Training of artisans, long neglected, is now turning the corner under Nzimande

ARTISAN training is recovering from the tumble it took after South Africa introduced the sectoral education and training (Seta) system and began a phase-out of the national technical education (Nated) courses, replacing them with the three-year National Certificate (Vocational), according to experts in the sector.

The recovery is due mostly to Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande reversing a previous decision to phase out the Nated courses, and streamlining the way in which artisans are trained and bringing back apprenticeships.

But South Africa needs to train still more artisans, and to do this the standards at the 50 public further education and training (FET) colleges, not all of which train students in artisanal skills, must be vastly improved.

On Thursday South Africa will get greater clarity on Mr Nzimande’s plans for artisan training, when he releases a white paper on post-school education and training. It is proposed in the National Development Plan that by 2030 South Africa produce at least 33,000 artisans each year. South Africa produces on average 12,000 a year, and many qualified artisans are older than 55, although this profile is slowly changing.

Mr Nzimande has already announced 12 new FET campuses that this year will accommodate 6,500 more students, adding to about 500,000 enrolled last year.

Department of Higher Education and Training director-general Gwebs Qonde says the rise in FET college enrolments, from 200,000 in 2010, is evidence the colleges are “gaining social acceptance”.

Many say the gap in artisan training after apprenticeships were dissolved and the Nated course phase-out began was largely filled by industry and the private sector. Training colleges funded by both sprang up, and many say the private sector trains most of South Africa’s artisans.

“Private providers are responsible for the bulk of training, for example Sasol trains a large number of people, like ourselves,” says Production Management Institute of Southern Africa (PMI) CE Tim Smeeton. The PMI is human resource specialist firm Adcorp’s training arm.

A problem for the state training colleges is that they struggle to attract qualified artisans and technicians as teachers, says Artisan Training Institute marketing manager Gerhardt van der Merwe. The head of training at trade union Solidarity’s training centre, Soltech, Bill van Deventer, agrees. “The biggest challenge, for us as well, is getting good lecturers and your lecturer is the ceiling of the knowledge that can be given to your students,” he says.

National Business Initiative skills chief Makano Morojele, who has noticed “a gradual improvement in the number and quality of artisans from FET colleges”, says quality depends “largely” on whether colleges are able to sign partnerships with industry, and how “responsive” their Seta is.

So, while there are thousands of places for students to start artisan training this year — 6,000 through the Construction Education and Training Authority alone — how successful they will be is the question.

The first step has been taken — facilities at state FET colleges have improved. Now it appears it is time to put money into staff.

“They have put a lot of money into infrastructural improvements at the colleges, but … we have spoken to (state) FET colleges and our trainers are paid three or four times what theirs are,” says Mr Smeeton.

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