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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
competitive advantage. 


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:

  1. 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. 
  2. Continuous workplace training and life-long learning enable workers and
    enterprises to adjust to an increasingly rapid pace of change. 
  3. 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:

  • Learnerships;
  • 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.


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
skills needs.



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Profits are down, unemployment is up and costs are rising. How do you, as a Director or
a Senior Manager, justify and make the case that efforts to sustain or increase your
company’s training efforts in this environment? To add injury to insult, Artisan training is
expensive. In some cases, training an artisan over a four-year period is more expensive
than fees would be for a university degree.

Is a business case even possible for the training of artisans and apprentices in a
stagnant economy, such as South Africa’s in 2019?

SEIFSA believes that the business case exists.

In the book Perfecting Your Pitch, author Ronald M. Shapiro says:  “That gap – between
preparing and presenting, between thinking and speaking – is the Bermuda Triangle of
human interaction. And, scripting, I believe, is the best tool to bridge it,”

To prepare HR and Skills Development Practitioners to make the business case
effectively, SEIFSA suggests using the F.I.S.E. framework to pitch the business case for
continuing a Skills Development regime within their companies.

F.I.S.E. is a four-pronged approach and stands for Focus, Incentives, Stewardship and

The objective here is to Aim high with reason, and have a good rationale.

Most companies today should have a continuous improvement programme at the heart
of their operations. This should be especially true in the metals and engineering
industries in South Africa. If continuous improvement is not part of the organisational
and management culture, then long-term success becomes tenuous at best. Training is,
of course, part of this process. 

Fostering an “innovative learning culture” and developing life-long learning is going
beyond training people how to do their jobs, but to coach and mentor,  which helps in
sustaining the momentum of benefits of training. 

The message must be that: training cannot become an ‘ad-hoc exercise that is easily
cut in bad times. 

Training must be approached as business-like operations and demonstrate a real
return. The outcome must be that staff must be motivated and have deep-seated loyalty
to the company – and that is reflected in performance.

Quality is the ultimate benefit.


You have help. The South African government has incentives in place to help
companies keep training in the bad times. These incentives are implemented through
merSETA, and include both Mandatory Grants and Discretionary Grants. 

It is likely that you will get most, if not all, your training spend back.

Therefore, it is incumbent on Human Resource and Skills Development Practitioners to
familiarize themselves with – and commit to memory – the working of these grant

The purpose of Mandatory Grants is to provide an incentive to employers to plan and
implement training for their employees and provide data to the SETA on their workforce
and skills needs. Data must be accurate and well prepared in order for the SETA to use
the information to establish skills needs in the sector for inclusion in the Sector Skills
Plans. All training, whether included into the previous financial year’s Workplace Skills
Pan or not, must be reported on in the Annual Training Report.

SEIFSA, through its Human Capital and Skills Development Division can easily support
companies through training and consulting in this area.

Requirements for the approval of Mandatory Grants follow below:

  • The merSETA must allocate Mandatory Grants to merSETA’s levy-paying
    employers who submitted their application by 30 April of the financial year and
    met the criteria;

  • Submitted and implemented a Workplace Skills Plan (WSP) and Annual Training
    Report (ATR), PIVOTAL Plan (PP), Non-PIVOTAL Plan (NPP) and a PIVOTAL
    Report (PR), where applicable, in the required format;

  • Registered for the first time in terms of the Skills Development Levies Act and
    submitted an application for a mandatory grant within six months of registration;

  • Levy payments are up-to-date;

  • Submitted a WSP in the previous financial year;

  • Employers who have recognition agreements with a trade union or unions must
    provide evidence in the form of minimum of two meeting minutes that the WSPs
    and ATRs have been subject to consultation with the recognized trade unions
    and the WSPs and ATRs must be signed off by the labour representative
    appointed by the recognized trade union, unless an explanation could be

  • The Mandatory Grant application, consisting of the WSP, PP, NPP, ATR and PR
    must be electronically signed off by the appointed labour representative where a
    recognition agreement exists between the employer and Iabour, irrespective of
    the size of the company.

The second intervention is Discretionary Grants. The purpose of Giscretionary Grants is
to encourage stakeholders to contribute towards the achievement and objectives of the
NSDS Ill, the merSETA’s Sector Skills Plan (SSP), Strategic Plan (SP) and Annual
Performance Plan (APP). Discretionary Grants are allocated at the sole discretion of the
merSETA’s Accounting Authority to achieve its objectives in relation to the development
of the sector.

  • A maximum of 7.5% of the allocated discretionary grants may be utilized by the
    merSETA for administrative costs for the delivery and implementation of the
    merSETA’s Discretionary Grant initiatives.
  • Discretionary Grants could be paid to legal entities, inclusive ofpublic education
    and training institutions and public Community Education and Training Centres,
    as defined in the definitions in Section 2 of the Policy;

  • An employer or enterprise within the jurisdiction of merSETA, including an
    employer or enterprise not required to pay a skills development levy in terms of
    the Skills Development Levies Act, and

  • Non-profit Organizations (inclusive of NGOs), and co-operatives that implements
    programmes within the merSETA sector that meet allocation criteria. and


Stewardship is a social goal, and should be a goal for all companies within the metals
and engineering and manufacturing industries.

Answer this question conclusively, and confidently: 

Do socially responsible activities lower a company’s
economic performance?

Bolster your answer with examples of success.  For example, you could research the
outcomes of SAB Ltd’s widely acclaimed Owner-Driver Programme as a social
responsible initiative that adds to the bottom line.

The majority of studies in this area show a positive relationship between social
responsibility and economic performance. The logic underlying this positive relationship
is that social involvement provides a number of benefits to a company that more than
offset their costs. These include a positive consumer image, a more dedicated and
motivated workforce, and less interference from regulators/government.

In fact, building a successful businesses is by definition being socially responsible. The
benefits of this action alone cannot be divorced from society’s challenges as a whole: 

  • South Africa needs successful businesses to create jobs;
  • South Africans need skills to become better at their jobs; and
  • The manufacturing industry needs artisans and apprenticeships.

Today companies and managers, especially in the South African context, are
responsible to any individual or group that is affected by the organisation’s decisions
and policies. These stakeholders are any constituency in an organisation’s environment:
Government agencies, unions, employees, customers, suppliers, host communities and
interest groups.


SEIFSA exists to provide the best advice and services to the industry it serves,
specifically the metals and engineering industry as part of the broader manufacturing
sector. This is core to why SEIFSA made the decision to develop and establish the
SEIFSA Training Centre (STC).

Located near the heart of Johannesburg’s industrialized belt, the Centre has been
recognised as a “Centre of Excellence” by the Department of Higher Education and
Training (DHET), the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) and
SEIFSA is proud that the STC has received accreditation by the
Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training
Authority (merSETA), the Chemical Industries Sector Education Training Authority
(CHIETA), the Energy and Water Sector Education Training Authority (EWSETA) and
the QCTO for Training and Trade testing.

The STC is primed to offer companies and their employees opportunities for career path
development, mentorship, coaching and trade test proficiency. The focus on the holistic
aspects give students the opportunities to develop as people, not only to be better
employees. Our trainees are prepared to meet the demands of the industry, including an
understanding of productivity, problem solving and the imperative of safety in the

The STC will be your partner in developing your Artisan Development Programme and
help with:

  • Recruitment and selection of candidates;
  • Indenture apprentices on training contracts;
  • Institutional training of 26 weeks at the SEIFSA Training Centre according to
    SETA qualification requirements;
  • Placement of candidates for practical training at employers; and
  • Final training and trade testing at the SEIFSA Training Centre.

The staff and the SEIFSA Training Centre and the Human Capital and Skills
Development Division at SEIFSA will ensure that you understand and apply the
directives of merSETA’s grant Programme and safeguard the return on investment for
the following areas:

  • Recruitment and selection of candidates;
  • Institutional and final training costs;
  • A monthly stipend for candidates for the duration of training programme;
  • A toolkit and PPE needed during formal training phases;
  • Monitoring of candidates’ progress at employer sites; and
  • Administration and reporting of candidates’ progress.

The SEIFSA team will show you step by step how to sustain your training programme –
even in the current depressed economic environment.



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“It’s not the product – but the Intellectual Property  (IP) that provides the
long-term value.” 

That’s the message from Economists such as Dr Martyn Davies who uses
the Apple i-Phone to demonstrate that “Designed in California” is much more
powerful than “Made in China” – as he quotes a study that confirms that for every
“i-Phone” made, only US3.50 stays in China, after manufacturing – the rest
accrues to parent company Apple back in the US.

The real “China” lesson is not the dollar value of China manufacturing the i-phone,
nor the street-level employment capability it creates, but the lesson is the
retention and leveraging of knowledge by companies such as Foxconn, which ends
up building companies such as Huawei. Manufacturing is always Stage 1;
Integration is Stage 2, and Entrepreneurship and Industrialization are Stage 3.
Manufacturing, therefore, is always the catalyst. As Dr Davies pointed out, there is
nothing like manufacturing that gives an economy a long-term and wide-reaching
impact within a country trying to free itself from the trappings of poverty and

Just as the phrase “it’s the economy, stupid” became part of the lexicon in the
nineties, the phrase “it’s the IP, stupid” should also become part of strategy, both
at policy level and company level, in preparation for the fourth industrial
revolution (4IR).

IP build skills; IP build businesses; IP builds entrepreneurs. The result is jobs –
sustainable jobs – because IP is “baked in” to the product itself. The process of
Intellectual Property being “baked” into the economy starts with those charged
with directing skills at companies. Continuing a Training regime is a decision –
made by people. Leaders must be persuaded, even though that decision may not
be popular at the time. It requires Human Resources Directors to speak “truth
to power”. 

The truth: the context and history are clear –  companies that curtail training in
times of difficulty  find it difficult to retain their competitive advantage. Like
Eskom and South Africa’s Municipalities, delaying “maintenance”, for budgeting
purposes –  the consequences have been dire. In industry, the lack of training, in
difficult times, will haunt companies when the economic landscape changes for
the better. 

Decisions to delay or defer training erode the training eco-system itself. Many
private training companies feel the strain  and eventually close their doors. This
capability takes time to build back up.

For years, Human Resources was tarred with the “un-strategic” tag and
consequently the reputation as being a “nice-to-have” or a “compliance” position.
As the fourth industrial revolution makes its presence felt, this can simple no
longer be the case. Human Resources leaders must act with courage and claim
their space around the Boardroom table – especially on the subject of skills.

Their role must now become be the linkage between skills providers and their
employers to ensure that workers are life-long learners and that the core
competencies, the building blocks, are achieved efficiently. Concurrently, their
reporting must demonstrate Return on Investment on a new set of measurables –
demonstrating long-term and short-term objectives.

In the current South African context, relinquishing the “fight” about training
expenses should be regarded as unacceptable. It could possibly demonstrate a
critical naivety, or even a lack of bravery about the role of inculcating core skills as
being part of business value, innovation and long-term sustainable success in the
competitive world. Accepting this fight continually and consistently  is how and
when the Human Resources function becomes “strategic” and part of a company’s
culture around the Boardroom table.

SEIFSA wants companies which are members of is 21 affiliated employer
Associations, and the HR Directors and those responsible for skills development
within those companies, to “take the lead” and “become the heroes” on the skills
development battlefield. The facts are clear: statistics show that South Africa has a
shortfall of about 40 000 qualified artisans when measured against the annual
production rate of 13 000 qualified artisans. According to the 2014 Development
Indicators Report, artisans completing vocational training reached an average of
18 000. The skills shortage is a key obstacle to economic growth, job creation and
business expansion. The
SEIFSA Training Centre is but one of the Artisan Training
Centres in South Africa that will help solve this crisis.

SEIFSA calls on its affiliated Associations and members companies to become the
heroes of the National Skills Accord by aligning their business practices to the
goals set out by government, namely:

  1. Expanding the level of training, using existing facilities to capacity
    (The SEIFSA Training Centre can accommodate 250 students daily);
  2. Making internships and placement opportunities available in workplaces;
  3. Setting guidelines of ratios of trainees to artisans, across technical
    vocations, in order to improve the level of training, as outlined in the
    relevant merSETA Policy;
  4. Improving the funding of training and the use of funds available for training
    and incentives to companies to train;
  5. Setting annual targets for training in state-owned enterprises;
  6. Improving SETA governance and financial management, as well as
    stakeholder involvement; 
  7. Aligning training to the New Growth Path, the New Development Plan and
    improving  Sector Skill Plans; and
  8. Improving the role and performance of Further Education and Training (FET)





Artisan Development Programme

Be part of the most important Artisan Development Programme in South Africa

By Latest News

The SEIFSA Training Centre hereby extends an invitation to member companies to participate in an Artisan Development Project known as War on Leaks, in partnership with the Department of Water and Sanitation and the EWSETA.


This project aims to support the National Skills Accord initiative and train 15000 artisans. It includes the following outcomes:

Artisan Development Programme

  • Recruitment and selection of candidates;
  • Indenture apprentices on training contracts;
  • Institutional training of 26 weeks at the SEIFSA Training Centre according to SETA qualification requirements;
  • Placement of candidates for practical training at employers; and
  • Final training and trade testing at the SEIFSA Training Centre.

Project Costs
The following project costs will be covered by the Project:

  • Recruitment and selection of candidates;
  • Institutional and final training costs;
  • A monthly stipend for candidates for the duration of training programme;
  • A toolkit and PPE needed during formal training phases;
  • Monitoring of candidates’ progress at employer sites; and
  • Administration and reporting of candidates’ progress.

Employer Obligations

  • Willingness of participating employer/s to take on candidate/s for practical training and exposure on site (the candidates should be able to start with practical, on-the-job training, on site, from January 2019);
  • Induction and workplace safety requirements;
  • PPE needed as to work site requirements; and
  • Mentor candidates through the guidance of a qualified artisan over a period of 18-24 months.

Artisan Trades
Candidates will be trained in the following trades:

  • Fitter and Turner/Mechanical (30 trainees)

Once the candidate has completed his/her trade test successfully, the employer is under no obligation to offer him/her employment. This is a general outline of the training programme and a serious attempt by the Department of Water and Sanitation, the EWSETA and the SEIFSA Training Centre to contribute to the development of artisans.

If you are interested in participating in this initiative, please forward the number of apprentices, per trade, that your organisation is willing to accommodate in the workplace to or

South Africa needs a strong technical skills base to grow the economy

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South Africa needs a strong technical skills base to grow the economy, argues Melanie Mulholland

We need to set straight the inference that vocational and technical jobs are inferior. This notion has led many youngsters unwilling or unsuited for academic study to frustration, feelings of failure, hopelessness and depression. We must change the mindset of parents and educators who wrongly perceive vocational training as education for less-talented students with limited career prospects. In fact, the mindset that vocational training is inferior has led to a decline in vocational education and training enrolment figures over the last couple of years.

To shift the paradigm and to deliver 21st century artisans, South Africa’s technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges are undergoing a rapid transformation and grooming a generation of professional artisans acquainted not only with trade skills, but also soft skills that will be required when the fourth industrial revolution kicks in. TVET colleges, therefore, produce critical thinkers, problem solvers and design thinkers.

South Africa needs a strong technical skills base to grow the economy, but we also need to combine the technical skills base with entrepreneurial development since existing businesses can’t continually absorb skills without reaching breaking point. A successful vocational and professional education and training system can facilitate growth, entrepreneurship and prosperity for individuals and the country.

Get on the Artisan career path today


On 9 February 2012, former President Jacob Zuma announced the Government’s plan to initiate a massive infrastructure investment programme. The programme consists of 18 Strategic Integrated Projects (SIPs). Each one of these projects addresses a particular socio-economic opportunity or challenge within the country, like artisan skills such as electricians, boilermakers, plumbers, welders and pipe fitters, to name a few, which are in short supply. Unfortunately, we don’t have a skills force of qualified artisans to complete or maintain these projects.

On 9 March 2018, Higher Education and Training Minister Naledi Pandor met with leaders representing businesses in South Africa to secure partnerships with the department in order to implement the Centres of Specialisation (COS) programmes through TVET colleges and produce artisans and entrepreneurs across a range of economic sectors. The COS programme aims to secure partnerships between industry and 26 TVET colleges across the country, enabling the training of 21st-century artisans in 13 priority trade areas that will support the SIPs. These areas include bricklayers, electricians, boilermakers, plumbers, automotive and diesel mechanics, carpenters and joiners, welders, fitters and turners and riggers.

Therefore, the COS programme should contribute towards reducing unemployment among the current 7.2 million youths between the ages of 15 and 34 who are not in employment, education or training.

Businesses in the metals and engineering sector are already committed to skills development, particularly artisan and apprenticeship development. The focus on trades during the aptly named Decade of the Artisan (2014-2024) allows companies to enable and support artisan development by offering workplace opportunities. In turn, business contributes to a continuous supply of suitably qualified artisans to sustain industries and support economic growth within South Africa.

Get on the Artisan career path today


The focus on artisans’ skills which are in high demand aims to ensure that the Government’s strategic projects will be constructed and maintained using high-quality, South African skilled artisans and that the economy will triumph.  This will simultaneously contribute to job creation and poverty alleviation goals as set out in the National Development Plan 2030.

I believe that our public TVET college system is ideally placed to respond to the call from industry and the state for more skilled artisans. TVET colleges are now able to train skilled artisans and work with industry partners with the opportunity to develop sites of good practice which others can eventually follow.

However, society’s confidence in the TVET sector must change. Evidence of that change will be TVETs becoming both institutions of choice for students and partners of choice in training for industry employers. The provision of fully subsided, free further education and training was extended this year to all current and future poor and working-class South African students at all public TVET colleges. These students will be funded by grants, and not loans.

All stakeholders need to come together to rebrand and reposition TVET colleges into world-class and state-of-the art facilities that can produce the much-needed skills that our country needs.

It is important to change the mindsets of the youth, parents and educators who see vocational training as blue-collar education. Artisans play a vital role in South Africa’s future development, and more must be done to increase the academic opportunities for students who choose this path.

Melanie Mulholland is the Human Capital & Skills Development Executive at the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa.

Turning Perceptions – Creating the perfect fit

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Turning Perceptions – Creating the perfect fit

Tsakani Mukhari inspires as the First Female Training Consultant at the SEIFSA Training Centre in Benoni.

Have you ever thought of changing your career to follow your passion? If only you had time?

The SEIFSA Training Centre’s Tsakani Mukhari, has made the time. Tsakani is a 36 year old mother from the outskirts of Limpopo who has taken the jump and landed on the stepping stone of her future. She has become the inspirational story for her family and friends by becoming an Artisan and launching her successful career in the industry. The SEIFSA Training Centre is proud to have played a part in her rise.

In the early 2000’s, Tsakani moved to Gauteng to complete her National Diploma in Mechanical Engineering at the Tshwane University of Technology. In order to make ends meet her journey after University began as a Boom-Gate officer and as a cleaner in Pretoria. One day seemed to blur into the next. With very little motivation, she applied for various Mechanical Technician positions. Armed only with a National Senior Certificate from Nwamalobye High School and her National Diploma, Tsakani realised that in order to reach her full potential, she would have to complete her N3 certificate in Mechanical Engineering to make herself more competitive in the job market. With her goal on the horizon, she stayed focused and started an apprenticeship for a company associated with the SEIFSA Training Centre, where she was sent as a student to complete her Artisanship in 2012. Finally, Tsakani’s future had started to come together and the dream of becoming an Engineer and making her late father proud seemed to becoming closer by the day. “I will never look back after being a student at the SEIFSA Training Centre, and I encourage people of all different backgrounds to join,” said Tsakani. Four years later, she is a qualified Fitter and Turner, holds an N3 Certificate in Mechanical Engineering and has a Semi-Skilled Certificate in tool, jig and die-making. Above all, Tsakani was awarded Best Female Student in 2012. Today, she is the SEIFSA Training Centre’s first female Training Consultant.  The Centre’s Director Desmond Uithaler says “Even with such a great achievement to her name, Tsakani continues to aim high”.

Get on the Artisan career path today


The SEIFSA Training Centre allows for, “a positive learning experience”, explained Tsakani. “Although the work is challenging at times, the confidence in my work and in myself has grown”. Some of her daily responsibilities include: intensive research, preparing monthly schedules for her classes; and conducting both theoretical and practical examinations completed by her students. Whilst her duties at the Centre keep her extremely busy, Tsakani is also currently completing her Bachelor of Technology (B Tech) in Mechanical Engineering, in hopes to one day become a qualified Mechanical Engineer. In addition to all of this, Tsakani wishes to pursue a career in Project Management and Operations by using her flair for scheduling and processes.

Tsakani is part of the rise of the female artisan around the world and the SEIFSA Training Centre currently has more than 40 female students training to become Electricians, Fitters, Turners and Boilermakers. Tsakani’s years of experience in the industry as a student and now as a training consultant, tells potential female artisans to, “Stay focused and do it with passion”.

The demand for artisans is growing with every day. Yet, there is a shortage of artisans in South Africa. Since woman make up 51% of the South African population, younger woman should consider joining the industry to alleviate the chronic unemployment problem. Future artisans, especially women should know that there is a vast spectrum of possibilities in the industry and anyone with an open mind-set can achieve success if they grab the opportunity with both hands just as Tsakani has done.

From cleaning offices at a local police station to becoming SEIFSA Training Centre’s first female instructor, Tsakani is a stellar example for others with similar aspirations.  Clearly, the world is her oyster and we, at SEIFSA, cannot wait to see her next move.

Trisha Itchu

Marketing Intern

Get on the Artisan career path today


South Africa Should Pay More Attention to Apprenticeships

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South Africa Should Pay More Attention To Apprenticeships In Order To Reduce The High Levels Of Unemployment, Argues Melanie Mulholland

Apprenticeships in South Africa are growing concern. Not only is promoting them a problem, but the challenge becomes complicated when trying to reverse public perception that a tertiary education from university will provide for a stable financial future.

Then there’s the business complaint about a skills gap that threatens productivity and growth. This concern is not only limited to individual companies, but the economy as a whole is affected because of inability to recruit employees with the correct skills.

Apprenticeships are one initiative that can narrow the skills gap. In European countries like Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, apprenticeships are a critical part of an advanced education system. Most individuals opt to complete an apprenticeship qualification in addition to a university degree. It is not uncommon for Dutch, German or Swiss post-secondary institutions to require students to complete an apprenticeship before enrolling in a tertiary education programme. In this way, apprenticeships form an integral part of the education continuum, including engineering and a myriad of other professional vocations.

In South Africa, apprenticeships are yet to be recognized as the optimal career choice. This is despite the fact that we desperately need more highly-qualified apprentices to narrow the skills gap.

Contrary to popular belief, it is the brightest students that are needed. Apprenticeships are formal, on-the-job training mechanisms through which an apprentice learns a trade or vocation under the guidance of a Master Artisan in the workplace. Apprenticeships include part-theoretical classroom instruction for math, science, engineering drawing and trade theory, in addition to hands-on practical experience. Classroom instruction can take place at the work site or at public and private colleges.

Apprenticeships provide valuable skills and pathways for young people into the world of work, hence it’s important that they are accessible and are of the highest quality possible. They should not be considered as being less important as a training and development mechanism.

Similarly, it is seen as a mechanism for transferring skills from generation to generation. Apprentices participate in tangible industrious activities from day one. The alignment between theoretical and practical learning improves mastery and acquaints the apprentices with the challenges that arise in the workplace. This provides opportunities to cultivate critical thinking skills in ways that the contrived classroom environment does not. More importantly, in the workplace apprentices learn not just how to use a piece of equipment, but also how to maintain and repair it. This rarely occurs in the traditional classroom setting.

Quite practically, an apprentice’s learning is work and vice versa, which is why it works.

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Improving access to quality apprenticeships and other forms of work-based learning programs remains a challenge in South Africa. This is not just an issue of cost, but also one of focusing on underpinning transformation among those groups that are under-represented. Women are often over-looked because some trades are seen to be dominated by men. A person with disabilities also faces greater barriers since there is a stigma associated with accommodating them in the workplace and there is a concern about cost to make workplaces habitable to such individuals.

These days many international organizations such as the International Labour Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Monetary Fund encourage countries to expand apprenticeship training. The G20 has also attached a high priority to expanding apprenticeships for youth. Another good reason for focusing on apprenticeship training is that youth unemployment rates are lowest in countries, such as Germany and Switzerland, where the number of apprenticeships is high.

South Africa, too, can benefit. The country urgently needs to enhance the image of, and increase public investment in, apprenticeships. This is likely to reduce the enormous gaps in funding for the university/university of technology-bound students when compared to funding for young people who prefer work-based learning. For apprentices, it would widen opportunities for rewarding careers as well as increase the economic mobility and engagement of young people who drift aimlessly through formal education systems becoming NEETs (Not in Employment, Education or Training). It will give our youth pride in what they do, both in mastering an occupation and in their confidence that they have learnt to implement their skills and knowledge. We have passed the point where an academic-only strategy works. It’s overrated in our diverse population demographic, not to mention an already struggling labour market.

Finally, there is no doubt that apprenticeships can play a far more constructive role in efficiently enabling individuals. They support trade in a variant of fields across numerous sectors and industries.

Melanie Mulholland is the Human Capital and Skills Development Executive of the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa

For any company indenturing apprentices, there are several advantages:

(skills, cost,recruits, reputation )


  • Supply of labour with the necessary skills that were otherwise difficult to find;
  • Lower recruitment and training costs, which are high when hiring external workers;
  • Control over skills shortages
  • An available pool of potential recruits at all levels of the company;
  • Lower employee turnover and commitment to the company by apprentices;
  • Enhance reputation of the company both within the industry and community.

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SEIFSA Leads Development Processes

By Featured, Latest News

SEIFSA Leads Development Processes for the New QCTO Occupational Trade Qualifications.

SEIFSA as the leader in the Centres of Specialisation DHET Project is inviting  Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) from Industry to participate in the National Occupational Curriculum Content (NOCCs) Curricula and Syllabi development processes for the new QCTO occupational trade qualifications.

 This is a unique opportunity for Industry to shape the curricula and syllabi, of seven trades, in order to fully meet the dire need for well trained and qualified 21st Century Artisans.

 It is critical that Industry participate in this process in order to ensure that industry shapes the curricula and syllabi for the following trades:

Carpenter and Joiner
Fitter and Turner
Pipe Fitter
Mechanical Fitter

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) from Industry who are willing and able to participate in the NOCC’s (National Occupational Curriculum Content) workshops should contact Melanie Mulholland (

The time frame for the roll out is between January and April 2018.

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Artisans of the 21st Century

By Featured, Latest News

Artisans of the 21st century

Melanie Mulholland

Demand-driven apprenticeships are a win-win in increasing the employment prospects of unemployed young people and closing the ever-increasing skills gap, but companies have to enable this process.

South Africa’s youth unemployment is at its lowest level for five years, but there are still major concerns about the long-term job prospects for the young. According to a new report issued by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), South Africa ranks sixth globally in terms of youth unemployment, with a current rate of 52.5%. Vocational interventions, like apprenticeships, are a much-needed solution for South Africa to prevent long-term negative impact.

Participating in apprenticeships is one of the many ways in which employers can acquire and develop the skills they need, while improving the employability of the younger generation.

Employers articulate their skills needs and identify skills mismatches in their respective sectors with the end game of job creation. Employers have to be in the driver’s seat throughout the entire process, from consultation through to trade test implementation, in order to create successful 21st-century artisans.

Such holistic engagement by companies would enable and support quality apprenticeship programmes that address pertinent skills gaps which need to be closed. At the same time, it would support a committed and productive workforce that can add value. This would open up a pool of skills and pathways for new talent into companies, occupations and sectors.

Many employers immediately understand the benefits of taking on apprentices and recover the costs of their investment as early as the second year of the duration of apprenticeships.
Apprenticeships focused on the 21st century consist of three components: a theoretical component, a practical (simulated) component and a workplace learning component. This is a dual apprenticeship model. This mode of delivery combines learning in the workplace with learning at a Technical Vocational and Education College (TVET) in an integrated programme.

This programme is now being referred to as the Artisan of the 21st Century or A21 apprenticeship.

In order to deliver A21 programmes, the involvement of employers is a fundamental pre-requisite. As part of this training, an apprentice undergoes national trade testing at an accredited trade test centre after completion of required theory, practical and workplace training requirements, further certifying them for their skills.

While on qualification and recognition of learning, we need to be cognizant that South Africa has a history of placing a higher value on the academic pathway from school to university. In recent years, it has become more evident that this pathway does not fit everybody and, now more than ever, it is vital that as a country we develop high-quality vocational pathways that acquire the same respect that other educational choices receive. It is often a fact that qualified apprentices often earn more than their university counterparts.

Quality training is a unanimous trait that many employers from various sectors are demanding, especially in the manufacturing and engineering sectors. Businesses are overwhelmingly positive about 21st century apprenticeships and understand that work-based training can, indeed, boost much-needed skills and productivity – as well as the career prospects of young people. While the government is right to turn the spotlight on apprenticeships, I believe it is wrong to focus on numbers put through rather than the quality of apprenticeships.

South Africa’s target, according to the National Development Plan, is to deliver more than 30 000 additional artisans every year until 2024. This target has plenty of associated risks in undermining the combined efforts that are in place to increase the profile of apprenticeships. The focus on achieving this arbitrary figure would lead to a robotic model, where apprenticeships come out of a production line and yet quality suffers. This, in turn, would end up with apprenticeships continuing to be seen as an inferior alternative to attending universities and institutions of technology.

To add to this, apprenticeships are expensive. The best and perhaps only way to encourage companies to take on apprentices is to increase their quality and relevance to business. If the quality is there, then the demand, from both employers and potential apprentices, will naturally follow.

In order to increase the take-up among businesses, the government has to ensure that, when it comes to apprenticeships, the focus is on quality rather than quantity. Only then can we forge a credible alternative to the academic pathway, which businesses and young people can fully buy into.

In addition, at the moment TVETs and accredited training providers offer a network of support for apprentices. Without the right level of support, we risk seeing more young people dropping out of the system. We need to advocate an “earn-while-you-learn” incentive since skilled workers are increasingly in demand.

As part of meeting quality and completion numbers, the youth should not be disillusioned by the minimum requirements and technical aptitude tests. The system should ensure that the right attitude and skills for learning a trade are determined upfront in the recruitment and selection process and that the employer is assured the right candidate will become a 21st-century artisan.

The question, then, is: why should the youth choose an apprenticeship over an academic university pathway? It is evident, especially in manufacturing, that the economy desperately needs 21st-century artisans ranging from welders, electricians, plumbers, riggers, fitters to boilermakers, among many others.  Corporate South Africa, specifically the manufacturing and engineering sectors, have started addressing some of the real challenges around apprenticeships and artisan development to achieve quality artisans for the 21st century.

Without apprenticeships leading to quality artisans, our prospects for a growing economy and meeting the need to provide jobs for the millions of unemployed young people will remain depressing. Apprenticeships and skills are becoming very attractive because of their demand and the high likelihood of getting a job upon completion.

Melanie Mulholland is the Human Capital and Skills Development Executive at SEIFSA, which owns the SEIFSA Training Centre in Benoni.

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