SME training voucher projectIf you work in (or run) a small company that has less than 50 full-time employees then knowing about the Merseta SME training voucher project could help you improve your skills (or the skills of your workers). Numsa News asked project coordinator, Linda Nxumalo to explain more about the project.

How does it work?The project provides training vouchers to individuals who want training. The courses provided are at all levels. Some courses are short, many are flexible eg they can run for two days a week for five weeks.

Which companies can apply?To apply, the company must fall under the Merseta – it must fall in the manufacturing, engineering and related services.

What about small businesses in the township like vehicle repairers, burglar guard manufacturers or welders of exhausts?They can apply because they fall under the Merseta.

They don't have to be paying skills levies to the Merseta. But they must be registered with SARS, have a SDL number and be registered as a private company.

How many people have been trained so far?The project ran as a pilot project until the end of March 2008. During the six months pilot, 1745 people were trained; of these 169 were Numsa members. The project will continue until the end of March 2010. The Merseta has set aside R90m for this project.

What kinds of courses can the training vouchers be used for?* Technical skills like welding, motor mechanics (up to NQF level 6)* management and supervisory skills* secretarial and administrative skills* computer training* book-keeping etc.The training institution that provides the training must be accredited.

What about a worker who is a body shop or repair shop assistant or artisan aide? Can the employer apply for training vouchers so that these workers can be trained to become artisans?If the employer plays his cards right, he can send his employee with more than 10 years experience for trade testing.

At the trade test, they will identify the areas where the worker needs training. The employer can then get vouchers to send that person for training to fill in the gaps.

However, Section 28 of the Manpower Training Act will still apply – if you have four years experience in that trade you must have a full N2 with four subjects – maths, science, technical drawing and trade theory.

Only if a worker has worked for five years and more can s/he then apply for N2 exemption.

Is the training free?Yes, but it comes with responsibilities.* if a worker drops out, the employer must pay 100% of the cost. (The employer may negotiate with the worker for him/her to pay a portion of this)

* if a worker doesn't show up even though s/he said that s/he was coming, then the employer must pay 50%. (The employer may negotiate with the worker for him/her to pay a portion of this)* if the employer cancels less than 10 days before the course, the employer must pay a 20% penalty* if a worker does not pass the test at the end of the course, the employer must pay 50% of the cost of the course. (The employer may negotiate with the worker for him/her to pay a portion of this)

Is a worker guaranteed promotion once s/he has completed the training?No, not necessarily. This will depend on what course the worker has completed.

What is the value of these training vouchers?Companies can apply for vouchers for up to R5200 per person. Each company cannot apply for more than R26000.

How do you find out about the training vouchers?Workers should speak to their shop stewards if they are interested in the training.

Companies should phone the Merseta on 0861 10 12 10 or e-mail or apply direct on the Merseta web site

Career advice for the manufacturing and engineering related services sectorIf you have a son or daughter that is at school and is looking for a career in the metals and engineering sector or if you want to improve your skills while you are at work, then contact the Merseta for a free copy of the “Merseta Career Guide”.

The 40-page glossy booklet takes you through the simple steps of how to choose a career.It also covers:* the kinds of skills that are in short supply in the sector* the different ways in which you can acquire skills – either through studying once you leave school or through taking part in training programmes while you are working* the differences between apprenticeships, learnerships, skills programmes, certificates, diplomas, national diplomas anddegrees* who can apply for what kind of training* how to apply for Merseta bursaries for tertiary study.A useful section called “Life Skills” gives advice on how to write your CV and prepare for an interview.

It also touches on the issue of HIV/Aids, how to cope with stress and depression as well as taking you through the steps of applying for an Identity Document and a learner's or driver's licence.

Resource pages at the end of the book give lists of FET Colleges, universities, universities of technology and labour centres with their contact numbers.If you want a copy, write to Merseta head office on PO Box 61826 Marshalltown 2107 or phone the Call Centre on 0861 637 738. Visit the website for more information

Addressing South Africa's skills shortage


* Merseta offers training to new businesses/co-operatives/NGOsIf you know of any new small business or workers who have lost their jobs and want to start up their own businesses or co-operatives, then tell them to contact the Merseta. (see contact details in the box)Merseta is offering training for these companies on administration, management and how to draw up a business plan.

* Merseta offers training to people with disabilitiesIf you know of anyone that is disabled and would like to be trained, tell them to contact the Merseta.Once they apply, the Merseta will assess them and work out the training that is most suitable for them.

* Reminder to training shop stewards – Deadlines for WSP and ATRAll Workplace Skills Plans (WSP) must be submitted to the Merseta by June 30. The WSP includes plans for the next training year.All Annual Training Reports (ATR) must be submitted to the Merseta by June 30. The ATR assesses training that has been completed over the last year.

Peter Thobejane and Jenny Grice

The average age of artisans is 54. In Numsa-organised factories artisans are given extra allowances to entice them to stay on in their jobs. There is a critical shortage of artisans in all Numsa-organised sectors. Without suitably trained artisans, the country could fail to reach its growth targets and unemployment will grow even higher.The Merseta, the training body that covers most of Numsa's members is tackling this problem in two ways.* In September this year it will launch a recognition of prior learning (RPL) project. * It is trying to reduce the time it takes to qualify as an artisan and

Recognition of prior learning (RPL)In previous congresses the issue of training was debated and resolutions were passed saying that we must demand training to form part of Numsa's bargaining strategy.After 1994, Numsa agreed to second its cadres like Adrienne Bird to assist the federation in dealing with training issues.One of the issues that Numsa was vocal on was recognition of prior learning (RPL). Cosatu said that many workers have been employed by the same employer for many, many years. Even though they are classified on a particular grade, often they have learnt how to do the job of workers who are on higher grades. Cosatu wanted these skills to be recognised.The Merseta discussed the issue of RPL previously and policy was developed but it "was a dead duck for ages, it struggled to get off the ground," says Merseta project manager Derek Peo.However, the recent amendments to the SDA are now supporting RPL. They say that through RPL ordinary workers can also become artisans. Before it was not possible to go that route.From September 2008, the Merseta will start a 6-month pilot project in the motor sector based in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. The project will put 250 workers through the RPL process. Once this pilot is complete it will be rolled out across other Merseta sectors. But Peo warns that once a person is tested for their competence it doesn’t automatically mean that they will be moved into a higher grade."Workers need to understand that if there are gaps in what they know, they will have to go on training to fill those gaps," says Peo.And if communication was important at a particular level, and a worker didn’t have the required literacy and numeracy, the worker would still need to do that training as well explains Peo. RPL benefits both workers and employers – it can advance workers to perform more skilled tasks but it can also reduce the cost of training for the employer. If a worker has already learnt the skill from doing it over and over again then limited funding shouldn’t be wasted by teaching the worker the same skills that s/he has already acquired.

Accelerated artisan training project (AATP)The Merseta launched a pilot project called the Accelerated Artisan Training Project (AATP) in 2007. It set itself a target to train 1300 artisans in 18 months instead of the normal four years (two years in motor and auto assembly). Engineering and motor (including auto) establishments would each train 650 apprentices. According to Peo, engineering has exceeded its target but motor (including auto) is lagging behind. Currently there are about 830 artisans being trained.In the next phase the Merseta plans to train 4720 artisans.Because the training time is drastically reduced, prospective apprentices must have:* completed their senior certificate (technical N3 subjects or academic matric) with passes in maths and science, or * be university students from engineering faculties who could not complete their degree/diploma.

If Numsa members are to benefit from these two projects, Numsa training committees in companies and locals must be fully functional. Make sure your shop stewards are questioning your employer around both AATP and RPL. And if you know of unemployed matriculants that you think could apply to be trained in the AATP, advise them to contact the Merseta.

Merseta contact numbers

Head Office: 011 484 9310Eastern Cape: 041 363 0117Free State/N Cape: 051 430 1263Gauteng and N West: 011 551 5200KZN: 031 208 4600 MP and Limpopo: 013 692 4616W Cape: 021 914

If you are unemployed and think that you qualify to be trained in the AATP programme, visit Merseta's website and fill in the application form on-line