Rubber education programme needs funding

15th February 2013 By: Zandile Mavuso - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor: Features

Education in the South African rubber industry has fallen into “disrepair”, with funding needed to sustain the basic-level education programme of the Rubber Industry Worker’s Cooperative (RIWC).

The RIWC, which falls under the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM³) polymers division, initiated the education programme to promote education in the South African rubber industry in 2011.

“The National Executive Committee of the IOM³ initiated the basic-level education programme, in conjunction with the Plastics Institute of Southern Africa (Pisa), to provide individuals with theory, practical work and workshop experience, which will be an advantage for learners when they enter the industry,” says RIWC chairperson Spike Taylor.

The RIWC has identified three ways in which funding could be secured to sustain the programme. “Firstly, companies which are part of the rubber industry may be approached to donate their corporate social investment funds, which will be allocated to the training of learners to enable them to obtain their National Qualifications Framework (NQF) levels 2, 3 and 4 qualifications.

“Secondly, learners are allowed to be members of the RIWC; however, they must be interns at member companies. As a result, these companies are required to contribute money to the education programme as part of their enterprise development requirement, which should be 2% of their yearly net profit. A portion of this money will go to the interns in the form of a stipend and the other portion will be set aside to fund future learners taking part in the programme.

“Thirdly, because companies are required to contribute 1% of their yearly net profit to the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training Authority (Merseta), this contribution will also help to fund the programme,” he adds.

The RIWC has designed the education programme to include a continued skills development programme and a learnership programme, both of which offer NQF levels 2, 3 and 4 qualifications.

The continued skills development programme caters to industry members who want to further develop their skills. The learnership programme caters for unemployed people who are interested in joining the industry.

“Currently, we offer occu- pational training and are accredited by the South African Qualifications Authority and Merseta. “This initiative encompasses the entire rubber industry, although tyre manufacturing companies tend to have in-house training,” he says.

Practical work will also be undertaken by Pisa. This entails learners being involved in experiments at Pisa’s laboratory and given tutorials on the chemistry and science of rubber and its use in industry. Learners are then able to apply this knowledge during the workshop phase as interns at any of the RIWC member companies.

Brief History
The IOM³ was initially started as a major UK engineering insti- tution which exists to promote and develop all aspects of materials science and engineering, geology, mining and associated technologies, mineral and petroleum engineering, as well as extraction metallurgy.

The Gauteng (Northern) branch was the first subsection of the South African section of the IOM³ polymers division to be formed, followed by the KZN branch. The Eastern Cape branch, after a period of inactivity following its initial establishment, was resurrected in the early 1960s. By 1970, the membership of the institution in all branches had risen to nearly 5 000.

During the late 1960s and the early 1970s, talks were held between Pisa regarding a possible merger under the name Plastics and Rubber Institute (PRI).

Attempts by the PRI to obtain its own royal charter were unsuccessful and, in 1986, the PRI was accepted as an affiliated body of the Institute of Metals. In January 1993, the Institute of Materials was established and this was a combination of the Institute of Ceramics, the PRI, the Institute of Metals and the British Composites Society.

In June 2002, the IOM³ was formed through the amalgamation of the Institute of Materials and the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy. More recent mergers include the Institute of Packaging and the Institute of Clay Technology in 2006.

The RIWC has also realised, owing to the vision of the IOM³, that there is a need to offer members of the rubber industry higher training levels than those offered by the programme.

Taylor says, while knowing the basics of the industry is important, the bigger challenge is that not enough young people are entering the industry as rubber technologists, which is an area of concern.

In February last year, Engineering News reported that the South African rubber industry had become a small market, and large international suppliers of raw rubber were reluctant to sell to such a small market preferring to focus on larger players, such as China and India.

Taylor points out that, as more companies become involved in the RIWC, more funds will become available to increase the intake of learners. He hopes that this will allow the RIWC to introduce skills development programmes that will provide skills beyond the NQF levels to produce rubber technologists.