Managing diversity in the transformation of pubic further education and training colleges in KwaZulu-Natal.
Ntshangase, Doctor Mbukeni.
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The restructuring of the technical colleges brought with it some challenges which the college managers, supervisors and administrators have to address on their day-to-day administration of these institutions. The merging of technical colleges had seen campuses with diverse historical, educational and cultural backgrounds being clustered together to form one mega FET College. Statistics compiled by the Statistics South Africa (see table 3.1) suggest that much needs to be done in terms of ensuring that diverse employees are provided with equal opportunities. The increasing racial and ethnic diversity of the workforce in the FET colleges underscores the importance of effectively managing diversity. There should be steps managers can take to become sensitive to the ongoing effects of diversity in their colleges, take advantage of all the contributions diverse employees can make, and prevent diverse employees from being unfairly treated. However, the residual impact of the apartheid years have shown some resilience, and therefore it is probable that transformation of the embedded inequalities might not have occurred as rapidly as desired. The rationale behind this study was to reveal college managers’ understanding of the effective management of diversity as well as to correct the misconceptions that may exist about why and how different kinds of employee groups are different from one another and to find the most effective ways to utilise the skills and talents of diverse employees. The writer of this study is an administrator, employed by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education, responsible for the administration of public FET colleges and with significant first-hand administration experience in rural, semi-rural, urban and semi-urban campuses in the province. This experience has made him keenly aware that the old paradigms of discipline, suspension, and discharge as only means to handle employees’ problems are inappropriate in the new institutional landscape because they are seldom the most expeditious way to handle conflicts centering on diversity issues. The researcher realised that it was important for FET college managers to include diversity as an aspect of career progression. From this perspective, diversity would be an integral aspect of career planning that traditionally has been a deliberate process to marginalise other employee groups. This study includes a literature review as well as a qualitative investigation to reveal college managers’ understanding of diversity. A literature study provided the basis for analysis and clarification of the recent changes in thinking on diversity issues and the shift towards conceptualising workforce as composed of diverse social groups which share many employment experiences, but which might not be treated the same. The highlighting of heterogeneity and diversity of social groups assisted in the task of recognising and understanding that discrimination and disadvantage are multifaceted and that it is important to draw on the experiences of, and reflect the needs of, all social groups within the workforce when developing or analysing diversity management policies. The qualitative investigation’s overall focus was on the college managers’ appreciation and response to the needs, attitudes, beliefs, and values that diverse employees bring to FET colleges. The qualitative approach explored why differential treatment occurs and the steps managers have taken to ensure that diversity, in all respects, is effectively managed for the good of all stakeholders. The study highlighted the need for managers and supervisors to become aware of the values, motivations, communication styles, attitudes, and needs of their employees. The findings led to the conclusion that diverse individuals continue to experience unfair treatment in the workplace as a result of biases, stereotypes, and overt discrimination. Sometimes well-intentioned managers inadvertently treat one group of employees differently from another group, even though there are no performance-based differences between the two groups. The findings also revealed that rural campuses appear to find it very difficult to attract and retain the best employees from all the different racial groups. This raises critical diversity issues for these campuses because if that is not handled well it can bring the whole college to its knees, especially in the increasing global environment. These conclusions enabled the researcher to make specific recommendations for assisting college managers to treat diverse members of FET colleges fairly and justly, as well as to realise that diversity is an important organisational resource that can help the college gain a competitive advantage. Recommendations were made for improving the role of the State, the Provincial Department of Education, the College Council, the College Management Team, as well as the trade union leaders to ensure that neither large nor small disparities in treatment and outcomes due to irrelevant distinctions such as race or ethnicity occur in public FET colleges. This was seen as a priority in order to promote democratic college governance, management and administration and in so doing to attract and retain the best employees and compete effectively in a diverse global environment.
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