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German companies with interests in SA met in Cape Town late last year to identify ways in which the German business community could help in developing the skills of the local labour force.
Hosted by MTU SA, a subsidiary of the German-based Tognum Group, and consul general of the Federal Republic of Germany Hans-Werner Bussmann, the meeting was attended by Western Cape Finance, Economic Development and Tourism MEC Alan Winde as well as German CEOs, businessmen, NGOs and industry representatives.
Though the new year beckons with new hope, the companies that gathered in the Mother City pointed out that SA continued to need significant investment into apprenticeship programmes.
Many of these companies have a surplus of vacancies that they cannot fill because of the lack of skilled artisans available locally.
This not only contributes to the high unemployment rate, but also forces companies to recruit skills from outside the country’s borders.
A clear example of the urgency to implement apprenticeship training is the case of a wind-generator producer that has had to import the skilled labour it requires.
Through the roll-out of apprenticeship programmes, the company representative said, it would be possible to grow the required skills locally.
Believed to be originally a German concept, apprenticeship programmes are based on a dual training system that combines theory and practice.
The training is facilitated by a dedicated trainer who has to ensure that each apprentice masters every training module.
Training is further guided by experienced senior artisans and qualified engineers, and augmented by outside vocational courses offered by recognised educational institutions.
In the past, the apprenticeship system in SA was regulated by various industry training boards, and was the means by which the artisan skills base was developed.
An apprenticeship entailed an agreement between an apprentice and an employer for a set period during which the apprentice worked and received training in the workplace.
The Skills Development Act of 1998 replaced the apprenticeship model with that of the learnership model.
Today’s learnerships are programmes that require learning on the job supported by structured or institutional learning.
They are generally designed in the sector education and training authorities, approved by the Department of Labour, funded from the Skills Levy and lead to a qualification on the National Qualifications Framework.
Because of the local skills shortage, MTU SA – which is responsible for sales and support service of MTU diesel engines in sub-Saharan Africa – restarted its in-house apprentice programme in 2007.
Comprising 23 consolidated companies, Tognum generated revenue of around €2.56 billion and employed about 9 000 people worldwide (2010 figures).
“We have seen great potential in SA, yet there is still a lack of young qualified artisans,” said Michael Baumann, MTU SA managing director.
“For that reason we restarted the apprentice programme and have since then trained six apprentices.
“Starting in 2012, we look forward to increasing this by five apprentices each year.”
As mechatronics training is urgently required in SA, Baumann volunteered to change the apprentice curriculum from diesel fitting to mechatronics.
Thus, from this year on, the MTU SA apprentice curriculum will focus on mechatronics.
This shift will be in co-operation with relevant German accreditation authorities, with the aim of a full accreditation by the relevant SA authorities.
If successful, apprentices will receive not only an SA qualification, but also a German trade certificate.
Local apprentices undergo training at MTU SA’s refurbished training facility in Cape Town and the company’s workshops in Simon’s Town and Joburg.
Each year the best MTU apprentice has the opportunity to visit MTU Friedrichshafen in Germany for a six-week exchange programme.
Winde said he was impressed by the training programmes and that these tied in with the government’s Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement: 2012-2015 for the country and the Western Cape to achieve faster economic growth and higher levels of labour absorption.
“I would like to commend all the companies that have adopted and implemented apprentice programmes,” said Winde.
“The investment has made a remarkable difference to our economy, and especially to provide South Africans with the opportunity to empower themselves.
“We look forward to building on these strategic partnerships for a better future.
“Thank you to MTU SA for all the effort and investment in launching and amending these (training) initiatives to benefit our country.
“We are extremely grateful to the MTU headquarters in Friedrichshafen for the huge investment that has gone into launching this programme in SA,” he added.
The meeting ended with a tour of the MTU SA training facilities and informal talks with the MTU SA head of training, James Arendse, as well as with local trainees and German trainees completing their apprenticeships in SA.