THE granting of gambling licences and the establishment of casinos in 1995 was one of the first large economic undertakings of the new government, and there were some pretty onerous human resources ventures that had to be made before licences were granted.

The agenda was very much one of job creation for those who had been disadvantaged by the previous system, and about developing the skills required to make them employable in what was then a pretty new industry.

One of the licensing requirements was that the bulk of the labour force should be recruited from the immediate geographic area that the facility was in, which was a challenge and which led to big training initiatives by all the players at the time.

The Tsogo Sun group was one of those and Workplace, back in 1996, visited its training facility, located at the Dome in North Riding, to look at the work being done.

It was interesting recently to visit Tsogo’s newly acquired Gold Reef City Casino and Theme Park to see if the commitment in terms of people development and community upliftment that drove them then still hold, almost 20 years later.

Mike Page the new general manager of the resort, was at that Dome site in 1995 and it is immediately apparent that the development of people is still very much his passion.

He uses the term “the Tsogo way” frequently, and by that he means a focus on growing the business through the development of the people within it.

“We are proud to have been named a top 10 employer in South Africa,” he says, “and we work at making sure our people are well equipped to do the tasks asked of them and are happy in the process.”

Page says in the gaming industry, success comes from superior service levels which, in turn, make for a pleasant experience for the customers.

“And that service excellence is entirely dependent on the people who are face to face with our customers, so we have no choice but to ensure that they are properly equipped for the task, and that they are happy and content.”

There is no way a dissatisfied worker can create a satisfactory customer experience, Page believes, so a tremendous amount is done to ensure working conditions in the organisation are as good as they can possible be.

“We are very proud to have been named the employer of choice in our sector. It is something we are always aware of and we consciously work at it.”

Working in the gaming industry is a high-risk environment, Page explains. It’s shift work, with the nights being the busiest time and they are dealing with members of the public who are sometimes under stress and who can be difficult.

“Yet we expect of our staff to always put on a professional show. It’s our job to ensure they are able to do that, so our motto is you look after the customers and we’ll look after you,” Page says.

There are many initiatives aimed at achieving this and they are informed by Tsogo’s annual “20 more, 20 less” survey.

“Every employer is asked to describe 20 things in the company that they want to see more of… and 20 they want to see less off. We work on expanding or eliminating those.” For example, there is a staff gym at Gold Reef City, a clinic with a full-time nursing sister and a doctor on call and a nutritionally controlled staff canteen.

They are also contracted to the Independent Counselling and Advisory Services counselling service and run an HIV “know your status” campaign.

As far as recruitment and training are concerned, Page believes it is quite different now from how it was in 1996.

“It was about training to make people employable then, and to give them an entry into the world of work,” he explains. “No one was really sure how the industry would pan out and the jobs created had an air of the temporary about them.

“That’s changed now. Gaming is an established, growing sector and it has become a career for the people working in it. At Gold Reef City the age of our workers is not so young any more, and many of them have substantial years of service.

“There are opportunities for growth, and it’s something we constantly encourage. Our aim is to make this resort a training node for the hospitality industry in the area.

“The challenge is to keep to the spirit and commitment of ’96, and to extend it into the future.”

Source: –  Theo Garrun