enormous amount of wisdom located with your lecturers and the SABPP community. Tap into this source of wisdom to help you grow faster and deeper as a student and professional.
  4. Ethics: We need ethical people as HR professionals and ethical South Africans in leadership and professional positions to take our country forward.
  5. Results: Strive for excellence and achieve results in your studies, sport, and other areas of interest so that you can become results-oriented.

These five powers are in your hands.  Your qualification certificate is a powerful piece of paper opening the door for you, but you must enter yourself by walking into the room where the real action is.  However, not using this power means that you accept to be disempowered.  UJ did its part, now you have to do your part and that is to claim and use your power – the power of applied knowledge, action and the continuous pursuit of action and professionalism.  Unfortunately, you will also see managers in the workplace who abuse their power in advancing their own self-interest. Please do not become part of those who serve themselves and not society.  South Africa and indeed the rest of the world now needs ethical leaders – real professional people who will stand up for what is right.  The recent scandals at several organisations and state capture serve as a stark reminder that the world needs you and me to lead our organisations and society into a better more ethical and sustainable future.

The successful organisations in the 2018-2020 era will be those who become people-driven entities based on the notion of active citizenship – sustainable organisations that are driven not only by business needs, but also by the human and stakeholder needs of society. These companies are able to adequately respond and position themselves strategically to grow, leverage and optimise people, both in and outside the organisation.

Hence, it is all about change. You are changed people after today. You came here without a certificate, and you are walking away with a certificate signed by myself and the COO of SABPP.  UJ looks after you during your studies, but we will look after you the next 50 years of your career. Yes, you will work at least 10 years longer than your parents.   Also, I want to thank the UJ management and staff for the hard work and dedication to build a talent pipeline of qualified candidate HR professionals for the South African market.

The success of the SABPP UJ Student Chapter will depend on one factor only – leadership.  If it fails, it will be because of poor leadership. If it succeeds, it will be because of good leadership – people who make things happen.  Therefore electing the best possible leaders is key to your success.  We will open all doors for you, but you have to walk in yourself.  SABPP will share our knowledge and network with you. We will distribute information that will help you with your studies and your future careers as HR professionals.  We can send HR Managers to you to present their case studies to you.

And now I have a big announcement:  SABPP will launch the HR Youth Council this year.  Who will be on the Youth Council?   The Youth Council will consist of youth leaders of successful SABPP student chapters. They will meet twice a year to plan their strategy and to report back on actions. This will ensure that you as the youth will have a voice nationally. At the end of the year the HR Youth Council will present their ideas and plans to a group of HR Managers from industry. Also, we will arrange an annual HR Youth Convention bringing HR students from all over the country together under one roof to plan the future of South Africa’s HR Youth.  This is HR Youth Leadership in action.  You will take your career, your future and South Africa forward.

And lastly, but most importantly, a special word of encouragement to you as the UJ Students.  You can remain unemployed or under-employed or you can make yourself indispensable – the choice is yours.  Make us proud of you, your families, your organisations, industry sectors and UJ with your achievements – become the best student, employee and professional you can be. You are the change agents who will rewrite the history and future of your organisation, and leave a legacy for the next generation.  You are empowered today.  Accept and use this opportunity as a gift from UJ and SABPP. Use this opportunity to build your career and the HR profession and thereby making South Africa a better country for all of us.  You are here today because someone opened a door for you.  Life is about opening  doors, but you have to walk in.  As we enter a new era of free education as announced by our previous and current president, and budgeted by the Minister of Finance yesterday in Parliament, let us refocus on our next duty as future professionals, and that is empowerment (and not entitlement).  People can open doors for you, but you need to make it happen. And as future HR Managers you will be responsible for empowering others in the workplace.  But you need to empower yourself first! Use every single opportunity in your life. Where there are no opportunities, go out and create those opportunities. SABPP Chairperson, Siphiwe Moyo always says: “The world owes you nothing.”  I want to add to these words of wisdom. Yes, the world owes you nothing, but you owe the world a contribution for the space you occupy.  What will be your contribution? What difference will you make to your family, your friends, your fellow students, your community, your employers, and to South Africa at large.  I want to echo the words of President Ramaphosa and encourage you all to join me in saying today:  Send Me!

I congratulate and salute you today, go out and celebrate, but please join me and our COO, Xolani Mawande in changing the world tomorrow.

Marius Meyer            @MariusSABPP and @SABPP1

Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP), the HR and HRD professional body and ETQA for HR and HRD learning provision. SABPP is responsible for accrediting the HR curriculum of universities.  Previously he was qualification leader for the HR honours degree programmes and lectured in HRD at the University of Johannesburg, Monash South Africa, North-West University and the University of South Africa.  Marius is also doing HR academic work for North-West University, Stellenbosch University and the University of Cape Town. He has been an HRD professional, manager, consultant, academic and thought leader for the last 24 years.  He is a regular speaker at local and international conferences and author of 200+ articles and 24 books.  The three most recent achievements of his team are as follows:

  • South African HR Competency Model
  • National HR Standards for South Africa (first set in the world)
  • HR Professionals recognised as Commissioners of Oaths by Minister of Justice

More information about SABPP is available on their new website you can also follow them on twitter @SABPP1 or Instagram @sabpp_1.  More information about UJ is available on