Markets training essential

I believe it was Mark Twain who said: “The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.” His point was that “training is everything”.

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I like the allusion to fruit and fresh vegetables, because the issue of training on markets remains a sorely neglected one.  There are a few exceptions, but the majority of markets pay nothing more than lip-service to training. As a result, the pivotal role played by markets in our national food distribution chain is seriously compromised by a lack of knowledge and skills within market structures. The first problem here is that most municipal managers do not have a clue about markets and so don’t allocate sufficient funds for training and development.

Red tape
The second barrier is encountered when an outside service provider submits a quotation for training. The red tape involved to be registered as a vendor on the municipal database is formidable. And once all the paperwork is finally completed, the applicant can expect a wait of several months before registration finally takes place.

Alternatively, the entire exercise may have to be repeated because the applicant’s forms were ‘lost’ or ‘mislaid’. About 12 or 15 years ago, what is now the SA Union of Food Markets sanctioned a training programme for market staff. Its president even wrote to all the markets, encouraging them to make use of this tailor-made programme for their staff. Although the training material has been updated, it continues to gather dust on a back shelf. Not one market has made use of the programme.

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Collective anguish
Yet markets wring their hands in collective anguish when talking of increasing volumes of business going directly to supermarkets and others. What do they expect? They don’t invest in infrastructure or human resources, yet expect farmers and buyers to beat a path to their doors. New initiatives for upgrading markets are in the pipeline, and training is one of the items on the agenda. This is to be applauded, but so far we don’t know how much of this will materialise when things are eventually in place.