Working and learning together

Bringing together the unemployed and currently employed workers can have unexpected spinoffs as Rosslyn car component manufacturer, August L í¤ pple, recently discovered.

When Rosslyn automotive components supplier, August Lí¤pple, piloted the first learnership on automotive components manufacturing and assembly, one of their key aims was “to make the unemployed workers employable,” says Chief Nkosi, the company’s HR co-ordinator dealing with learnerships.

Testament to the learnership’s success is that almost half of the 35 unemployed learner taken on in its Rosslyn factory have found jobs. Eleven have found employment with BMW or Ford, 5 have been taken on by August Lí¤pple and put into apprenticeships as tool, jig and die makers on NQF level 4 and two have found jobs elsewhere in the automotive industry.

But it was the combination of 43 unemployed learners and 43 employed learners taken from its own company that proved the real winner. Working for half a week and studying for half a week saw the 86 learners learn the value of team work.

“It was a joint effort,” says August Lí¤pple training manager, Christo van der Merwe. “They were working as one team based on the principle, “˜if you help us, we’ll help you.'”

The young students had the theoretical advantage which they shared with employed workers. But equally, the worker learners found that they could pass on their knowledge of working the line and other work procedures to their fellow learners.

While most of the unemployed learners have now secured themselves jobs, for the employed learners it “is the first time that a worker has obtained a qualification for the job that he is doing,” says van der Merwe. “Before a worker had 20 years service but he had no documents to prove it. Now with the learnership certificate, he can go anywhere in the motor industry.”

If there’s one problem that still remains it’s the thorny issue of ‘payment for skills acquired’. Long the battle cry of Numsa, the only sector where this is recognised up to a certain skill level, is in the auto assembly sector.

In other sectors, as in August Lí¤pple, even though the employed workers have successfully passed the learnership, their wage rate remains the same.

However van der Merwe points out that as jobs that require those skills become vacant, “these learners can apply and should they get the job, they will be paid at the higher rate.”

In a demonstration of the importance of ‘life-long learning’, 63 year old Andries Motlhamme, a worker at the company with more than 30 years service, was included as one of the learners. Despite having little education, he passed the 29 tests with more than 80%!

Apart from technical training, the learnership teaches important life skills like numeracy and literacy as well. “Before I didn’t know how to bank, cash money together with cheques,” says Motlhamme. “Now I can do all these things. And HIV/Aids, most of our people are involved with this illness. Now I try to tell them about this illness.”

Learnership to continue

From November 2004 the next bunch of learners will take their places. A big disappointment is that this time only 24 learners will be taught (12 employed/12 unemployed).

However, Boas Khule, Numsa’s full-time shop steward in the company, is confident that training will continue. “This company never had this thing before. We had apprenticeships, some were pulled in as artisan trainees but they were marginalised.”

With the new November intake, workers from inside the plant can nominate unemployed learners with the balance of names coming from the register of unemployed workers from local Department of Labour offices.

The minimum qualification for unemployed learners will be matric maths/ technical drawing and English.

But workers stressed that prospective learners should not see the learnership as a time to relax. With regular tests and assignments “you must be committed,” they say. This means studying after work, writing assignments and getting them in on time.

What the learners say:

… the employed learners

63 year old Andries Motlhamme with 30 years service

I never got an opportunity to finish schooling. There were ten children and my father had no full-time job.

I have 2 boys and 2 girls at home all with matric but they are all unemployed.

I’m proud of this company that it gave me something.

But on the money side I’m not proud. You put my service on this hand and my wages on this hand and somehow it doesn’t match up!

Jerry Leso with almost 10 years service

I learnt a lot. Now I can do things on my own. I think I can now supervise and lead.

I can be a team leader. I learnt how to manage people, how to encourage people.

I also learnt drawing skills.

David Molomo with 13 years service

Those from outside (the unemployed), sometimes they remained and helped us with the theoretical stuff.

… the unemployed learners who are now doing an apprenticeship as tool, jig and die makers on NQF level 4.

Jabu Mashishi, Cynthia Maphiri, Robert Moatshe

At college we got no experience. It was good to be able to apply our knowledge.

From the employed learners we learnt ways of working, working procedures, they shared all their knowledge and skills with us.

We think the time frame was too short. The learnership should be at least two years. It is too much to learn in one year!