The Board of Directors of the NTA has announced the appointment of Jerry Raymond Beukes as the organisation’s new Chief Executive Officer (CEO,) on a five-year term, effective 01 June 2016. Making the announcement in a media statement issued in Windhoek on the 2nd of June 2016, Board Chairperson, Otto Nakasole Shikongo congratulated Beukes on his appointment, emphasising that the Board was looking forward to the NTA and the broader Vocational Education and Training sector being the beneficiary of his proven leadership and management skills. Beukes had been acting in the capacity of CEO, since February 2015.
He holds a Master of Arts degree from the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and a Master of Business Administration degree from the Management College of Southern Africa (MANCOSA). Before joining the NTA in 2014 as its Chief Operations Officer, Beukes held the position of Director: Programme Development and Registration at the then Polytechnic of Namibia (now Namibia University of Science and Technology). The Stakeholder caught up with the new CEO and asked him a few questions:
SH: Few people know this about you, but you started out as a teacher. Tell us about your journey from teacher to CEO.
JB: It has been an exciting journey. I would not say that when I graduated as a teacher that the long- term goal was to be a CEO. However, somewhere in that first seven (7) months that I taught at Ella du Plessis High, I realised I liked being in leadership. With that in mind, I took a deliberate decision to leave teaching and to instead take on a wide variety of jobs in different functions and capacities to give me a breadth of understanding of the whole education sector. I have learned so much from different employers and really engaging in their cultures. I’ve picked up on different leadership styles and different strategies that work in different organisations and environments. I now have the opportunity to take the best of all of these experiences and create a culture I think is best suited for the NTA in living up to its mandate.
It will be an opportunity based on the appreciation that people are what make an organisation – That while you need talented people to be successful, people do not run themselves. That they are only as good as the people you have managing them.
SH: What leadership styles do you value? What is your leadership style?
JB: There are bits and pieces I have picked up from other leaders at all levels, during my career. Some were good at engaging and empowering the workforce, while others focused on prioritising the bigger issues. Some excelled at setting context to align people towards a common goal, whereas others taught me the importance of stewardship. Some taught me that you need excellent individual players who are also dedicated to playing as a team, whereas others taught me to strive for that all elusive balance between being task-oriented and people-oriented.
My own style is more of a motivator and change agent. I really thrive in motivating people to achieve an outcome and then turning them loose and watching them achieve, while still holding them accountable for their results. I devote the time necessary to make sure everyone understands where and how he or she adds value and I try to have a personal connection with everyone. As a basic principle, I always endeavour to lead by example and make a positive impact on the lives of people I interact with. It is not easy to do, but I think it is essential. That is my preferred style and that is what drives me.
SH: The NTA has gone through turbulent times over recent years, especially as far as the long-dragging disciplinary process against your predecessor and recent news reports that the NTA might be dissolved, are concerned. How do you plan to foster a cohesive corporate culture in the midst of such challenges?
JB: By being visible and communicative and respecting all levels of the organisation, from the general worker all the way up to the senior leadership team, the Board and our line Minister. You cannot over-communicate. And I will expect my management team to make sure we communicate effectively both inside and outside the organisation. We need to ensure that all our employees understand our strategic expectations, where we are relative to those expectations, and what role each and everyone has to play to meet those expectations.
I strongly believe we’re on the right path. We’ve got the support of our line Ministry and our Board. We’ve got a strong and robust implementation framework through our annual business plans and performance tracking mechanisms. We’ve got the support of stakeholders. We’ve got a team that’s going to make this transformation happen. It’s already happening.
SH: Before joining the NTA in 2014 as its Chief Operations Officer, you held a very senior position of Director: Programme Development and Registration at the then Polytechnic of Namibia (now Namibia University of Science and Technology). What motivated you to join the NTA?
JB: I grew up in Rehoboth – a community renowned for the quality of its artisans, especially in the construction industry. As such, I grew up appreciating and admiring first-hand how proud and skilled craftsmen – most of whom without any formal education – were able to provide for their families, and do so well. My late dad was a builder, so I experienced his craftsmanship and dedication first hand. It shouldn’t, therefore, come as a surprise to you when I say that I have indeed been a keen follower of the NTA since its establishment in 2008 and I have always wanted to be part of this exciting national assignment to establish a new and relevant national TVET system for economic empowerment, sustainable livelihoods and responsible citizenship.
While, I was equally excited by the opportunities that came with the transformation of the Polytechnic into the Namibia University of Science and Technology, I could not say no to the opportunity to join the NTA as its Chief Operations Officer in 2014. Today, I am fortunate and humbled to now lead this very important organisation as its CEO.
SH: What, in your opinion, is the biggest challenge facing the local TVET sector?
JB: There are several. A lack of equitable access to training opportunities in all 14 regions, inconsistencies in the quality of training, the absence of a unified training system, a lack of qualified trainers, a lack of industry responsive training programmes in key areas, the availability of qualifications on higher levels that can articulate into higher education qualifications and transforming our overall TVET system into one that is demand-driven.
Perception about TVET, and the unfair bias against it remains a huge challenge. Yes, we live in a society that still considers the TVET track as a dead-end option fit for only the academically less-endowed. This dysfunctional bias is destructive to our children who should have the opportunity to be trained in whatever skills their natural gifts and preferences lead them to. It is also destructive to us as a country. Many of the skills most needed to compete in the global market are skills that fall into the TVET domain. The absence of such skills has cost us, and is continuing to cost us as a nation.
SH: You have alluded to a lack of access to training opportunities. What are the NTA’s plans to address this challenge?
JB: The desire of so many Namibian children to enroll for TVET courses is clear for all to see, we still lack sufficient opportunities, as our training market is small. We owe it to our children to give them that chance, but we are not going to through good intentions alone. Making that happen at scale for the many, and not for the few, that will take real action.
And that is why the NTA’s Master Plan for the Expansion of Vocational Education and Training is of such importance. With the recent opening of the Gobabis Vocational Training Centre, the number of public TVET institutions increased from seven to eight and the national TVET footprint has now been extended to also include the Omaheke region. Under the Master Plan, and in line with the Harambee Prosperity Plan, this footprint needs to be extended to other parts of the country where there are currently no such institutions. Although still under development, it is an ambitious plan. But, I say that while ambition may be the path to success, persistence is always the vehicle that gets you there. That is also why the NTA’s achievements should merely make our organisation determined to do more. The local training market is too small, period. We need to grow the market and we need to do so with rigour and determination. We owe it to our children to do it now, and to not wait.
SH: What is your vision for the NTA and the country’s TVET sector?
JB: The terms of the NTA’s assignment are clear. As an enterprise of the Government, it needs to spearhead the transformation of our TVET system into a mainstream activity for youth development and employment, entrepreneurship development, as well as human capacity building. That is the challenge. A credible TVET strategy must necessarily fit into our socio-economic context. In my opinion, the NTA’s rolling five-year strategy is proving itself credible in this regard. I therefore see my role in leading this transformation as one under which I need to now build on further mobilising our stakeholders in a concerted effort to create synergies and share responsibilities for the further harmonisation of our country’s TVET policies and programmes.
My vision is aligned to that of the NTA’s five-year rolling strategy set by our Board for the TVET sector, which is for the NTA to establish itself as the national port of call for technical and vocational skills, through the effective regulation and funding of training services and the sustainable delivery of quality technical and vocational skills, to the benefit of our stakeholders. And while I am aware that there exists no single model that guarantees success, I am sure I can improve the odds by making our transformation meaningful through modeling the desired mindsets, building a strong and committed team, and relentlessly pursuing impact. I am excited to do this work together.