The gap between artisan training and industry requirements remains a core area of disquiet for business, which believes that urgent measures are needed to foster greater integration between training colleges and workplaces to deal with the deficit.
This concern was again aired at the recent Accelerated Artisan Training Programme (AATP) Symposium, hosted by the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training Authority (Merseta).
The AATP was established five years ago to meet the growing demand for artisans in South Africa, with research showing that the country is in dire need of qualified arti- sans to replace the existing cadre, many of whom are approaching retirement age. The country’s New Growth Path goals stipulate that the artisan development system should have produced 90 759 new artisans by 2016.
Trade artisans are workers in a skilled trade that usually involves making, building or repairing things by hand, such as boilermakers, fitters, masons, builders, painters, jewellers, glassmakers, goldsmiths, mechanics, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, millwrights, chefs, panelbeaters, riggers, shipbuilders and toolmakers.
A report by the South African Oil and Gas Alliance (Saoga) states that, as technology advances, the gap will continue to increase unless new measures are put in place. Saoga, itself, is partnering with the Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism, participating further education and training (FET) colleges and industry to launch skills development projects to bring college and industry together.
On a broader scale, Merseta is moving to establish new partnerships between FET colleges and industry in a bid not only to narrow the skills gap but also to ensure that training remains relevant to the needs on the factory floor.
The role of FET colleges in these partnerships is to align themselves with industry requirements, offer improved career guidance to students, keep lecturers informed about industry advances and create more realistic expectations of the job market among students, as new graduates often demand the salary of an experienced artisan.
Colleges have been requested to allow industry to secure a seat on college boards, which will allow industry to be more involved in the training material used at colleges. This will contribute to artisans being work-ready when they finish their training.
Companies are urged to offer training to college lecturers and work through the curriculum and amend it where necessary.
Employed and experienced artisans could also be released to participate in mentorship at colleges. It has also been suggested that companies host students on tours of their plants so that they can get a better understanding of the job requirements and risks.
Participants in the discussion recommended that sector education and training authorities (Setas) help shorten the turnaround time of training by means of a fund to help students that have not completed matric gain work readiness and build an understanding of the minimum requirements for internship and apprenticeship programmes.
The effectiveness of this emerging college-industry partnership will be measured by the number of graduates being absorbed by industry and an assessment of the costs and investments of the training programmes.
Swiss South African Cooperation Initiative (SSACI) CEO Ken Duncan suggested that an ideal artisan training programme entails a week of work where the days are divided between college and in-service training. In this way, problems at the college can be quickly identified and rectified to make the curriculum employer and market driven.
SSACI, in association with Merseta and the Joint Education Trust, implemented a six-month pilot internship programme to provide National Certificate Vocational (NCV) engineering graduates with access to the world of work through relevant, structured and appropriate workplace learning and to demonstrate an alternative pathway to the workplace for these graduates through the successful implementation of this internship programme.
The outcomes of the pilot programme were that interns felt that their internship was well managed and adequately supervised and they had access to the necessary resources. Companies involved with the colleges prior to the pilot programme said it strengthened their partnership and allowed for links to be explored beyond the pilot programme.
Duncan concluded that the companies confirmed that the pilot programme improved, specifically, the technical skills and knowledge of the NCV engineering students.
The benefits of such pilot programmes for apprentices include the close integration of theory and practice, the immediate reinforcement of learning, real working conditions at all times, fewer gaps between colleges and companies in terms of technology, practice and ethos, as well as an early sense of responsibility and productive value.
The advantages for colleges include the promotion of a closer alignment of the curriculum with industry needs and regular interaction between colleges and companies, which often leads to income-generating contracts. It will also foster skills development among college staff and provide higher pass and employment rates.
“Colleges can offer training to lecturers, but companies must be dedicated to put in the work in the college-industry partnerships,” he says.
Lecturers’ competence also needed to be assessed, said the University of Bremen’s Professor Felix Rauner, who presented the findings of the Comet Competence Model deployed in Germany.
The model is a method of measuring the teaching competence of vocational education and training (VET) teachers by evaluating functional (subject knowledge and methods), procedural (the ability to organise training efficiency and sustainability) and holistic shaping competence (creativity, sociocultural integration and social compati- bility with students).
The model made it possible to identify the strengths and weaknesses of VET teachers’ competence. Valid and reliable data was a precondition to develop a strategy for reform, said Rauner.
“The most influential determinants for successful vocational learning are VET teachers and trainers,” he argued.
Through the AATP programme, Merseta is focusing on pacing and structuring the development of competent apprentices over two to three years.
Apprentices entering the programme have higher entry qualifications than those of the standard four-year apprenticeship and the structure of exposure to the curriculum is highly regulated and monitored. To participate in the AATP programme, employers must have an apprentice intake of ten or more candidates and enough qualified artisans to mentor them.
A survey was done in July and August, in which Merseta sampled 500 artisan graduates. Its findings show that the number of students who pass their trade test on their first attempt and who finish their apprenticeship within the specified time is increasing.
The most common reason for not passing the test on the first attempt is that students were not adequately prepared, followed by 42% of the training providers blaming employers and 6% of employers blaming training providers, which is a significant motivation for the call to implement college-industry partnerships.
A total of 15% of the 500 artisan graduates surveyed remained unemployed.
Based on the findings, it was recommended that Merseta play a more active role in facilitating the finding of employment for graduates – for example, creating a database of its artisans so that companies that need qualified artisans can do a search.
The survey also indicates that most arti- sans and employers still regard the duration of the programme – 24 months – as a crash course and there is evidence of a stigma attached to the word ‘accelerated’. It is recommended that Merseta rebrand the AATP with a name that reflects the programme’s qualification requirements and monitor the structure where compulsory theory and training are concerned.
Thinking Big and Small
Other recommendations are that Merseta include an entrepreneurship and business skills component in the curriculum for trades, which will help artisans start their own businesses and thereby create much-needed employment for others.
It is also felt that the inclusion of small businesses in the training, development and employment of artisans should be a priority.
Most such enterprises do not have the capacity to cope with the rigours of the AATP and do not always employ training specialists, but they can benefit from the training grants and from employing qualified artisans.
Therefore, a collective method should be developed for small businesses in similar sectors operating in close proximity, where the management and administration of the training are handled externally, possibly by a Merseta employee or a regional office, and where an external provider can handle some of the training.
A key demand outcome, though, is that Merseta facilitate college-industry partnerships to improve the work readiness of graduates and the quality of their training, and assist them in finding employment or in starting businesses and creating more jobs.
“It is up to industry to ensure artisans are trained accordingly by partnering with colleges. Employers should have the final say in the training material because they are the end-users of the artisans,” Merseta CEO Raymond Patel concluded.