South Africa’s competitiveness as a manufacturing destination and export country is under threat and a stronger focus on the localisation of local innovation should become a priority, reports the public–private partnership, the National Tooling Initiative (NTI).
“South Africa does not have cheap labour and we no longer have cheap electricity. If we, as a country, do not focus on strengthening our manufacturing competitiveness, it will have negative consequences for the country,” says NTI national programme CEO Dirk van Dyk.
He adds that a lot of products are innovated and designed in South Africa; however, these products are then tooled, manufactured and assembled overseas, in countries like China.
“A stronger focus on the localisation of local innovation, becoming selective about the products being developed, and mechanisms to drive this process will ensure that these products are beneficiated locally,” he says.
Van Dyk explains that the manufacturing industry is significant for stimulating economic growth and has the potential to stimulate job creation on a large scale. He adds that it is strategically imperative for South Africa to invest significantly in keeping some of its innovations locally.
“As soon as tooling exits the country, then production is also lost,” Van Dyk says.
He points out that one of the biggest barriers to ensuring that tooling remains local is financing, adding that financial institutions are willing to finance production machines, but not the tool, as the tool.
“If there is a default in payment, financial institutions cannot use the tool or sell it, unlike with machines, which can be sold in the event of a default payment,” he says.
This often results in the original-equipment manufacturer (OEM) having to supply the tooling, which remains the property of the OEM. If the OEM is an international corporation, tooling may make place in another manufacturing country where the production and manufacture of the product are more competitive.
“If South Africa cannot subsidise labour costs, then what are required are other solutions to bridge the gap to retain production and manufacturing locally, and to possibly use shipping and logistics costs to offset other components to remain competitive,” says Van Dyk.
This has resulted in the NTI looking into a pilot project to assist in ensuring that designs take place locally so that these products are distributed into the local manufacturing industry to the benefit of the country.
Pilot Programme on Track for 2010 Launch
The final preparations for the launch of the NTI preapprenticeship pilot programme are under way.
“The NTI realised that, before fixing any shortcomings in the existing apprenticeship programme, there is a need to tackle issues that may hamper an individual’s progress in the apprenticeship system. It is for this reason that we developed a preapprenticeship programme, which tackles these issues,” says Van Dyk.
He adds that, in preparing people for a career in manufacturing, certain aspects need to be tackled, including increasing marketing of potential careers in manufacturing to young people, improving the ability to assess people correctly and having a remedial programme for the areas of weakness.
He explains that, currently, there is no attraction for careers in the field of manufacturing; however, he adds that it is a known fact worldwide that entrepreneurs are born and bred through artisan career paths. He adds that, if South Africa is truly going to focus on entrepreneurship, the country should be advocating a technical or vocational career path and improving the way in which people are assessed.
Van Dyk explains that there is a tendency to focus on mathematics and science results as an indicator of whether a person is suitable for a career in manufacturing. However, the NTI believes that there are other factors, such as personal characteristics, that are more indicative of a person’s aptitude in pursuing a career in manufacturing.
The NTI highlights that research undertaken in the US indicates that occupational English is a larger barrier to entry into manufacturing than science scores. “If maths and science scores are slightly weak, we can tackle that problem; however, if a person does not understand the language and cannot communicate in industry terms, it will be difficult to excel in this environment. “This is why it is important to have a remedial programme that is critical in areas of weakness, such as mathematics, science, occupational English, computer literacy or life skills,” he says.
The preapprenticeship programme will be aimed at learners from rural schools and those that have shown some shortfalls during their assessment. This programme will have certain components of an apprenticeship, such as basic workshop practice, hand skills, and safety in the shop floor environment, as well as some basic manufacturing techniques, like milling and tooling, while also focusing on mathematics, science, English, life skills, computer skills, measuring techniques, engineering drawing and reading. This programme will offer credits towards a learner’s apprenticeship certificate.
“In [addressing] some of these challenges, we also aim to equip learners with knowledge that is invaluable to industry. “Part of the outcome of this programme is to ensure that the learner will have entry-level experience in factories, such as basic machine operation, machine attendance and line quality control,” he says.
He reports that the final preparations for implementation of the pilot programme started in April, and that career guidance and assessment of students, which will take part in the programme in 2010, is currently under way. He adds that teacher and mentor sourcing and training will take place until November, for deployment in January. There will be 25 students in every pilot programme in the selected institutions. The NTI expects that by 2014 there will be about 3 600 students in all the participating institutions, in the various stages of the toolmaking chain.
Institutions that will offer the pilot programme include the Northlink Further Education and Training (FET) college, in the Western Cape; the Umgungundlovu FET college, in KwaZulu-Natal; the Nkangala Public FET college, in Mpumalanga province; the Ekurhuleni East Public FET college, in Gauteng province; the Lephalale FET college, in Limpopo province; and the Coega East Skills Centre, in the Eastern Cape.
As a result of the small manufacturing footprint, the Free State will be integrated into Gauteng, while the North West province will be integrated into Gauteng province for its manufacturing industry and into Limpopo province for the mining industry. Van Dyk explains that, as soon as these provinces reach critical mass and have devel- oped their own manufacturing footprint, the NTI will pilot programmes in institutions in those provinces. He adds that the NTI is starting small and, as the programme expands and becomes successful, the NTI will consider expanding it.
These institutions will be offering the preapprenticeship programme in 2010 as well as the new competence-based apprenticeship for the tool-, die- and mould-making programme in 2011.
Van Dyk says the new competence-based apprenticeship for the tool-, die- and mould-making programme will be modular and competence based. The programme will comprise different modules with appropriate credits. A student will be allowed to write the final trade exam after obtaining the required credits.
Van Dyk reports that the development of this programme is the result of the mobilisation of industry, which has shown overwhelming support. He says that support has also been received from outside the tooling industry, with educational institutions eager to partner with the NTI on this project.
The major challenge, he says, is the damage that has been done to the industry over the last 20 years. He adds that the country’s inability to develop skills in alignment with modern tooling industry requirements has resulted in skills programmes that do not produce what the industry needs. As a result, the NTI has embarked on a long-term strategy to realign capacities of existing educational institutions to deliver on industry requirements. The NTI is supplying these institutions with the necessary advice, curricula, teacher and mentor capacity and equipment to assist them in the process.
“On the specialised technical vocation side, South Africa has experienced a total collapse. “This is the result of the old State-owned enterprises, which used to be the developers of technical skills, and their training centres, shutting or scaling down their training programmes and facilities. “These enterprises trained artisans and technical engineers beyond their own capac- ity requirements for the whole industry, which does not happen now. “This has left a gap in vocational artisan-based training, as well as in the quality of training,” he says.
Van Dyk adds that the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and the Department of Labour (DoL) are in the process of restructuring the formal environment of vocational education. By piloting the programme, the NTI will be able to gain the formal recognition from the industry and educational structures once the restructuring is completed and industry has endorsed the programme outcomes.
The NTI is working with the international cooperation enterprise for sustainable development, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), which is a formal partner of the DoL, in structuring the vocational training. The GTZ will be assisting the NTI in tracking the programme.
“This is new territory, as there is no preapprenticeship programme available in the country. “The NTI believes that it will be at least two years before the DHET has built the capacity to deal with vocational skills development required by specialised industries such as the tooling industry. “In the interim, the country continues with ongoing skills development,” concludes Van Dyk.