The Eastern Cape economy is largely dependent on the automotive sector but the potential for development in agro-processing, manufacturing and green industries has seen these industry sectors take root in the province. The burgeoning manufacturing industry has highlighted the shortage of skilled labour, in particular that of millwrights. 

Manufacturing companies in the Eastern Cape have emerged from the Great Recession stronger than ever. In some measure it is the resilience of private enterprise in South Africa at play that ensures that business remains robust. They certainly weren’t immune to having to scale back as a result of the economic downturn – and one way in which that scale back lingers, is in the hesitation to invest in training and development of their staff.

There are many reasons why this has happened, in part because those funds have been allocated to other priorities as business has had to seek innovative ways to remain competitive and indeed thrive. But the misperception persists that if employees receive training from their current employer, they will use it to find employment elsewhere. Studies however indicate that the reason employees undertake training is to advance with the current employer.

Corporate training is not as rigorous as it once was although the need to continue training and development is stronger than ever. There is huge and new emphasis placed on technical training with specific reference to artisan training. This was confirmed earlier in 2016 with the announcement of the government initiative to deliver a further 7 000 qualified artisans during 2017/18 as part of the War on leaks programme. One concept that has gained in popularity is “up-skilling”, the idea that employees can in some measure take control of their own careers by seeking their own development.

Millwrights are scarce because the skill incorporates multiple disciplines including mechanical, electrical and electronics. The modular trade qualification requires the completion of a structured modular training program as per the merSETA, as well as two years’ practical hands-on experience in the related sector. The Training Authority, MerSETA, was set up originally to facilitate skills development, education and training, particularly focused around the needs of the automotive sector, mainly to ensure that the National Skills Development Strategy of South Africa was fulfilled.

According to Henry van Rensburg, Campus Manager of MSC Artisan Academy: East London, “one should not ignore or neglect the value of up-skilling. The track record of candidates who started in an organisation on an entry level and then, having being granted the opportunity to up-skill in his or her own organisation, is exceptionally good and the commitment and workmanship of such candidates is unquestionable.” He went on to say that “the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) option allows candidates with sufficient and relevant workplace experience, but limited to no formal training,  to be evaluated against the formal trade modules in order to identify gaps in either exposure, knowledge or skills. These gaps are then filled by enrolling candidates into a ‘tailor-made’ remedial training program which eventually places such candidates in the same position as candidates who completed -a formal apprenticeship programme, as they can then also apply for a trade test (official qualification), provided that the meet all the minimum criteria.

Learnerships are work-based education and training programmes linked to the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and this is where the private sector enters the picture. They facilitate the – Work Integrated Learning (WIL) required for the successful completion of the MerSETA courses.

As a case in point, Sundale Dairy recognise the strategic importance of developing human capital and according to CEO Pierre van Rensburg, “We aim to engender a spirit of promotion from within. It is imperative that our staff recognise that we want to see them grow, no matter what field they’re in. There is opportunity for everyone; for a Merchandiser to become a Field Sales Manager or a Driver to become a Fleet Manager. The experience that our staff generate is good for our business so we go by a policy of Train, Grow and Retain when it comes to our workforce. As it stands right now, one of our top pasteurisers is going through IT training required to get them to Management level in the organisation. We also saw our first female welder receive her qualification only two weeks ago and we are putting six of our staff from our Maintenance Division through a learnership to up-skill them too.”

He went on to say that “regarding the need for Millwrights, we have embarked on a 9-month remedial training as part of our RPL program for one of our internal staff members in conjunction with MSC Artisan Academy, to widen exposure from pumps and motors to the equipment on our factory floor which includes fillers, pasteurisers, shrink wrappers, boilers refrigeration units and even the water treatment plant. East London is one of the few centres in the country to offer training for this specialised skill and it is in our best interests to train our staff in this sought after discipline. Our Technical Manager, Jakes Jacobs, overseas the training of the interns and encourages exposure across the board.”

Sundale offer internships, holiday jobs and training courses to their staff and the wider community. As one of the largest employers in the city, they have increased their workforce by 10% over the last year in line with their strategic growth objectives, part of which is the investment in a new cheese factory which has created an additional 40 jobs at the East London IDZ (ELIDZ).

Les Holbrook of the Border-Kei Chamber of Business (BKCOB) says that the chamber fully supports further education and experiential learning.  “The Chamber collaborated with MAASA when retrofitting our building with new LED lighting and passive occupancy sensors.  In doing so, students were provided with work experience in an active office environment. We currently have two employees studying postgraduate degrees as we see it as an opportunity to upskill our workforce, and not a threat. We have also embarked on an intern intake programme to provide students from local universities an opportunity to learn and complete their undergraduate studies. Furthermore, we are members of the advisory forum of the MBSA Learning Academy and assist with curricular development and placement of recently completed learners, artisans and trainees.’ said Holbrook.