Grants for accelerated artisan training

By Allan Jackson – December 2008

More companies in the manufacturing and engineering sectors should take advantage of training grants made available by the Merseta under its Accelerated Artisan Training Program (AATP).

This is according to Merseta senior project manager Helen Brown, speaking at an open day at the Tooling Centre of Excellence (TCOE) at the Coastal KZN FET College in Durban. Brown said that the grant would repay qualifying companies for offering on-the-job training to apprentice artisans.

She was speaking at the TCOE on the occasion which saw the graduation of the first crop of artisans who had completed 26 weeks at the centre and who, under the AATP, had gone on to a number of Durban-based companies to receive training in the workplace for another 54 weeks.

Brown said that companies had been invited to participate in the AATP in order to grow the pool of skills available to companies operating in the engineering and manufacturing sectors. There is a grave shortage of skills in South Africa and this is particularly so for the toolmaking sector, which produced the tools needed by many other industries in their productive processes.

She said that the graduation of apprentices from the TCOE was a very important step in the direction of solving the skills crisis in the sector. She said that skilled toolmakers were a vital asset for the country and that these apprentices would play their role in making the local toolmaking industry globally competitive.

The AATP grant is extended to companies offering vocational training to apprentices over and above their own immediate skills requirements. In order to qualify for participation, companies need, among other items, to have enough qualified artisans to mentor the apprentices, with the usual ratio being one qualified artisan to every two apprentices.

The minimum entry requirements for apprentices are four engineering related subjects at N3 level including maths and science, or a technical matric with maths and science, or higher education completed by students who, for various reasons, could not complete their engineering studies.

One company participating in the project, by training two apprentices in Durban, is Smith’s Manufacturing. The company’s technical training manager Luke Jevon said he believed that the training the company’s two apprentices had received from the TCOE had been excellent and that his expectations had been more than met.

The AATP programme makes it more attractive for companies to provide training in view of SARS tax allowances on offer. He said that the cost of training was covered by the grant and that the host companies were essentially getting skilled potential future employees for free.

In addition, Jevon praised the establishment of the TCOE last year and said it provided training from the most basic procedures in toolmaking to the most complex tasks, and training on advanced computer controlled machinery.

He said the establishment of the centre was paying off in a big way and was likely to eventually result in a sharp reduction in the amount of tooling being imported into the country, because there is no local capacity, and which currently consumes valuable foreign exchange.

A company which has five toolmaker apprentices under training is Defy and their training and development manager Gerald James, said that the company was very impressed with the standards of the TCOE. The apprentices were found to be able to operate independently with all the equipment in the tool room, after having only six months theory and practical training.

James said that Deft fully supports, and is proud to proud to be a part of the Merseta AATP initiative to alleviate the skills shortage in South Africa. He also believes that, as the TCOE develops further in terms of new programmes, such as CNC machine courses, it will go a long way in developing current toolmaking artisans to a “state of the art” level.

Toolmaking Association of Southern Africa (TASA) KZN chapter chairperson Piet van Reenen, agreed and said that the training of apprentices in the toolmaking trade was of vital importance to the country which was why TASA, with assistance from Coastal FET Rector. Wilson Nzmande had established the TCOE.

He echoed the claim that the import of tooling from overseas was the cause of a major drain on the South African economy, and said that the generation of skills would not only help to reverse this, but would also lead to a lead to the situation where companies would be able to better compete for international orders.

The graduation of the first apprentices from the TCOE comes at an opportune time because the toolmaking industry faces a buoyant future in spite of the current economic crisis.

He explained that many companies, when faced with declining sales, would push ahead with the design and launch of new products and order new packaging, in order to increase sales. All these companies would, he said, need new tooling to produce the new items.

Van Reenen said he said that there were major opportunities for local companies and that the creation of new skills in the industry would be a vital step in the process of winning major international orders.

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