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Artisans vital to SA’s economy

Artisans and other members of a country’s workforce who have mid-level skills could be its saving grace during an economic recession.

This is according to Higher Education and Training Deputy Minister Buti Manamela, who spoke to PSM about the importance of artisans to the South African economy.

Roughly defining it, the Deputy Minister referred to an artisan as someone who has undergone occupational training in a specific listed trade, has the relevant workplace experience and has passed a trade test to qualify as an artisan.

“Artisan training is important for the South African economy because it assists in the battle against youth unemployment,” he pointed out.

The Deputy Minister said there is a plethora of jobs available to qualified artisans. He urged people who are deciding on their future career to take note of the National List of Occupations in High Demand, which helps identify those qualifications that are most likely to result in stable employment or entrepreneurial success.

Qualified artisans can work in the mining, agriculture, manufacturing and engineering, construction, services and the information technology sectors.

Demand for services

Deputy Minister Manamela said that by and large, artisans do not struggle to secure employment because their services are in demand across all the economic sectors. The risk of spending years and money obtaining a qualification, only to find yourself unable to secure a job, is therefore greatly reduced.

“The other beauty is that an artisan can become an entrepreneur. A survey conducted by INDLELA and the Swiss-South African Cooperation Initiative in the 2017/18 financial year revealed that 60 percent of artisan graduates secure employment, and about six percent of that figure are self-employed,” he added.

According to INDLELA, there are about 125 listed occupational trades in the country, ranging from electricians and plumbers to bricklayers, welders, boiler-makers, fitters, fitter turners, pipe fitters, millwrights, instrument mechanics, diesel mechanics, auto mechanics and chefs, to mention just a few.

INDLELA is a directorate of the Department of Higher Education and Training. It runs trade tests for candidate artisans who are not bound by learners’ contracts and who meet the requirement of regulation 11(5) of the trade test regulation.

The directorate is further responsible for the development and implementation of an Artisan Recognition of Prior Learning (ARPL) process for all listed trades to progressively phase out the transitional arrangements in regulation 11(5) of the trade test regulation.

Addressing the skills shortage

The Deputy Minister said the department has been encouraging young people to consider a career as an artisan because the South African economy has been experiencing severe skills shortages in this sector. He noted that many countries, including Germany, have grown their economies exponentially through a focus on industrialisation, which demands technical skills such as those offered by artisans.

Deputy Minister Manamela added that the department conducted a study about five years ago and discovered that the country had an aging population of artisans and a huge shortage of skills.

“Government realised then that South Africa needed an infrastructure-focused skills development programme, and that is when we started to get more young people into artisan programmes,” he said.

“Most of the older artisans are now retiring and we are also partnering with them to train the emerging ones,” he added.

How to become an artisan

There are various ways to earn an artisan title. One of the obvious routes is to complete theory and practical learning at a technical and vocational education and training (TVET) college or at a university of technology before sitting for a trade test.

Those who choose to enrol with a TVET college must complete an N2/N3, N4, N5, N6 or NCV L3 or L4 qualification and acquire a two-year workplace apprenticeship before attempting a trade test.

This process is the same for someone who possesses a university of technology engineering qualification.

Another route is through the ARPL process. This route is largely meant for candidates who possess vast work experience (minimum of four years) in the workplace as assistant artisans and do not possess a formal artisan qualification.

“The ARPL process evaluates the level of skills and knowledge these candidates possess, and if found sufficient, they are granted access to a trade test,” said Deputy Minister Manamela.

He called on young people to ignore the stereotype that depicts a person with mid-level skills as inferior. In fact, artisans are favourably positioned in the labour market because they do not battle to secure employment and are able to become their own bosses within a short space of time.

Vision 2030

South Africa plans to reach the National Development Plan target of training 30 000 artisans annually by 2030.

The Deputy Minister said he is confident that this target will be met.

“Over the past three years, we have produced 16 114, 21 188 and 21150 artisans respectively. So by 2030 we will be able to meet the target,” he said.

“We have asked INDLELA to give us a strategy that will help us expand the numbers and we will also intensify the Decade of the Artisan campaign to get more young people interested in this field,” he added.

The Decade of the Artisan campaign was launched by the department in 2014 to promote artisan career awareness in schools and communities through an artisan ambassadorial programme.

“This is one of the department’s efforts to encourage high school learners to choose artisan careers,” he said.

To promote the intake of apprentices, the Deputy Minister said the department implemented an artisan learner grant of R165 000 which is payable to companies that train an artisan and is disbursed per learner over the minimum two-year training period.

He said employers are also persuaded to avail workplaces for the training of artisans.

Securing employment

Deputy Minister Manamela added that the department works closely with a range of stakeholders including organised business, organised labour, other government departments and local government, Sector Education and Training Authorities and state-owned companies to ensure that artisans are employed after training.

“The Work Integrated Learning Programme within the department also ensures that students get workplace placement for experiential purposes so that the transition from college to work is not traumatic,” he said.

However, the Deputy Minister acknowledged that the sector is not immune to challenges. He said the main stumbling block in artisan training in the country is the availability of sufficient workplaces for training.

He said infrastructure is also a challenge at the moment but the department is working with the private sector to ensure that the machinery that will be placed at colleges will be the same as those used in the workplace so that the students will be ready for the job when they complete their studies.

“We already have colleges that have state-of-the-art machinery but we want all our colleges to have that,” he said.

The Deputy Minister said the establishment of Centres of Specialisation at TVET colleges will deliver programmes based on occupational trades. A highlight of this initiative is that the department’s major stakeholders are private companies that have signed agreements to give students practical experience as part of their curriculum.

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