Economy – Accelerated artisan training

Accelerated artisan training Can it alleviate the shortage of artisans asks Jenny Grice.

In 2004, Henk Duys outgoing Seifsa president said: "Our artisan workforce is on average over 50 years old and thinking of retirement.

We have lost our experience base through emigration and failure to train. Ten years ago we had over 14 000 apprentices; this year learnership numbers increased from a pitiful 2000 to a less pitiful but still dismaying 2600."

Since then there has been talk in Asgisa and Jipsa of the critical shortage of artisans and how this threatens the growth of the South African economy.

The Merseta has just initiated a pilot project to train artisans in 18 months instead of the usual four years.

But like any new-born baby it is experiencing teething problems at Alstom in Germiston, the first centre to start the programme.Problem number 1 has arisen during trainee selection.

With normal artisan training, a person must have the equivalent of a N2. However because the project reduces the time taken to produce an artisan by two and a half years, the Merseta has said that prospective trainees must have N2 and N3.

We are finding that not many people have the full suite of N subjects that we require,” says Derrick Peo, Merseta’s coordinator of the accelerated artisan training programme.

Others have the required experience but not the N2 trade theory. In the past it would have been easy to send them on to a Further education and training college (FET) to study the N2 trade theory.

But not so now! FET colleges are no longer providing N2 trade theory because the education department is involved with FET colleges in restructuring the modules that they offer.

Instead of producing graduates with N certificates, graduates will walk out of FET colleges with S certificates and a certificate of vocational training.

There is no linkage between industry and the S certificates so we can’t take these people,” says a frustrated Clive Morris, one of the trainers at Alstom.

In desperation, Alstom has approached a local FET college. It is prepared to offer N2 trade theory as long as they can find 30 people that need to be trained.

Alstom’s entire complement of trainees is 30 but not all of them require N2 trade theory! However Peo is also working from the Merseta side to bring together trainees needing N2 trade theory so hopefully this problem can be surmounted.

At the same time, Peo says that the Merseta is “looking at other alternatives” to find prospective trainees.

This includes working out how these courses equate to skills that workers have learnt on the job. It could also mean providing extra classes at night for prospective trainees that lack all the required courses.

Problem number 2 arises from the way in which the accelerated training programme works. For the first six months trainees sign a contract with the Merseta.

They are kept in a workshop where they learn the basic skills, how to work with different tools, they have to complete a workbook and show that they have done every task required in the workbook.

During that time they are paid a rate of R800 per month. Alstom claims that they are not adding value to production so why should it pay them anymore!While some workers already on the shopfloor had the required qualifications to be trained as artisans through this programme, Morris says that some declined the offer because of the massive drop in their incomes – the minimum wage of a general labourer in the engineering industry is more than R3000 per month!

Few prospective trainees were prepared to accept the massive cut in their wages!Problem number 3: The Merseta requires that there is 1 trainer per 15 trainees.
Alstom’s training manager Dawie Oberholzer claims that they could have taken on more trainees if they could only find more trainers.

As Morris explains, “People on the shopfloor who can train don’t want to train because it means their pay is reduced.

They rely on overtime to boost their salaries. If they become trainers, they lose out on overtime!”Problem number 4: Merseta regards the money that it offers to companies as an incentive for companies to train artisans beyond their needs.

However companies like Alstom claim that this incentive is way below their actual costs of supervising and training the artisans.

Could this be why Alstom says it is not training beyond its needs? Instead it says it is going to try to “glue the feet of all the artisans (once they are finished).

We need them all!” And with news reports of Alstom's recent signing of an agreement with Eskom to provide for its de-mothballed power stations, it is no wonder that they want to cling to every artisan they have trained!Peo says that this first phase is planned to train 1300 artisans with funding from the Merseta.

However in Phase two, which is planned to reach 4720 artisans, he says that the National Skills Fund has been approached to bolster the Merseta's funding.

Problem number 5: Numsa is part of the Merseta but when we spoke to Numsa Alstom shop steward Joshua Manana about the project he had never heard of it.

Nor had the Alstom Germiston shop steward. If Numsa is to take an active part in realising our dream of “a sweeper to an engineer” then now is the time to start taking an active interest in training that is happening in your workplace.

Look in the box below to see if your company is one of those involved in the accelerated artisan training project. If it is, find out what problems trainee artisans and prospective trainees are facing and raise them in Numsa local and regional training structures.

Look here to find out if your company is involved in the accelerated artisan training project

Name of company Number of artisans to be trained Alstom 30 Circuit Breaker Industries 6 Columbus Stainless Steel 45 Duys Engineering 20 Element 6 10 Highveld Steel 30 (may increase) Macsteel 25 Arcelor Mittal 100 (may increase) Genrec 40 Rotek 30 (hoping to increase) Fluor 50 Sandvik 30 Belmet 8 CFW industries 10 Globe Engineering 30 SA 5 Engineering 10 Toyota Forklift 10 CME Precision 4 Alstom John Thompson 50 Marine Mechanical Offshore 10 Atlantis Foundries 16 Baroma Engineering 2 TOTAL 566

If it is, make sure that you are involved in planning and developments.


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