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Big demand for skilled project managers as African activity gathers pace

Upcoming project-orientated economic activity is expected to translate into a yearly demand of 2.3-million new project managers, but there is a shortage of talent, nonprofit organisation Project Management Institute (PMI) says.

According to Statistics South Africa, one in every 17 people has a graduate qualification, and the National Development Plan (NDP) foresees that, in 2030, one in six people will be a university graduate.

The NDP also notes that there is a need to improve the quality of education, amid the country’s high unemployment rate.

This is “one of the strongest indicators of expanding access to university education”, which is critical to bridging the project management talent gap, says PMI business development lead George Asamani.

Considering that skills shortages afflict some sectors more than others, he notes that the “biggest challenge” to government’s plan to build postpandemic prosperity would be the lack of project management skills, which are vital to keep deadlines, budgets and productivity in line.

This statement is further supported by international research advisory firm Standish Group, which says that 65% of projects undertaken globally fail, owing to a lack of oversight, especially by experienced project managers.

However, with a transforming workplace, Asamani comments that the Covid-19 pandemic has “added greater uncertainty and heightened pressure on project teams to continue delivering the same results”.

Against this background, in an effort to enhance professional development, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the institute is working with numerous universities to train students in project management.

The institute offers certification and training for students at university level so that they enter the workforce “already speaking the language of project management”. It also provides traditional and more rigorous certification and training for project management professionals.

This means that even those in accounting or human resources can enroll for PMI’s course at university level, allowing them to “get the basics of classical project management”.

PMI believes that it will be a combination of these flexible and diverse methodologies that will assist in accelerating the development of project management capability in Africa and globally.

However, Consulting Engineers South Africa CEO Chris Campbell states that “the conversation needs to be a lot more specific to infrastructure development, and not generically project management”.

This, he explains, means that “it is imperative that persons pursuing project management as an area of specialisation be equally knowledgeable in the specific application”.

A basic qualification in a built-environment field of study, coupled with some hands-on experience, is “essentially what would be required for a competent infrastructure project manager”.

Leadership

South African Institution of Civil Engineering (Saice) CEO Vishaal Lutchman stresses the need for public-sector leadership to address the slow pace of skills development in the industry.

“Many solutions are available to address the matter of skills development; however, public- sector leadership is required to improve the quality of secondary and tertiary education. We need academic content that is relevant to what is required.”

He also suggests that “adopting an ethical culture of work performance, training and development” should become a high priority for the public sector to “enable the sector to increase levels of competence and use processes available to address inequality”.

In addition, “ethics need to improve”, while a “quality mindset without compromising sustainability” must be adopted.

The project management industry cannot solely mitigate the skills development challenge, he stresses, and, therefore, it has to “promote such skills within public-sector agencies while working out maleficence”.

The main stumbling block to this is a reluctance to acknowledge the need for project managers, engineers and scientists, despite an emphasis on the importance of careers focused on science, technologyengineering and mathematics, Lutchman argues.

However, considering that the Covid-19 pandemic heavily impacted on training and development programmes, Asamani says the pandemic “is likely to carry long-term consequences and hinder access to education and the enhancement of skills”.

In response, PMI has included free curricula and resources to universities designed on a faculty-by-faculty basis geared to meeting global accreditation standards.

Mitigation through Mentoring

Asamani says the shortage of project managers has a direct bearing on planning, organising and directing the completion of projects.

He notes that, in recent years, the importance of project management has been consistently proven by the growing numbers of organisations embarking on digital, cultural and organisational transformation projects.

Organisations are also increasingly developing mentoring programmes in the public and private sectors.

Asamani, therefore, suggests using mentors as a best practice, largely “because organisations are recognising programmes and projects as key strategic assets”.

“The movement to becoming project-based continues at a fast pace – there are more opportunities than ever before to become a programme or project manager, and more opportunities for a career path in the field.”

As an advocate for the profession, PMI, through its PMI Education Foundation, focuses on local chapters and volunteers to provide skills training and mentorship for colleges and universities. It is at these institutions where there has been sustained demand for courses and degree programmes in project management, says Asamani.

Lutchman, while sharing the PMI’s sentiment on training, says “if change is supported by the willingness and ability of government to clean up, then it is possible”.

However, this is “improbable”, based on the “current trajectory of self-instituted change and renewal”, he counters.

“It will not happen any time soon, and if it takes too long, it may not matter. The various councils of the built environment have their mandates to support the renewal discussion and need to do so without political bias and remain technical,” he explains.

Saice, therefore, continues to engage with government on skills and capacity building, but Lutchman bemoans the hindering environment where every decision “seems to have a political consequence”.

Taking this into account, Saice is hopeful that its webinars and free information-sharing sessions on topics such as professionalism, ethics and economics will assist the various sectors in “starting to work together”.

Organisational Agility

As a project management approach, agility has been practised for more than two decades, moving from its origins in software development to all parts of the enterprise.

Asamani says this mindset of values and principles, and as a way of working, has gained even more prominence in the digital age, as organisations are required to adapt quickly to marketplace changes, and rapidly evolving customer demands and expectations.

According to results from PMI’s 2021 Pulse of the Profession survey, organisations that apply agile approaches to their projects and programmes say they achieve higher levels of productivity (71%), compared with those following a more linear and traditional approach to project management (53%).

“When done properly, agility has provided significant improvement by optimising workflow for all types of projects and product initiatives.”

Integrating an agile mindset, and skills development available from a variety of methods, into an organisation’s strategic direction and culture will result in the work required to evolve and grow being done faster and more cost effectively, Asamani adds.

Campbell agrees with Asamani’s sentiment.

Lutchman, however, disagrees with Asamani, stating that “South Africa has yet to appreciate what a projectised environment is”.

“South Africa is a developmental State, which means there is a greater focus on infrastructure. [The approach] may work in the information, communication and technology sector, but not easily in the built environment.

“Heavy technical infrastructure-based businesses cannot become agile that easily, as once projects are authorised, they cannot change much, as they will need to be reauthorised. This might delay projects by years – this is time we don’t have in South Africa.”

Rather, Lutchman suggests that, owing to the hybrid nature of project management, “ideally, technically qualified persons also equipped with project management skills is the way to go” for South Africa.

Rise of Project Economy

The rise of the project economy will also depend on how project managers choose to deal with challenging situations, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced many to work from home.

“Such large changes mean that the nature of the work must change when you cannot be with your team, and you need to work remotely or in a hybrid model. You need that much more of a sharper focus on the outcomes, and you need to make sure that you’re really focused on creating impact,” PMI Europe and sub-Saharan Africa MD Ashwini Bakshi told Engineering News & Mining Weekly in January.

He identified artificial intelligence as a rising trend in the physical and psychological infrastructure of projects, with companies having to follow a new approach to project management and develop a “great recipe for skills development”.

Bakshi also explained that successful organisations, otherwise known as adaptive organisations, often succeeded because they could combine two seemingly diverse characteristics or traits.

Consequently, these companies often retain the capability to “pivot and flex”, while still having certain critical elements of processes in place.

According to PMI’s ‘Beyond Agility’ report, organisations with a sharp focus on enterprise agility often focus on a very systematic approach to risk management, and while the risksremain, they are “less severe” through the organisation’s managing risks explicitly.

Source: https://www.engineeringnews.co.za/

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