Sparks Electrical News

The prestige that tends to be associated with a university degree has left a pronounced need for vocational training in this country. Professor Ian Jandrell, Dean of Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, Witwatersrand University explains, “While many school leavers strive to go to university, this is not what we need. We need people to appreciate that excellent careers and skills can be built up, whether or not you have a university degree.” Jandrell believes that opportunities for artisans must be promoted and encouraged from the earliest years at school.

The value of artisanal skills

According to Sean Jones who is the CEO of the Artisan Training Institute, on a national level, artisans each contribute in excess of R4M to the fiscus over the duration of their careers. At industry level, they keep the economy ticking over.

Without artisans, productivity is affected. “For example”, Jones says, “Look at the Department of Water & Sanitation, and the pollution in our rivers to see what poor workmanship does. The absence of skills affects every area of our lives. In 2008, countries around the world realised that the biggest inhibitor to growth was the lack of artisanal skills.”

The impact of the shortage of artisans on economy

According to Jones, the short term impacts of a shortage of artisans include difficulties with industrial expansion, productivity loss, and reduced competitiveness of our industry in general. Long term impacts include reduced job availability, lack of innovation within the economy, and difficulties developing a stable middle class.

Jandrell believes skills are built up as a pyramid; “At the top you find the experts – people who are recognised leaders in their disciplines. The point is, you do not need that many of them, particularly if you compare this to the number of engineering technologists and technicians we need. Each of those ranks requires an increasing number of practitioners. If we consider engineering as a field of endeavour, then the base – the part that defines the stability of the pyramid – must be made up of artisans. If that base is not wide (and ours is not), then the pyramid becomes unstable, and having more and more engineers will not correct that. What we need for the economy to flourish, is an increasing number of artisans.”

The misconception about vocational skills

The perception that vocational training is less valuable than a university degree calls for an urgent need for a mind shift, and Jandrell thinks that correcting the misconception requires providing information on what vocational careers are available. “I suspect few career guidance counsellors tell youngsters about becoming an electrician, or a plumber, for instance. But it is easy for them to say, ‘study electrical engineering’. What they do not realise is that a large number of students at university never get their degrees. This means, ultimately, they have little more than a school qualification.”

South Africa’s best kept secret

P&T Technology’s Nick du Plessis who trains artisans and is also WorldSkills South Africa’s National Expert for Electrical Installations, says that WSSA is the country’s best kept secret. This is a great pity since WSSA promotes the value of artisanal skills and celebrates the talent of young artisans from public TVET Colleges and private skills development providers. It is, as described by Tshidi Magonare of CHIETA, the Olympics of skills development.

At a recent skills demonstration event held to identify the South African Electrical Installations representative for the WorldSkills International (WSI) event to be held in Abu Dhabi during October, the three finalists of the World Skills South Africa (WSSA) competition (held earlier this year) were able to complete an electrical installation from scratch and according to a strict set of requirements, within 24 hours. There could only be one South African representative – the deserving Mthokozisi Sanga from KwaZulu-Natal – but du Plessis is confident that the skills of all three finalists are on a par with, or better than, those of many newly qualified artisans in the country.

A number of local businesses do support WSSA, including Major Tech, K&S Electrical Automation, ABB, and Builders Warehouse amongst others, but du Plessis says that more companies need to become involved if we are to develop our artisanal skills base.

As Jandrell says, artisans are the cornerstone of any growing economy; they form the base of the skills pyramid that is key to everything else.

As the bedrock, good artisans need to be honoured.

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Contact Sparks Electrical News

Title: Editor
Name: Karen Grant
Email: sparks@crown.co.za
Phone: +27 11 622-4770
Fax: +27 11 615-6108

Title: Advertising Manager
Name: Carin Hannay
Email: carinh@crown.co.za
Phone: +27 11 622-4770
Fax: +27 11 615-6108

 
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