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Mar 15, 2012

'Scandalous' bungling leaves young electricians without proof of qualification

South Africa’s Electrical Contractors Association President Mark Mfikoe and national director Chris Greager express their frustrations with electrician training in South Africa. Camera Work: Nicholas Boyd. Editing: Darlene Creamer.
Cape Town|Construction|Engineering|Germiston|Africa|Education|Installation|System|Training|Water|Africa|South Africa|Energy|Services|Blade Nzimande|Chris Greager|Mark Mfikoe|Maryland
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South Africa’s Electrical Contractors Association, or ECA(SA), has made an impassioned plea for greater urgency to be given to dealing with what it describes as scandalous administration and training-payment delays at the troubled Construction Education and Training Authority (Ceta), which was placed under administration last year.

The bungling has left some young artisans, who passed their trade test over two years ago, without the certificate proving that they are qualified electricians.

President Mark Mfikoe has also expressed deep frustration with the Department of Higher Education and Training’s (DHET’s) handling of the “crisis”, indicating that commitments made during several meetings, which took place between April 2010 and December 2011, have not yet been honoured.

ECA(SA) is particularly exasperated by a failure of the Ceta to renew training accreditation licences for its centres in Germiston and Cape Town, as well as the body’s failure to issue trade-test certificates for more than 100 candidates who have already passed their courses at registered training centres. In the absence of such certificates the individuals are unable to register as certified electricians.

Mfikoe, who is also MD of Tlhabollo Electrical, says at his company alone, three people are affected by the administrative “scandal”, which is also harming the image of an occupation that is already struggling to attract young talent – the average age of practitioners has now breached 58 years.

“All N6 electrical engineering graduates passed the installation rules examination, passed their trade test and the qualifying module, where they tested five installations and were judged to be competent. [But] they cannot get their licences as registered electricians because the Ceta will not issue the trade test certificate,” he laments.

National director Chris Greager reports that ECS(SA) has submitted 100 apprenticeship contracts to the Ceta for registration. But only 15 have been returned, with the balance having been "sitting there for months", despite the fact that they are supposed to be processed within 21 days.

"We have another 100 people who have passed their trade tests still waiting for their trade test certificates, some of them for in excess of two years," an exasperated Greager reports. "They cannot work as electricians without that certificate, that is their diploma."

The issue has been raised directly, as well as through written correspondence, with the Ceta, the DHET and with Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande. However, “absolutely nothing” has been done to address the administrative backlogs.

“Millions have been raised from companies via the skills development levy and millions are stashed away. But very little training is happening,” Mfikoe laments, noting that after the energy and water sector education and training authority was placed into administration, ECA(SA) members were transferred to the equally dysfunctional Ceta.

Members have also become increasingly reluctant to support training, with hundreds of thousands of rands owing from Ceta’s discretionary grants having never been disbursed.

The absence of such training incentives became so acute that demand for ECA(SA) courses fell to a level where it became uneconomical to continue with its Durban training centre, which it closed last year. “This at a time when we are becoming increasingly worried about the lack of electricians.”

Greager says ECS(SA), which is an employer body representing 3 000 members, many of which are small or micro businesses, is also concerned that the lack of accreditation licence renewals at its two remaining centres could have implications for those currently pursuing their artisan training at the facilities.

It had, therefore, secured the services of an attorney to seek to force the Ceta to expedite the licensing process.

But Ceta's acting CEO Sonja Pilusa has denied the accusations.

She says it is not true that the Ceta has failed to renew training accreditation licences for ECA(SA) training centres in Germiston and Cape Town and that it is also untrue that a number of trade test certificates are still outstanding. However, she did not offer a detailed rebuttal in emailed responses to questions sent to her by Engineering News Online. It is understood that a number of the Ceta executives, including Pilusa, are currently on a strategic breakaway session.

At the time of publication, the DHET had not responded to Engineering News Online questions directed to them on the issues canvassed by ECA(SA). However, speaking in Parliament earlier in the month, Nzimande said there was little to show for the R37.5-billion that had been directed into the Sector Education and Training Authority (Seta) system since 2000. He even went so far as to say that some board members and Seta executives were simply enriching themselves.

Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter
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