Training: Education and Training

Merseta to complement Jipsa

The Merseta is the sector education and training authority (seta) that covers most of Numsa’s sectors. Wayne Adams, its acting CEO, and Harry Geldenhuys, its auto chamber coordinator, told Mdu Ntuli* and Xolani Tshayana* how their organisation will contribute to achieving Jipsa’s objectives.

Can you briefly describe the aims of Jipsa?WA: Jipsa focuses on skills development. It is within the Asgisa framework. Its job is to sustain and ensure that the annual 5-6 percent growth target is met. Currently the skills available in the country are not sufficient to achieve this and sustain this target. Jipsa is attempting to coordinate the skills requirements at national level with the involvement of all stakeholders including business and labour. The other initiative is to look at infrastructure development and build the capacity of maths and science teachers as well as the possibility of attracting offshore skills. It will also facilitate and fast track and implement the development of skills within sectors.

Some are saying that Jipsa will run parallel to the Setas. What is your view?HG: This is not the case. Setas will complement the objectives of Jipsa. For example for many years now Setas dealing with coded welding knew that the skill would be in demand in the near future. But because of the lack of consensus from stakeholders they missed the opportunity to train learners for this need. So now the skill is currently in demand but there are no ready-made people hence there is a debate to import the skills.

How have you determined priority skills?

WA: Priority skills are based on projects. These have been identified at macro level through research that resulted in the Sector Skills Plan (SSP) for Merseta. Based on the SSP, linkages have been made to infrastructural projects identified and funding has been made available to support these projects through skills development.

What skills have you prioritised?HG: The sector skills plan focuses on scarce and critical needs. Scarce skills refer to the scarcity of production and occupational skills needs currently and in the future. Critical skills refer to the current needs of production and what the employees require.

Do these priorities coincide with Jipsa’s?HG: They complement and advance Jipsa objectives. Merseta is in line with these objectives if you look at the number of learnerships and apprenticeships that are registered by the Merseta.

What are the key projects that the Merseta will intervene in?

WA: We have identified the refurbishment of power stations. This will require more artisans and engineers and it is anticipated that manufacturing industries will be involved in 50-60 percent of these projects.

What is the challenge for Setas with regard to their capacity and resources?

WA: The challenge for Setas is to strike a perfect balance between meeting the needs of the stakeholders within the available funds and meeting time frames. Setas will have to look at the current funds and see if they are sufficient to accommodate Jipsa projects.The levy-paying companies will be the biggest beneficiaries. They will be contracted to train learners for Jipsa projects. Training numbers will have to increase. Merseta and stakeholders will have to discuss the issue of human capital. This is not a problem but the critical issue will be the funds. The setas may have to engage institutions like the National Skills Authority for funding.

Why is Jipsa focusing on apprenticeships and not on learnerships?

WA: Delays on the developmental work of learnership qualifications on issues like courseware development and unit standards have caused delays in achieving the correct skills in the country hence the reintroduction and more emphasis on apprenticeships.

This is not suggesting that learnerships have failed to deliver. It’s only their slow pace which must be addressed.

The current National Skills Development Strategy (NSDS) allows the continuation of the apprenticeship system until 2010 where the strategy will be reviewed.

Learners in learnerships 2005 to April 2006

Apprenticeships being trained

13 839

6 329

What is the drive behind the re-skilling of the current artisans?

WA: Changes in technology necessitate the up-skilling of employees including artisans. There is a definite need to be up-skilled since some of them qualified more than ten years ago. Projects like Coega will need ready-made artisans. The process has to start now rather than later.

What is the Merseta’s view on placement of learners after training?

WA: Learnerships should be demand-led. This must be informed by a will to address employment equity and also the companies’ responsibility in creating employment for the unemployed learners. Setas are training for employability. Our view is that 75-80% of learners in training must be placed after completion. This is one of the objectives of the NSDS.

What could prevent the Merseta from achieving its plans?HG: If you look at the seta from a distance one will think that there is cohesion. Participants of stakeholders remain the major challenge. There is a lack of consistency from both labour and employers. Most of the time employers are sending junior managers without powers. Labour sends junior shopstewards with no understanding of training issues. This results in stakeholders failing to reach consensus and this ends up stifling progress.The other problem is the competitiveness between employers. The competitive needs of individual companies allow companies not to publicize some of their skills needs because they don’t want to be compromised. They opt to import some of the skills from mother plants or overseas to protect themselves.The last issue is the bureaucratic set up of setas like the registration of learners and claiming of grants. We need to deal with the turn around time.

What can be done to address these problems?HG: Merseta stakeholders are aware of what is at stake. The starting point is for the stakeholders to prioritise the worker on the shop floor. They must understand that their actions deny the ordinary worker an opportunity to get proper training in order for them to participate in the economic mainstream of the country. The right people must be sent to these structures.Merseta stakeholders are also aware of the companies who are doing training which is not relevant to production requirements and yet are allowed to claim grants. The time has come for grants to be paid only for NQF and unit standard based training or programmes which lead to national qualifications.

WA = Wayne AdamsHG = Harry Geldenhuys

* Mdu Ntuli is a shop steward at Hillside Aluminium in Richards Bay; Xola Tshayana is a shop steward at Volkswagen SA in Uitenhage