Industry lacks skilled 
concrete technologists

18th May 2012 By: Samantha Herbst - Creamer Media Deputy Editor

A shortage of technical skills in the engineer- ing and technology fields is crippling South Africa’s economic growth, says Cement & Concrete Institute (C&CI) MD Bryan Perrie.

The shortage of qualified concrete technologists is a major contributor to the shortage of materials engineers in South Africa, he notes, adding that the C&CI is doing what it can to alleviate the problem.

“We’re playing our role in ensuring we can provide an adequate supply of people skilled in concrete and concrete technology to meet those needs,” Perrie tells Engineering News.

This year, the institute launched an improved Advanced Concrete Technology (ACT) course, which is being run under the auspices of the Institute of Concrete Technology, in London, in the UK, through training and technical support company Teaching and Learning Enterprises, which is also involved in the British ACT course.

The globally recognised course is run every two years, drawing a variety of delegates, including qualified civil engineers, cement chemists, concrete technologists and technicians involved in the building, construction, precast concrete and mining industries, as well as the cement, aggregate, admixture and ready-mix concrete sectors.

Successful candidates are awarded free membership to the Concrete Society of Southern Africa, which has officially endorsed the course, for the duration of their studies.

Nineteen Southern African delegates are currently participating in the 18-month course and have so far responded positively to the newly improved course, says C&CI School of Concrete Technology (SCT) senior lecturer John Roxburgh, who is also participating in this year’s course.

Before the launch at the start of the year, the ACT course comprised six weeks of lectures. 
The new course, however, is much longer and requires students to work in groups and submit assignments over the Internet. 
“They challenge you with a problem, and the group has to solve that problem in the form of a report,” he says.

Perrie believes the ACT course will expose delegates to a broad range of concrete disciplines and insights. 
“This could provide a competitive advantage to both delegates and the companies they represent,” he says.

This year’s participants – C&CI students who have moved through the ranks of the SCT’s programmes – will write their final examinations in July 2013. The next ACT course will then start in January 2014.

SCT Overview
The demand for education and training in the concrete indus-try has picked up in recent years, despite the C&CI’s initial assumption that education demand would match the industry slowdown. Roxburgh attributes this trend to the possibility that people have more time for technology training as a result of the slowdown in construction activity.

He says, however, that the SCT welcomes the influx of new students, encouraging anyone who wishes to improve his or her technological skill.

The school promotes progressive development. Learners can enrol without any prior knowledge and slowly work their way up to the ACT diploma. 
“We want to provide an education path towards becoming a concrete technologist,” he says.

Roxburgh maintains that the SCT’s focus on progressive growth is what sets it apart from other training programmes. “We try to encourage people to make a career out of concrete and concrete-related industries, such as precast and admixtures. 
“This is why we concentrate hard on progression, motivating people to keep taking the next step,” he says.

The SCT aims to fill the gap between the high demand for skilled workers and the very low skills base in the concrete industry by meeting the requirements for technology training.

“The school is a very important part of marketing concrete.
“If you train people well, they produce good, aesthetically pleasing structures. 
“That sells concrete,” says Roxburgh.

He further emphasises the importance of producing a high-quality product the first time round so that people look to con-crete as a ‘go to’ building material. “Producing concrete right the first time round also saves companies a lot of money,” he adds

A continual problem facing the SCT is a lack of basic education, with learners struggling to grasp basic mathematical and ratio problems, the understanding of which is integral to concrete technology, says Roxburgh.

“Some students have limited problem-solving abilities. 
“They are able to use performer-based solutions (learnt steps), but they don’t understand the reasons behind what they’re doing,” he says. 
“The school courses and lecturers emphasise the importance of understanding as a base on which concrete-related problems can be solved.”

The SCT upgrades its courses on a continuous basis to meet the industry’s growing needs and is currently awaiting a continuing professional development accreditation for its SCT20 Concrete Practice course.

The school aims to provide the most up-to-date training for concrete technologists, says Roxburgh.
 “We want the SCT to continue its tradition of excellence and to continue to provide a definitive educational path for budding concrete technologists,” he concludes.