R15-m programme will help produce 80 000 artisans

29th May 2009 By: Philippa Levenberg

The National Tooling Initiative (NTI), which is aimed at rehabilitating and growing the South African tool-, die- and mouldmaking (TDM) industry, pre- apprenticeship programme will assist in producing about 80 000 qualified artisans at the basic, core and specialised skills level over the next eight years.

Funding has been approved for the R15-million pilot preapprenticeship programme, which will be implemented in January 2010. The programme will groom learners and school-leavers for subsequent entry into the NTI four-year apprenticeship programme.

The underlying aim of the programme is to bridge the skills gap in the TDM industry.

“There is a 13% qualification rate of students in the main mechanical and engineering fields, who are then sourced and developed into artisans and engineers for the manufacturing and tooling industries,” says NTI national programme director Dirk van Dyk.

Added to this, there are fewer than 300 skilled artisans entering the tooling industry each year, which is not sufficient to replace the skilled tradespeople, aged 55 and older, who are retiring, says Van Dyk.

He points out that this is a significant challenge for the country because tooling is a critical element of the manufacturing industry, which comprises 17% of South Africa’s yearly gross domestic product. Hence, the NTI wants to create a competent, specialised tooling industry that will support the expansion of niche market manufac- turing schemes and, subsequently, stimulate economic growth in South Africa.

The preapprenticeship programme will be piloted nationally at six academic insti- tutions, including five Further Education and Training (FET) colleges, and one technical secondary school.

Van Dyk says that four of the six institutions have already been recapitalised, and have received the necessary equipment and facilities that are required for the programme. Teacher orientation programmes are currently under way to acquaint educators with the relevant curriculum, which focuses on computer skills, technical English competence, and specific mathematics and science subjects.

Van Dyk says that all six institutions will be prepared to implement the programme by the end of this year.

The preapprenticeship programme will accommodate 150 students in 2010, building towards an intake target of 4 000 students in 2015. The ini- tial group of students will be recruited and assessed between July and December, this year.

Individuals already working in industry who have not completed the preapprenticeship programme, and want to pursue further qualifications, will also be eligible for participation.

The sourcing of students is being assisted by a youth-based marketing campaign, and a career guidance programme that is designed to raise awareness about possible technical careers for school-leavers.

The programme is modelled on a similar scheme established in Minnesota, in the US, which, like South Africa, is characterised by multiculturalism, difficulties with technical English, and weak maths and science skills. The Minnesota preapprenticeship programme improved the quali- fication rate of skilled artisans from 35% to 76%.

Once industry accepts the outcomes of the pilot programme, it will be formally integrated into the system and expanded to incorporate other institutions, says Van Dyk.

Meanwhile, the NTI also includes the establishment of the Coega skills centre, in the Eastern Cape, which is expected to be completed by September this year. This industry-equipped centre will provide a simulated live environment, where apprentices will obtain the practical experience required for the completion of the programme, which will, in its pilot stages, be based on a 70% practical component, and 30% theoretical component.

Van Dyk says that the current apprenticeships and learnerships that are available lack a satisfac- tory practical component, as companies are under financial pressure and do not have sufficient time, resources or mentors to support an apprenticeship programme without compromising their production line.

He adds that the Coega skills centre is a safe and controlled workshop, independent of industry pressures, where apprentices can operate the new equipment without fear of making mistakes.

Participating companies will commit to hiring a certain number of apprentices, who will work on live projects for these companies, at the centre. Once the apprentices qualify, they will be employed by the participating companies on a rotational basis until, as artisans, they decide which company best suits them for full-time employment.

The poaching of qualified artisans, from one company by another, was a challenge in the past. However, poaching can now be prevented, as the apprenticeship programme will provide a pool of skilled artisans to meet the growing needs of industry, says Van Dyk.

The new facility will be able to regulate the quality standards for a coordinated skills stream, and encourage communication between industry partners.

Van Dyk adds that the skills centre will allow for the explo- ration of new elements of modern toolmaking, such as computer-aided design skills and high-speed machining skills, which have been adopted internatio- nally, but have not been introduced in South Africa. Van Dyk says that the absence of these components has led to a skills gap and rendered current apprenticeship models obsolete.

The skills centre aims to guarantee a certain level of articulation between academic institutions. Van Dyk explains that many qualifications are not recognised by training institutions, which discourages artisans from furthering their studies, and precludes the development of highly specialised skills.

The facility will accommodate training at the artisan, master artisan and engineering levels. A relationship will be established between institutions and the skills centre and, inherently, the theoretical and practical components of the apprenticeship programme. This will streamline the process, decrease the duration of the apprenticeship programme, and encourage apprentices to continue to move up the skills value chain into more specialised engineering fields.

Additional skills centres will be established near participating FET colleges countrywide, if the Coega skills centre pilot programme is successful.

Van Dyk says that about R4,5-billion is required to fully rehabilitate the TDM industry, but that the NTI will receive funding on a project-to-project basis.

The dearth of skilled artisans, particularly the lack of engineers that are competent in high- end tool design techniques, has impeded South Africa’s ability to compete internationally, as well as cultivate a reputation as a manufacturing destination, says Van Dyk.

“Because of South Africa’s removed logistics positioning globally, it will not be feasible to manufacture every product. If it is to become competitive, South Africa has to be selective and hone its capacities in speci- fic sectors, or clusters, such as the automotive industry,” says Van Dyk.

The NTI focuses on develop- ing skills in particular areas of industry to ensure that these sectors become self-sufficient in manufacturing, and less reliant on foreign imports.