Opinion Piece - Productivity SA

Two successive years since March 2020, South Africa is still gripped by a series of Covid-19 viruses that morphs at will and has put a spanner in the works of our attempts to transform our economy to be relevant, as the world of work is changed. The pandemic, coupled with the disruptive technologies, increased automation, and digital transformations are continuously reshaping the economic and labour market systems, and disrupting business models. The disruptions had a devastating effect on our enterprises, in particular SMMEs, which by their nature, are not resilient enough. Most had to scale down operations to stay afloat and some had to close down operations with devastating effects on the livelihood of most South Africans. Between 2019Q3 and 2020Q3 over 200,000 SMMEs had to shut down and the total liquidations increased by 46.2% in the second quarter of 2021 compared with the second quarter of 2020. An increase of 30.7% was recorded in the first six months of 2021 compared with the first six months of 2020 (Stats SA, 2021). This is coupled with the poignant statistic of “74% of South African youth are unemployed”. This situation is likely in worsen if we do not intervene decisively.

It is with this reality in mind that the country enters the month of October, which is declared Productivity Month in South Africa. Productivity Month 2021 should encourage us as South Africans to be productive and competitive, if we are to address the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality, which are to some extent due to the absence of faster and sustained inclusive growth, low productivity growth and transformative innovation.

The aim of Productivity Month is to galvanise all South Africans to embrace productivity as a way of life, thus creating a sustained productivity culture in the country. As an annual campaign, Productivity Month aims to elevate the importance of productivity and inculcate a culture of competitiveness in every South African and demonstrate the positive changes that can be brought about through productivity improvement. Productivity SA uses Productivity Month to heighten awareness about productivity in the country and to bring its slogan of “Inspiring a competitive South Africa” to life. Overall, the rationale behind Productivity Month is to showcase, share ideas, methods and perspectives on how South African enterprises and SMMEs can improve productivity through the implementation of Productivity SA Enterprise Development and Support Programmes. Throughout Productivity Month, the value of productivity in enhancing economic growth and job creation is brought to the fore through a series of awareness campaigns, workshops, and webinars.

The theme for 2021 is “Resilience, Regroup, and Rebuild: During and Post Covid-19.” The theme (3Rs) highlights the need for Resilience, which requires Regrouping through collaboration of multi-disciplinary partners to Rebuild a faster and sustained inclusive growth, with productivity growth and transformative innovation.

Many a times, the question has been put forth, what is productivity and how can it improve the lives of ordinary South Africans? Productivity is more than just the measure of how effectively resources are used to produce outputs. It is using less to create more, which means working smarter, not harder. It is a mindset that continuously aspires to better ways of accomplishing tasks and conducting business. In essence, productivity is “doing what I do today better than I did yesterday, and even better”, which denotes continuous improvement (KAIZEN in Japanese). At the heart of productivity is the individual. An organisation can only become more productive through continuous upgrading of knowledge, skills, discipline, effort and collaboration.

Productivity SA uses this month to advocate that South African companies, to adopt world-class best practice productivity improvement practices, with emphasis placed on SMMEs as a catalyst for growth in the country. This focus is backed by evidence that SMMEs and entrepreneurs are innovators with tremendous potential to drive sustainable and inclusive growth through the employment they generate, the business practices they choose to adopt, the sectors in which they operate, and are the backbone of a thriving society. As American economist Paul Krugman puts it “A country's ability to improve its standard of living over time depends almost entirely on its ability to raise its output per worker".

In promoting productivity during Productivity Month, Productivity SA trains SMMEs to be efficient in their value chain of production. We emphasise, as we always do during this period that, Productivity SA Enterprise Development and Support Programmes are critical for this ailing economy, which fails to contribute to South Africa’s achievement of a productive, high-income economy which is globally competitive, with sustainable growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

South Africa has to urgently improve its productivity which is a driver of competitiveness and sustained inclusive growth in order to ameliorate the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with the 4IR challenges.

We therefore make a call for government, business and labour to place productivity improvement at the centre of all we do. In the face of challenges brought by Covid-19 it is key to always remain resolute as this anonymous quote goes “Sometimes life will test you but remember this: When you walk up a mountain, your legs get stronger."