From its base of operations at the southern tip of Africa, German car manufacturer, Mercedes-Benz South Africa (MBSA), has entrenched itself as a force to be reckoned with on the global stage, producing vehicles of exceptional quality, class-leading technological distinction and timeless style.
Business at MBSA is underpinned by the vision to be the world authority on sustainable mobility. This drives the company’s commitment to strike a balance between economic, ecological and social issues, in its quest for responsible business practices.
The development of human resources plays an integral part in making this possible, and is linked to the socio-economic challenges that are so unique to the South African context. Economic growth, in conjunction with social stability, is unquestionably a key to sustainability. MBSA chooses to use the field of Education and Skills Development as a vehicle to contribute to the economic development of previously disadvantaged groups, with the aim of improving the circumstances of current and future generations.
MBSA human resources VPJohann Evertse says: “Armed with a good education and market-relevant skills, individuals are empowered to chart their own success. This will have a domino effect through the generations, eradicating the debilitating effect of poverty, and also growing both the working and middle classes.”
The South African automotive landscape can offer no better training ground than the MBSA plant, which this year won its fifth consecutive quality accolade from one of the most fastidious consumer nations in the world – the United States of America. The plant won a JD Power and Associates Initial Quality Study (IQS) silver award in 2012 and 2013, gold awards in 2011 and 2009, and platinum in 2010.
The announcement in 2010 that the East London plant had been selected as one of only four Daimler AG sites worldwide to build the W205 C-Class was met with an enthusiastic response by employees, the industry and the public sector. In addition to an investment in excess of R2.5-billion, the creation of both direct jobs in the plant as well as indirectly in the automotive supply sector, is on the cards.
An intensive skills training and recruitment drive is an important part of the company’s complex W205 planning project, as preparations to ready the manufacturing facility for the introduction of numerous new technologies intensifies.
Many job categories within the automotive industry require a specialised set of skills, often hard to find in South Africa. To add to this tale of woe, the international motoring sector continues to make massive strides in terms of technological advances each year.
“Creating a skills pipeline to cater for the ongoing increase in technical complexity at our operations is essential to our long term sustainability,” says Evertse. “The investment provides the company an ideal opportunity to deepen the economic contribution of our production facility to the province and country”.
The programme saw an intake of 800 successful applicants in 2012, to undergo training and skills development, with the aim of securing a position as a production employee at the MBSA plant. A specialised training centre has been set up, where each of the selected trainees are participating in training in automotive theory, as well as practical, production-specific content. The training facility is equipped to accommodate 144 learners at a time.
In excess of 600 trainees, selected from those who meet the required standards after successfully completing the comprehensive course, will be recruited as additional production operators to the build the new C-Class model.
“The main objective is to give trainees a better understanding of our industry and equip them with the necessary skills to take up positions in the plant and start building platinum quality cars from day one,” Evertse adds.
In addition, MBSA has provided more than 500 training interventions to current production employees, many at international training and production locations, to ensure that they are adequately skilled for the new and more technologically advanced production cycle.
MBSA has a long and established track record of promoting excellence in skills development. Its Technical Training Centre in East London has supplied artisans of the highest calibre to its high-tech production facility, but more importantly for the automotive industry as a whole. This service was extended in 2012 to include a Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training Authority (MerSETA) Trade Test Centre.
Education also forms the backbone of the company’s Corporate Social Investment programme, with projects spanning the spectrum from early childhood development to primary and tertiary education, as well as learnerships.