Women represent more than 80% of apprentices enrolled for construction equipment manufacturer Barloworld Equipment’s rigorous apprentice training class of 2017.
The company currently employs 1 503 technicians, about 20% of whom are apprentices. Most of these 298 apprentices are based in South Africa, with 65 based in other African countries.
Barloworld Equipment CEO Emmy Leeka believes that the company has selected a group of aspiring apprentices who will be dedicated to their studies and graduate to become the artisans that South Africa and Africa require for the continent’s ever expanding future.
“We are highly focused on increasing the pool of technicians and artisans because technical support now represents about half our business,” he says, adding that Barloworld emphasises this to customers when they buy from Barloworld.
The fresh intake of apprentices will represent the company on the “front line”, meeting the challenge of a Barloworld’s service support department which is “mission critical to ensure ongoing customer satisfaction” as an increasing volume of equipment enters the market, says Leeka.
Employees in Barloworld Equipment’s service support department represent nearly two-thirds of the company’s total staff complement. The requirement for a growing number of artisans is being driven by rapidly advancing technology, making it necessary to quickly adjust the roles played by Barloworld Equipment technicians. In this regard, the company is piloting innovations such as augmented reality and the use of an application that logs customer inquiries and relays information and advice to technicians in the field.
He says that, traditionally, artisan employment has been less attractive to young people. However, Leeka notes that Millennials are becoming increasingly resistant to this ideology. Incorporating high-technology problem-solving into Barloworld Equipment’s workflow has resulted in the shifting of attitudes.
He believes that using high levels of technology will make the technical environment increasingly more welcoming to women, an aspect which is reinforced by the company’s Techno Girl recruitment programme, which encourages schoolgirls to pursue an artisanal technical career.
Further, Barloworld Equipment’s Vision 2020 initiative aims to employ a customer support team that will be 40% represented by women by 2020.In keeping with
the National Development Plan (NDP), Barloworld Equipment’s apprenticeship scheme providing tangible support for the NDP target of developing 30 000 artisans a year.
“In South Africa, training costs can be recovered through the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training Authority (Merseta) and the South African Revenue Service (Sars). “However, contributions from Merseta and Sars only account for 22% of Barloworld Equipment’s total investment. “We are happy to invest the balance because we see how vital this programme is to maintain our competitiveness locally and globally.”
To help bridge the gap in access to education in other African countries, Barloworld Equipment recently launched its free Technicians for Africa programme in conjunction with construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar, for which Barloworld Equipment is a distributor.
The programme offers free online foundation training in 18 one-hour modules for those wanting to develop a career as a technician. It can be accessed through a smartphone, tablet device or desktop computer. Successful participants receive Caterpillar-approved foundational certification as technicians.
“If we are to drive forward the economy of our continent, it is essential to find innovative ways to overcome the mismatch between the supply of and demand for technicians,” says Leeka, concluding that the induction of the Class of 2017 “is a proud step in that direction”.