Exploring the Current Application of Professional Competencies in Human Resource Management in the South African Context

By Schutte, Nico; Barkhuizen, Nicolene et al. | SA Journal of Human Resource Management, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Exploring the Current Application of Professional Competencies in Human Resource Management in the South African Context


Schutte, Nico, Barkhuizen, Nicolene, van der Sluis, Lidewey, SA Journal of Human Resource Management


Introduction

Human research (HR) practitioners have an important role to play in the sustainability of organisations and the subsequent economic growth of any country through its people (Sikora & Ferris, 2014). The Global Competitiveness Report (2014) consistently gives South Africa poor rankings in terms of people development and HR practices. According to this report, South Africa is ranked 113 out of 144 countries for labour relations practices, 143rd for hiring and firing practices, due to rigidity, and 144th, for labour relations, due to significant tensions (World Economic Forum [WEF], 2014). Similarly, the Global Talent Competitive Index of 2014 ranked South Africa last out of 93 countries for labour-employer co-operation and 74 out 93 countries for effective hiring practices (Lanvin & Evans, 2014). It therefore appears that the HR profession is slow in making a strategic contribution, and may not be maintaining effectiveness and relevance in the South African context (Boudreau & Lawler, 2014).

The role that HR practitioners should play in organisations is the subject of an on-going debate (O'Brien & Linehan, 2014). In line with the early work of Ulrich (1997), many scholars advocate that HR practitioners should be allowed to play a more strategic role in organisations (see De Nisi, Wilson & Biteman, 2014; Sikora & Ferris, 2014). Boudreau and Lawler (2014, p. 233) highlighted the fact that HR practitioners are not focusing on key strategic challenges in organisations such as 'improving productivity, increasing quality, facilitating mergers and acquisitions, managing knowledge, implementing change, developing business strategies and improving the ability of the organisation to execute strategies'. Moreover, Pohler and Willness (2014, p. 468) have stated that HR is being perceived as a 'low-level, reactive, and cost-focused administrative function with little autonomy ... and nothing more than a management control function'.

The available research has emphasised the impact of poor HR practices on both individual-level and organisational-level outcomes in the South African context. Findings show that poor human capital practices have a negative impact on psychological contracts, organisational commitment, work engagement, motivation, job satisfaction, happiness, meaningfulness, well-being and the retention of employees in various settings (Barkhuizen, Mogwere & Schutte, 2014; Diseko, 2015; Kekgonegile, 2015; Magolego, Barkhuizen & Lesenyeho, 2013; Mtila, Barkhuizen & Mokgele, 2013; Saurombe, 2015; Smit, 2014). Poor HR practices can have a significant impact on employee performance (Magolego et al., 2013; Masale, 2015) and, subsequently, on the quality of service delivery (Barkhuizen, Mogwere & Schutte, 2014; Smit, 2014).

Purpose

In the light of the preceding, the need exists to explore the current application of human research management (HRM) competencies in the South African workplace. Most of the research in South Africa has focused on the roles, responsibilities, and practices of HR professionals. Given the current criticisms surrounding the HR function, research should focus on exploring the underpinning competencies that are the building blocks of effective HR practices (Abdullah, 2014). The lack of detailed empirical research on HR competencies and functions is widely recognised (Abdullah, 2014; Abdullah, Musa & Ali, 2011; O'Brien & Linehan, 2014). The main objective of this research was to explore the extent to which HR practitioners are currently allowed to display HR competencies in the workplace and whether any significant differences exist between perceived HR competencies, based on the respondents' demographic characteristics.

The next section of the article highlights some of the limited literature available on the application of HRM competencies in the South African workplace. Thereafter, the research approach and research method of the present study are discussed. …

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