The challenge of enhancing the pool of sufficiently skilled people within the South African industry is being tackled head on by the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training Authority (Merseta).
Merseta is one of the 23 Sector Education and Training Authorities (Setas) established through the Skills Development Act of 1998. This Seta facilitates skills development in various subsectors, including metals and engineering, auto- motive manufacturing, motor retail and component manufacturing, tyre manu- facturing and plastics industries. These subsectors comprise about 44 000 com- panies and more than 600 000 employees.
Merseta CEO Dr Raymond Patel explains that the mandate of the Setas is to collect revenue through the South African Revenue Service, which then pays the funds over to the Department of Education, which passes it on to the relevant Seta, which then disburses funds to employers and, ultimately, facilitates skills development.
“Over the past four years, Merseta has collected in the region of R750-million a year. And during the past two financial years, we have disbursed more than R1-billion in discretionary grants,” he reports.
“The Seta has a dual responsibility, one related to social issues and the other is an economic imperative.
“The social responsibility aspect looks at developing those people who were marginalised in the past, such as women, young people and black people, by offering them access to training through our discretionary grants,” explains Patel.
With regard to the economic aspect, it is the function of the Seta to assist business in the development of its labour force.
“We firstly analyse what the labour market requires and then develop a Sector Skills Plan , which is a five-year development plan on how to develop sufficient skills for the industry based on the projected growth of that industry. This could either be through bringing new entrants into the sector, or by further developing existing employees,” says Patel.
“We have to remove all impediments that prevent learners from entering an engineering skills path and ensure we have a ‘feeder’ stock of skills. This has seen Merseta become involved in supporting senior school pupils with science education and training projects, resulting in improved pass rates,” says Patel.
And with regard to HIV/Aids, the Seta has implemented a programme to tackle the issue of ensuring replacement labour for those likely to be infected and affected by the disease in the future.
A series of adult basic education and training (Abet) programmes have been developed to tackle illiteracy and innumeracy among adults.
The accelerated Abet project recognises prior learning and allows for training to be accelerated, in some cases down to just 18 months from four years.
The occupational Abet project is aimed at teaching adults in their place of work, using relevant concepts in order to enhance the pace of learning, as well as foster a greater desire to learn.
The third is the business Abet project, which is geared at equipping those approach- ing retirement or wishing to exit the formal sector with skills and knowledge that will assist them to either set up their own business, get a better understanding of how pensions work, become computer fluent and the like.
A flagship project of Merseta is an accelerated artisan training project.
“One of our milestones so far, was to reintroduce artisan training on a great scale. In the past three years, Merseta has indentured more than 12 000 apprentices and enrolled a further 8 000 learners into artisan-related programmes within the motor and metals industries,” says Patel.
“For the first time, all our funds are committed to different learning training projects. These projects include bursary schemes, with Merseta supporting 750 learners studying technical courses at universities throughout South Africa,” says Patel.
It also assists in complementing theoretical qualifications with workplace experience and to this end, has entered into agreements with industry players to take on these learners and give them an opportunity to gain relevant experience.
An agreement has also been signed with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, in the Eastern Cape, for a programme centred on developing women in science, engineering and technology.
And a project in partnership with the University of Johannesburg, seeks to develop small and microenterprises.
“It is only through our many projects and the involvement of business and labour that we can address some of government’s key priority areas, such as fighting crime and reducing poverty. If business does not invest in its people, we will go the route of the dinosaur. South Africa’s greatest assets are not its diamonds, gold or platinum. Rather, it is our people,” Patel concludes.