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CHIETA’s important role in upskilling, training youth for entrepreneurship opportunities

CHIETA takes its commitment seriously to transforming the lives of South Africa’s youth and has many initiatives in 2021 which work towards a brighter future

The Chemical Industries Education and Training Authority (CHIETA) is a statutory body that was established by the Skills Development Act (SDA) in 1998. CHIETA’s role is to facilitate skills development as well as to ensure that skills requirements are identified and addressed through various training initiatives in the chemical and manufacturing industries.

Engineering News & Mining Weekly caught up with CHIETA CEO Yershen Pillay to dis-cuss the training authority and unpack a wide range of issues that affect South Africa specifically and the world in general.

Engineering News & Mining Weekly: What is the role of the chemicals Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA)?

Yershen Pillay: The role of the Chemical Industries Education and Training Authority, often referred to as CHIETA, is to enable skills development, education and training and to contribute to the facilitation of sustainable livelihoods.

Our objectives and functions include the effective execution of the National Skills Development Strategy in the chemical sector, identifying skills requirements and shortages, and effectively responding to these needs and shortages through investing in learner support and structured partnerships with employers and other entities.

In doing so, our focus is on artisan develop-ment, the provision of bursaries, internships, learnerships, work-based integrated learning programmes, targeted skills development programmes and entrepreneurial skills deve-lopment including support for start-ups and small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Engineering News & Mining Weekly: Please elaborate on the role that CHIETA plays in fighting the scourge of unemployment, especially among the youth?

Yershen Pillay: CHIETA has supported 17 221 jobs in the chemical industries thus far and we will be supporting a further 6 567 jobs in the current year. CHIETA takes seriously our commitment to transforming the lives of 
South Africa’s youth and has many initiatives in 2021 which work towards a brighter 
future. 

For learners, CHIETA has invested over R9-million in career guidance projects. By partnering with key stakeholders for these projects, we are providing learners with invaluable skills aligned with the jobs and businesses of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). Digital transformation has become a standard feature in all areas of business and our youth need to be prepared. Educational initiatives, bursaries, learnerships, sponsorships and mentorship all play a role in readying the workforce of the future. 

Aligned with this, we have also invested heavily in improving access to technology. In the last three months, we have supported 1 000 learners in rural schools across the country with CHIETA-funded devices 
equipped with an innovative teaching and learning application that seeks to educate learners in line with the CAPS-approved curriculum. The tablets come preloaded with iWhiz software, therefore eliminating the high 
data costs typically absorbed by learners. 

For higher education, we have funded two South African universities with over R1.6-million this year to support research and innovation in pharmaceuticals, nanotechnology and fuel cell batteries. 

To address the issue of student debt, which can be crippling to our young people, CHIETA has launched the Lesedi Youth Fund to support higher learning institutions with R32.4-million to settle student debt. In addition, the youth will benefit from work-integrated learning programmes worth R4.2-million, and R3.4-million for work-based learning in collaboration with Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges. 

In 2022, we will be launching a dedicated science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programme for youth with the outcome of increasing the participation of young girls in STEM, would will increase from 28% to 50% by 2025.  

Engineering News & Mining Weekly: What challenges is the sector facing? How can these challenges be overcome? 

Yershen Pillay: South Africa has a startling youth unemployment rate, so it is vital that every entity with the power to do so invests in our young people by equipping them with the skills they need to take advantage of our ever-changing job market and technological landscape. 

Innovative skills solutions focusing on digital skills and STEM education must become a priority for youth-centered initiatives. These skills are increasingly becoming a requirement across all industries, not just in the science and technology sectors.

The research data suggests that 97,5% of all businesses in the country are SMEs contributing approximately 35% to the GDP of the economy. Recent data also indicates that 90% of SMEs are struggling to survive, while bankruptcies of SMEs have increased by more than 50% in the last six months. This data is extremely concerning given the role that SMEs play in job creation and economic transformation.

Engineering News & Mining Weekly: What is CHIETA doing to upskill the chemicals sector? Please elaborate on your role in this since you became CEO.

Yershen Pillay: Based on the data, the chemical SETA decided to offer discretionary grants to support an Integrated Small Business Development Programme. This led to a partnership between the SETA, the University of Johannesburg and the South African Chemical Technology Incubator. This 18-month programme has been a resounding success with 64% of the participants reporting a 25% increase in their top line revenues. 

Recently, I handed over the accreditation certificate to the first and only assessment centre for the maintenance planning quali-fication in South Africa. Working together with the Quality Council on Trades and Occupations (QCTO), the training provider, Pragma, has been accredited for training provision in maintenance planning and the first assessment centre in the country.

In June, we celebrated Youth Month by launching the Lesedi Youth Fund. For the first time, CHIETA is providing support for bursaries to address the challenge of student debt in South Africa. 

Over R 32-million in funding was disbursed to six institutions of higher learning for settling student debts and a further R8-million was used for work integrated learning and workplace based learning. These students will now be able to acquire their certificates and go on to fill available job opportunities.

Further, as part of our new Vision 2025, we will be embarking on new research projects to identify the top ten skills in the growing hydrogen economy.