Ms Margaret Pillay

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Friday, July 15, 2016 - 16:00
  • Australia Awards
  • Seychelles

From English teacher to redrafting the Seychelles Human Resource Development Act, former CEO of the Seychelles Agency for National Human Resource Development credits her Award-gained communication and negotiation skills for making a lasting impact on the Seychelles education sector.

Reshaping the human resource development landscape in Seychelles

In view of the escalating cost of tertiary education and the country’s need for qualified human resources to fill the skills gaps in various sectors of the local labour market, over the past seven years the Seychelles government has been implementing changes to the higher education and human resource development sector – starting with the establishment of the University of Seychelles in 2009 and the revision of the Human Resource Development Act in 2012 which instituted the Seychelles Agency for National Human Resource Development (ANHRD) and a revision of the Government of Seychelles Scholarship Scheme to enhance its cost effectiveness and efficiency.

Former ANHRD Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Margaret Pillay was a newly qualified teacher when she left the Seychelles to undertake a Bachelor of Arts in English at the Edith Cowan University in Perth, Australia. Apart from her core English language units, Margaret also took some modules in education and social sciences.

“The degree allowed me to develop major skills such as critical thinking, critical literacy; research, academic, transactional and creative writing," she said.

Upon completing her degree in 1999, she rejoined the public education sector in Seychelles and worked as an English teacher within the secondary school system. However, the broad scope of her Australian government scholarship allowed her to move from secondary teaching to adult education and learning, which included teacher training, soft skills development, leadership training and tutoring and lecturing on University programs. In 2012, after thirteen years in the education sector, Margaret was appointed as the CEO of the then National Human Resources Development Council in Seychelles.

Under Margaret’s direction, the council was restructured and realigned to become an agency, responsible for coordinating and managing human resource development at the national level.

“When I took over office in 2012, many of the Council’s functions had become obsolete while others were being discharged without authority under the Human Resources Development (HRD) Act. Further to that, there had been administrative reforms in Government that necessitated a realignment of the Council with the new administrative structures. Restructuring the council therefore meant repealing the existing HRD Act and the enactment of a new one.”

Reviewing and restructuring the Council involved Margaret leading a team including members from the Attorney General’s office, senior staff of the Council, adhoc members from the Department of Administration and the national reforms body. The first step was gaining a deep understanding of the human resources development (HRD) landscape in Seychelles and comparing that to other countries with similar HRD challenges such as Mauritius and Botswana.

“I wanted to understand what kind of structures were in place in other countries in order to discharge similar functions to ours,” Margaret explains.

In the course of revamping the Council, Margaret employed numerous skills that she had developed during the course of her studies in Australia as well as through living in Australia itself.

“Having moved from the education field to the HR field, it also was necessary for me to use my critical reading skills to quickly assimilate the scope of the subject matter. This involved researching and engaging with stakeholders both locally and overseas as well as learning from my staff. The art of listening and communication came in really handy in order to engage people, gain their trust which then allowed them to share their expertise and thoughts with me."

"The overseas stakeholders also needed to feel that it was a two way street where my interaction with them would also allow for growth opportunities for them. My ability to communicate with them was priceless.”

As work on the Act continued with her review committee and later on with the Minister responsible for Human Resources Development, her negotiation skills became essential.

“I needed to provide them with reliable information, clarify their doubts and negotiate with them on points of contention so that in the end we would all have a safeguarded piece of legislation that was appropriate for our context.”

Once the ground work of reviewing the functions of the Council was complete and aligned with new government structures, there was a need to put all the changes in new legislation to present to the National Assembly. Margaret was then engaged in preparing the Minister to go to present the new Bill to the National Assembly.

“I needed to clarify all of the minister’s queries so she would feel confident to present and defend the Bill. This meant being well versed with the Bill, the HR context in Seychelles, and regional and international best practice.”

After the Bill was passed and the new HRD Act was published, Margaret was then involved in media communication to explain the Act to the public as well as other stakeholders. Internal communication to educate the staff on the new functions of the Agency was also carried out.

This was followed by a restructuring of the organisation to ensure that employees were fully engaged in discharging their functions. “Parallel to working on the restructuring of the Council, I was also leading the development of the Strategic Plan to ensure that staff worked towards the right targets under the new status. There was a lot of self-directed learning – another skill which was sharpened during my university degree in Australia.”

Steered by Margaret, the process of restructuring the Council to the new status of Agency has reshaped the human resource landscape in Seychelles by greatly improving the management of the Government of Seychelles Scholarship Scheme and the effectiveness of career promotion initiatives for prospective students.

The ANHRD reports an increased interest from parents and private entities to contribute financially to the tertiary education of their children or employees; and a 6% increase in the number of graduates since 2010.

“Through the Ministry of Education, teachers, students and parents benefited from the support and information that the Agency provided for career promotion which resulted in an increase in the number of students attending universities both in Seychelles and overseas. The private sector as well became more engaged in supporting the scholarship programme. On the whole there was greater public awareness of the role of the Agency, the human resource development landscape in Seychelles and education opportunities,” Margaret reflects.

Margaret Pillay is now the principal of the International School Seychelles which has over 700 students from 30 countries.