Imperial tackles SA artisan shortage

7 March 2013

South African transport group Imperial Holdings has opened a state-of-the-art automotive technical training academy in Bellville, Cape Town.

The R4-million facility, officially unveiled by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande on Tuesday, will help the country tackle its shortage of qualified artisans.

“Statistics show that the country has a shortfall of 40 000 qualified artisans against the current production rate of about 13 000 qualified artisans a year,” Nzimande said.

“This academy could not have come at a better time, when the [automotive] sector is embarking on an aggressive drive to accelerate the production of qualified artisans and a technically skilled labour force.”

One of three training academies

The Imperial Technical Training Academy, one of three in the country, will focus on meeting the country’s need for technical skills in the passenger and commercial vehicle, auto electrical and auto-tronics industries.

Sean Fenn, general manager of development and training at the academy, said the pipeline that had produced apprentices in South Africa in the past was broken. The academy was part of an engagement to repair that pipeline.

According to Engineering News, Imperial will train over 350 apprentices in various related automotive trades at its Belville academy this year, and another 500 apprentices at its Germiston and Wadeville academies in Gauteng province.

FET colleges key to tackling skills shortage

South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP) – which aims to ensure that all South Africans attain a decent standard of living through the elimination of poverty and reduction of inequality by 2030 – states that the country should produce more than 30 000 qualified artisans a year to meet its skilled labour demands.

In squaring up to this challenge, the government had identified Further Education and Training (FET) colleges as a key part of the solution.

A variety of strategies have been introduced, including introducing what can technically be called fee-free education for poor and deserving students at FET colleges, along with a turnaround strategy to improve the quality of management and teaching at these institutions.

The government is also making a concerted effort to change the negative perceptions around FET colleges. It has declared 2013 the Year of the Artisan, with the slogan “It’s cool to be an Artisan”.

Funding for students, work seekers

Nzimande said the government had made a firm commitment to implement a funding mechanism that would subsidize young people seeking work or placement in various companies.

Funding for loans and bursaries for students wanting to study at universities and colleges has been upped from R2.375-billion in 2008 to well over R6-billion this year. In addition, over the next three years, an amount of R1.7-billion has been set aside for student accommodation, with universities contributing R600-million to this project.

The initiatives are bearing fruit. Enrolment at these colleges shot up from 350 000 in 2010 to 650 000 last year, with about 42 percent of students enrolled for engineering.

The government’s massive investments must be viewed against one of the most concerning features of the South African landscape – a steadily growing number of people aged between the ages of 18 and 24 who are not in education, employment or training.

“I must assure you though that a lot is being done to ensure that these young people have a second chance to become productive citizens and take their right place in society,” Nzimande said on Wednesday.

SAnews.gov.za and SAinfo reporter