From English teacher to redrafting the Seychelles Human Resource Development Act, former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Seychelles Agency for National Human Resource Development (ANHRD), Margaret Pillay, credits her Award-gained communication and negotiation skills for making a lasting impact on the Seychelles education sector.
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 ANHRD and a revision of the Government of Seychelles Scholarship Scheme to enhance its cost effectiveness and efficiency.
Margaret 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.”
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 13 years in the education sector, Margaret was appointed as CEO of the former 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 Act.”
Reviewing and restructuring the Council involved Margaret leading a team that included members from the Attorney-General’s office, senior staff of the Council, ad hoc members from the Department of Administration and the national reforms body. The first step was gaining a deep understanding of the 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 in 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 by living in Australia. “Having moved from the education field to the HR field, it was also 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 engaging people and gaining 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 facilitate growth opportunities. My ability to communicate with them was priceless.”
As work on the Act continued with her review committee and later with the Minister responsible for HRD, 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 groundwork of reviewing the functions of the Council was complete and aligned with the new government structures, there was a need to present all the proposed changes in new legislation to the National Assembly. Margaret was then engaged in preparing the Minister to present the new Bill to the National Assembly. “I needed to clarify all the Minister’s queries so that she would feel confident to present and defend the Bill. This meant being well versed with the Bill, the HRD context in Seychelles, and regional and international best practice.”
After the Bill was passed and the new HRD Act was published, Margaret was 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 were working towards the right targets under the new status. There was a lot of self-directed learning: another skill that was sharpened during my degree in Australia.”
Steered by Margaret, the process of restructuring the Council to its new status of Agency has reshaped the HRD 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 benefitted from the support and information that the Agency provided for career promotion. This resulted in an increase in the number of students attending universities in Seychelles and overseas. The private sector also became more engaged in supporting the scholarship programme. On the whole, there was greater public awareness of the role of the Agency, the HRD 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.