The Covid-19 pandemic has had a ripple effect on the metal fabrications industry, resulting in low investment, job losses and a decrease in opportunities and development, among other challenges, says structural, mechanical and welding engineering provider New Age Engineering Solutions operational director Nigel Pontac.
“The industry finds itself in a compressed market, with a huge mismatch between supply and demand for maintenance opportunities, capital projects and new industry development.”
He adds that the pandemic caused interruptions to the supply chains of organisations that are responsible for large-scale projects. The interruption resulted in massive job losses in the industry as a way of reducing costs.
As pandemic-related restrictions were lifted, companies had to reduce cost of new projects and maintenance opportunities, which resulted in increased competitiveness for these opportunities.
As the supply and demand of products and services became more competitive, businesses that were unable to cover costs closed.
“The current situation regarding projects, as well as reintroducing projects in the market, is dire,” emphasises Pontac.
He explains that such projects have had to deal with budget constraints, resulting in such projects having to work with entry-level or smaller companies that are unable to deliver the same results. These smaller organisations lack infrastructure, capabilities and abilities for them to deliver a project on schedule and with the correct quality as compared with larger, established companies, which can lead to the failure of the project.
Established companies, in turn, struggle to get project opportunities needed to sustain business.
Moreover, Pontac mentions that businesses in the metal fabrications industry also have to prioritise skills development. Companies have to establish training programmes, as there are “no longer formal and fully fledged facilities that promote artisan skills development”.
The process of establishing programmes means companies are distracted from core business, as they attempt to keep up and survive in the competitive industry.
New Age Engineering Solutions has identified such a gap in skills development and is running youth development programmes to equip youth with the skills that will make them employable. Through the Youth Employment Service and Internship programmes, New Age Engineering Solutions employed 10 trainees and 16 interns to shadow experienced staff members in 2020.
The programme runs for a year, enabling the participants to be ready for employment. On successful completion of the programme, the company will absorb the trainees and deploy them at different geographic areas where the business operates.
The trainees, who are mechanical fitters with N2 and N3 qualifications, are currently working at the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station alongside an experienced team. The Interns programme is based in the Cape Town and Evander New Age Engineering Solutions offices and runs for 12 months. The interns have relevant qualifications in fields such as boilermaking, welding, metallurgical engineering, mechanical engineering, human resources and finance. The company intends to employ some of the candidates at the programme’s end.
“The whole country is experiencing skills shortages. South Africa needs to improve its manufacturing capability and without the technical skills-set, very little can be achieved economically,” explains New Age Engineering Solutions CEO Joseph Zinyana.
In 2021, New Age will train 12 engineers/technician interns along with 24 newly qualified artisans and prepare them for the working environment.