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Back to school to deal with job market woes

17 May 2015 - 02:00 By Bruce Whitfield

Sick of someone and don't know how to tell them? An Australian company may have the solution.

The company, called Sorry It's Over, will do it for you - and you don't have to get your hands dirty.

It will make the phone call or send the SMS, and if the recipient is still struggling to get the message or the termination is particularly venomous, will do the deed Cleopatra-style by sending a basket of (non-venomous ) snakes with the message attached.

This takes outsourcing to a new level and is reminiscent of the George Clooney movie Up in the Air, in which the actor plays a professional corporate hatchet man whose job it is to go to companies in need of cutting staff and delivering the bad news.

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For about R60, Sorry It's Over will send a message to your soon-to-be-ex along the lines of: "We have not been seeing eye-to-eye. I feel we are too different. It is me, not you. There is no chemistry any more. Hope you will be OK. We can still be friends."

There has to be a business model that could help frazzled HR practitioners, especially those in the high-turnover public sector, cope with South Africa's fractious job market.

Think Eskom: "Dear Tshediso, there is no electricity any more. Hope you will be OK."

Or the Independent Police Investigative Directorate: "Dear Robert, it's not you, it's me."

Or Peter Richer and Ivan Pillay at the South African Revenue Service: "I feel we are too different."

The possibilities are endless.

For the slightly nastier break-ups, the language can get more aggressive.

Imagine the letter the Presidency might have sent to the former ANC Youth League leader: "Dear Julius, how dare you treat me like this! I deserve better than you. You will never find anyone as good as me."

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Instead, we fudge and obfuscate and individuals are suspended on the public teat, prolonging not only the agony of the termination, but costing the fiscus a fortune.

OK, so our labour laws wouldn't allow it and it's probably best to leave high-level boardroom bust-ups to sort themselves out. But we can dream, can't we?

More seriously, South Africa has a skills crisis that is having a devastating effect on the real economy.

The World Economic Forum this week put South Africa in the bottom third of 124 countries in its first Human Capital Report, which examines which countries best nurture and develop the skills of their people and use them most effectively.

This report argues that countries that optimise their human capital see higher levels of economic growth. It's less about the money a country has, and more about harnessing the innate potential of its people.

Top performers are Finland, Norway and Switzerland. South Africa ranks sixth in Africa and 92nd out of 124 countries.

The report shows our problem starts in the classroom.

We are not alone in having an alarmingly high youth unemployment rate. The difference is that South Africa is making little progress in fixing its primary and secondary education systems - which are in the bottom 10 in the survey.

It further highlights the impact slowing global economies and the drop-off in demand for raw materials are having on low-skilled workers. We are close to rock bottom when it comes to developing those under 24 or utilising the skills and experience of those over 65.

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We're not entirely hopeless. If you do get a job, you will receive some of the best help in the world. South Africa ranks 17th worldwide in terms of staff training and 48th in terms of high-skilled workers as a proportion of the population. South Africa's real problem, though, sits with people losing jobs and being unlikely to find another in a hurry.

The government understands this all too well and works hard to deal with the symptoms of the problem it faces. Mining Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi called a meeting in Pretoria this week amid concerns about mounting lay-offs in the mining sector. The ministry said it wanted to find ways of minimising these .

It's a far cry from the post-Marikana threats to revoke the licences of employers who cut jobs and comes nearly a year since the crippling platinum strike brought activity in that sector to a standstill.

There is an inevitability that jobs will go: costs have continued to rise courtesy of the age and complexity of many of our mining operations and unions have continued to push for ever-higher wage settlements despite mounting evidence that the result will be a smaller, more efficient industry.

The problem South Africa faces is that those workers are likely to be cast on the scrap heap with few, if any, options. Many will become dependent on state hand-outs, small as they are.

Labour analysts are forecasting a bruising couple of months of strikes across industry and mining.

There are no easy short-term fixes and, more worryingly, no long-term solutions unless our classrooms are sorted out. Yesterday.

Whitfield is an award-winning financial journalist

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