CEO hits the ground running

2011-11-05 10:43

Newly appointed Productivity SA chief executive Bongani Coka sees getting his organisation back on the radar as his most immediate task.

He says: “Productivity SA’s visibility is not as great as we want it to be.

“The organisation is like SA’s best-kept secret. It is time for this secret to become well-known,” says Coka who until September was the organisation’s chief financial officer – a position he held for 10 years.

“We want to be seen as a port of call whenever people discuss policies and make key decisions that need to have a productivity component included,” he says.

Productivity SA is an arm of the Department of Labour that helps businesses, government departments and workers to become more productive and competitive by supplying research and training and creating employment opportunities.

With a head office in Midrand, Productivity SA has offices in Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, with satellite offices in Port Elizabeth.

He says: “However, this does not mean we are not visible in other provinces. We are making the biggest impact in Limpopo, even though we do not have offices there, because of the strength of our partnerships with other organisations.

“We aim to build relationships between organised business and labour. We want to run work-shops with shop stewards, unions and media workers so that they can get to know about productivity.

“When they attend our events they should know what productivity is all about and how it could assist them in the workplace.
“We are also trying to work with organised business to articulate the importance of productivity,” he says.

Productivity SA aims to create partnerships with all domestic business chambers, provincial economic departments and major trade unions.

On a scale of 1 to 10, Coka rates the country’s productivity at 5. “We are right in the middle and not yet in the premier league. To improve our level of productivity we should beef up investment, research and development,” he says.

“There is also a need to improve the shortage of skills because this would translate into a high level of productivity.”

Coka says the education system needs to be enhanced.

“Our education system is not geared towards the needs of the economy. We need to improve the quality and relevance of our education.

“Our poor education system has resulted in the country experiencing skills shortage and high levels of unemployment,” he says.
According to him, focus will also be placed on small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs), which provide more than 60% of jobs in South Africa.

He says: “Productivity SA interventions in this area are aimed at ensuring that SMMES survive and grow to create ­
more jobs.

“We provide training to SMMEs that enhances their productivity – like how to put measures in place to deal with elimination of waste, and how to increase sales and help them identify the key drivers in their business.”

Productivity SA has three sources of funding.

Funding from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) – which constitutes 45% of the organisation’s budget – helps to deal with companies that are in distress.

“We believe that we can make a bigger impact by saving jobs instead of creating them. Research shows that it costs us R2 000 to save a job while it could cost up to R70 000 to create one job,” he says.

“Because there is already infrastructure in place, products and services, and management, we could come into a company for at least three weeks and save jobs by helping to deal with challenges that relate to inefficiency, under-funding or marketing,” says Coka.

Saving jobs would result in companies managing to pay back into the UIF. The second level of funding comes from the labour department and constitutes 35%. The money is channelled towards creating awareness of Productivity SA, SMMEs and conducting research on issues affecting competitiveness in the economy.

The Department of Trade and Industry provides 10%, which looks at stable local companies.

“We help to turn stable companies into world-class best practices over a period of 18 months, where they can improve on quality, costs, workplace safety and morale,” says Coka.

“The other 10% is generated by charging companies that want our services market-related prices,” he says.

By the end of the interview, he reveals that he has not yet celebrated his appointment.

“My first 30 days in office have been hectic because October was Productivity Month. I had to hit the ground running in terms of organising the activities that were scheduled,” he says.

“Almost every particular day we had activities lined up and we moved from one province to another. In certain instances we had to visit two provinces in a week.”

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