WHY SOUTH AFRICAN COMPANIES NEED TO SUPPORT ARTISAN TRAINING AND
APPRENTICE PLACEMENT – EVEN IN A DOWN ECONOMY
Hiring and training are expensive. This is a fact of business life – and a challenge
which must be faced head on. South Africa’s economy is in a state of flux, with a
number of structural issues holding back the reigns of growth and, therefore, the
capacity for job growth. Just one of these structural issues is “skills”.
The recent spate of load shedding was said to have been partly caused by a
broken conveyor belt feeding the generation plant at Medupi power station. This
was not the generator breaking – but a conveyor belt. Imagine, for a moment, that
Eskom had enough qualified artisans or even apprentices on-site to fix the
problem quickly. That is the point that the Head of the SEIFSA Training Centre,
Desmond Uithaler, proclaims on a consistent basis: the importance of apprentices
working directly on assembly lines, conveyors and equipment, used in industrial
processes, and manufacturing so that they can fix the equipment when a
breakdown happens. The simple process of being “able to reverse a motor” needs
to be taught, Uithaler says. If these skills were available for Eskom, would South
Africa be facing another round of load shedding?
The learning for other companies is that even in a weak economy, the value and
importance of training, especially investment into artisans and apprentices,
cannot be over-emphasized. Skills and the retention of skilled people are a
In 2010, the Harvard Business Review looked at which businesses which had
weathered the 2007 recession, and which had crumbled and were left behind.
Seventeen percent of companies in the study didn’t survive the recession at all
and went bankrupt, were acquired, or went private. Meanwhile, 80% were slow to
recover, and half of those still had not returned to pre-recession sales or profits
during the time period studied. Only nine percent of the sample actually
flourished and outperformed their rivals.
The reasons for the success of some of the companies varied, but included factors
such as being prevention focused, promotion focused, pragmatic and progressive.
At the end of the day, they all had the ability to react and adjust their business
model, no matter their financial hardships.
Retaining top talent is tougher in a thriving economy where employees can
cherry-pick their top choices. In a bad economy, more employees will stick with
the status quo, or will consider staying for other career incentives besides just a
healthy salary. Those career incentives include Training.
The OECD Skills Strategy document, “A Skilled Workforce for Strong, Sustainable
and Balanced Growth”, says:
How many women and men are in employment and how productive they
are at work has a lot do to with the available opportunities to
acquire and maintain relevant skills. Countries, enterprises and
persons all perceive skills development as strategic, and
consequently seek to step up investments in skills. In aspiring to
realize the potential of skills development, they face common
Three out of five of the interventions, listed in the Strategy Document, include
encouraging connections between training providers, employers, employees and
the sector-specific challenges. The interventions are:
- Building solid bridges between the worlds of work and training providers in
order to match skills provision to the needs of enterprises. This is often
done best at the sectoral level where the direct participation of employers
and workers, together with government and training providers, can ensure
the relevance of training.
- Continuous workplace training and life-long learning enable workers and
enterprises to adjust to an increasingly rapid pace of change.
- Anticipating and building competencies for future needs. Sustained
dialogue between employers and trainers, coordination across government
institutions, labour market information, employment services and
performance reviews are steps to an early identification of skill needs.
The SEIFSA Training Centre (STC) and its staff practise these principles on a daily
basis as part of its mission to continue training apprentices in trades absolutely
essential to the metals, engineering and manufacturing industries in South Africa.
The STC offering includes:
- Skills programmes;
- Short courses;
- Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL);
- Trade proficiency assessment services;
- Trade Testing for contractual learners and non-contractual learners;
- Assessment and Trade Testing of non-contractual learners; as well as
- Continuous upskilling of artisans.
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Whilst the SEIFSA Training Centre offers an all-encompassing and world-class level
of artisan training, in 2019 the feedback trend from companies has been
disappointing. Many Human Resources and Skills Development Professionals have
said that they needed to postpone training and placement of artisans. SEIFSA
Training Centre Desmond Uithaler says: “With regards to artisan and apprentice
training, a long-term view is needed by companies, especially in South Africa, if
we are going to re-gain our industrial edge and competitive advantage. The weak
economy should not deter Skills Development Professionals from fighting for the
retention of skills budgets in the overall make-up of the organisational budget.”
To elevate the “fight” to prioritse artisan and apprentice training in companies’
budgets, Skills Development Professionals need only to look at Merseta’s financial
incentives and explain them to those who work in Finance and educate Managing
Directors and Chief Executive Officers. SEIFSA’s Human Capital and Skills
Development Division (HC&SD) liaises with Merseta on a number of platforms and
is able to conduct training and awareness programmes that enlighten a gamut of
company stakeholders from Training Committees, Factory Workers, HR Managers,
to Financial Managers, Managing Directors, CEOS and Boards how companies can
fully make use of – and exploit to their advantage – the range of incentives.
The incentives are designed to encourage employers to plan and implement
training for their employees and provide data to the SETA on their workforce and