The export of capital equipment to the international industry is performing more strongly than in previous years, currently seeing growth of 18% a year, reports South African Compact Equipment Export Council (SACEEC) MD Sybil Rhomberg.
“The industry is doing extremely well, and is working at almost full capacity, considering the electricity crisis and limitations to multishift,” states Rhomberg.
She says the increase in construction and infrastructure development projects and opportunities, both in the pipeline and some already under way, underpins the market buoyancy and growth reserve in the capital equipment industry.
“The local market is extremely bullish, and this is supported by the competitive supply demand programme that is coming up, involving the recapitilisation plans of Transnet and Eskom, and, of course, the pebble-bed modular reactor (PBMR) project, and all of these are very focused on capital equipment.
This is extremely positive and auspicious for our local capital equipment industry, as well as our activities with regard to exports,” comments Rhomberg.
She says that the quality of capital equipment products manufactured in South Africa is able to compete on the international front and on an equal footing with international counterparts.
“South African exporters are extremely flexibile, and our delivery times are good. We make very robust machinery, and the technology used in the manufacture of capital equipment by South African companies is on a par with the best in the world,” says Rhomberg.
The capital equipment industry has, however, not been exempt from the national skills shortage, mentions Rhomberg.
“The biggest problem in our industry is the shortage of skills. We are working very closely with government to begin remedial action to confront the skills problem in our industry.”
Rhomberg says that the capital equipment industry has not been an attractive choice of vocation for new students, and says that the perception of the industry needs to be changed.
“We need to improve understanding of what blue-collar work is about. There is a complete misconception in South African society as to the nature of blue-collar work. It is perceived to be dirty, poorly paid and for those lacking in intellect.
This is not the case and in many cases artisans earn much more than white-collar workers. In fact, it is much easier for a blue collar worker to start his or her own business than anyone in any other profession. We need to encourage more kids to enter the industry from primary school level,” suggests Rhomberg.
She says that the steel, iron and engineering federation of South Africa has started an initiative to deal with artisan shortages in Benoni namely, Fundi Training.
“This is an independent training college that is aimed at allowing apprentices to train up to trade test level; however, there are far too few of these in South Africa to address the engineering skills shortage.”
The skills shortage problem is not likely to subside overnight, adds Rhomberg.
“It will take 12 years before we are on the other side, because it takes time to train a whole new generation,” she says.
Another factor that has affected productivity in the capital equipment industry is the current shortage of steel, and while this is a temporary pitfall, Rhomberg says that it is still hurting the industry significantly.
Rhomberg says that the promotion of local products in the inter- national marketplace forms the driving force behind the activities of the SACEEC.
“We promote local manufacturers in the international capital equipment market, and one of the primary ways we do this is to take com- panies to targeted global markets and display their goods, or services either in exhibitions, or through trade missions. The missions are highly focused on a particular profile of customer in a particular country or city in the international market,” says Rhomberg.
She says that the SACEEC also extends an invitation to international customers to participate in Inward Buying Missions.
“The SACEEC hosts customers from international markets and showcases specific products and services and introduces the diversity and quality of the locally manufactured capital equipment products of our members,” says Rhomberg.
She says that the SACEEC is the mandated platform for the sector to consult with government on the policies and legal framework that is needed to foster growth and productivity in the capital equipment industry.
“We essentially stand on two legs, one is export promotion, and the other is creating and enabling an environment in which the industry can operate effectively. We work very closely with government since it is a public-private sector partnership, and we ensure that the right policies are put in place so that the industry can operate in the most effective manner,” concludes Rhomberg.