4IR: All Hands on Deck

All role-players in the retail motor industry including educators, employers, CEOs, skills development practitioners, labour and government representatives came together on 18 September for the RMI Skills Summit at Nasrec to plot the industry’s way forward in the light of the recently promulgated National Skills Development Plan.

RMI President Jeanne Esterhuizen, said the industry was at a crossroads with skills development falling behind, without taking into account advanced future skills needs.

The Summit agreed, it would have to be “all hands on deck” for the role-players present. Esterhuizen said the key challenge was to discuss the issue of skills around the 4th industrial revolution and what kind of support was needed for those initiatives. “The industry is changing rapidly, not only because of 4IR, but mainly to remain competitive in the motor industry, both on the technical and soft skills sides. Our purpose is to find effective ways to grow skills and encourage innovation in the retail motor industry, and to encourage the growth of small, black-owned businesses,” she said.

“Every industrial revolution thus far changed what we do – 4IR is different because it does not change what we are doing, it is changing us. It brings together digital, physical and biological systems that will transform the human race as we know it.  The question is how do we prepare our existing workforce and prepare youngsters at basic education level with the skills to be employable into the future?” asked Esterhuizen.

A common understanding is required by all role players of what we need to do to ensure we equip our workforce to add the necessary value to the Motor Industry. We should not forget the Motor Industry across its associations are directly responsible to help diminish our carbon footprint on the earth.

The challenge, as spelled out in the National Skills Development Plan, is that South Africa’s skills base is too low to support the country’s socio-economic goals and the workforce is also not keeping pace with the skills required to remain competitive in an increasingly knowledge-based economy.

The average age of artisans in the motor industry is about 44 years of age compared to the average population age of 19 in Africa. The motor industry has a niche set of skills requirements and is also a demanding industry, meaning it has to upskill itself rather than depend on formal education that is not geared to address our specific skills needs.”

In terms of the industry’s Bargaining Council agreement, a business trading in most of the sub-sectors of the motor industry cannot operate without a qualified artisan. Yet, there are for instance 1 923 motor body repair businesses within the Motor Body Repair sub-sector and only 1 543 qualified motor body repair artisans and 1 009 spray painting artisans – most of the sectors reflect this trend some worse than others, so at face value it appears the industry is not even complying with its own main agreement. MIBCO is in the process of refining data input to better assist the sectors with sector skills planning.

To find a solution requires research as to what industry’s expectation of workforce readiness is and what skills are required. “We’re looking at critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, communication, work ethic and team work to cope with the fast-changing technologies and for businesses to remain sustainable into the future. Even as a small business, if you don’t equip yourself with all of these components, you remain stuck on the shop floor instead of devising strategies to make yourself more competitive in a global market,” she noted. 

“So we are not just talking about workplace skills, but equipping entrepreneurs to be competitive, in an incubator environment. Today, we have people coming out of a TVET college with the technical skills but they can’t switch on a computer. In any job today, you have to work with IT systems, diagnostics, electronic team management systems etc. They are therefore not work-ready. We then end up in a situation where qualified engineers come into the workplace and are given filing to do – because the expectation is that they can’t do anything.”

SA training ‘obsolete’

Leon Beech, CEO of training provider Northlink College also weighed in saying without a collective strategy we are not going to save this country’s economy. “The silo mentality is extremely prevalent in this country – with everybody doing their own thing to minimal results. The NSDP launched in March this year is almost obsolete. There is no reference anywhere in the document to 4IR when the rest of the world has already moved beyond that.”

He said that the syllabus under which he trained in 1973 is still the syllabus of today. “What we are using for training in South Africa today are regarded as museum pieces in even fellow developing countries like China, positioning us at least ten years behind. We need to make a serious decision as to whether we are going to fool another generation of kids with an invalid work skills-set, or give them the necessary competences,” says Beech.

“It’s not just about the equipment, but the staff that are teaching. Are they the appropriate persons to be teaching, with the appropriate skills? There is no sign of any coherent collective approach to training the trainers. The collaboration needs to start in industry, and a college is the most appropriate venue for collaboration between industry and the Sector Education Training Authority (SETAs) and the National Skills Fund (NSF), as we have all the structures for a centre of specialisation where nothing takes place without consultation with industry and potential employers.

“We’re all very excited to have 32 trainee apprentices based on the dual model – but it’s no different to what I did in 1972 when we were in industry for 90% of the times, and three months of the year we would go to the college. My development was very much in the industry, supported and aligned with the college training,” says Beech.

Proposals for improvements

Esterhuizen summarised by saying the summit’s aim was to focus on just two aspects of the National Skills Development Plan (NSDP) as it relates to the motor industry, so that this industry becomes the industry of choice and businesses employers’ of choice namely linking education and the workplace and improving the level of skills in the South African workforce

The following suggestions were presented

  • Industry should be incentivised to develop better relationships with public Technical and Vocational Education and Training Colleges (TVETs) to develop curricula and to supply equipment. Esterhuizen said TVETs will not be responsive to the needs of industry unless those needs are firstly understood. Industry should put forward various experts to assist TVETs in how to train facilitators who in turn are able to train in what the industry needs.
  • The need to identify future soft skills, technology and the development of curriculum, for that to happen requires a collaboration between business and training providers. “What is not needed in business is a graduate who studied a textbook written in 2016, but ‘programmable graduates’ with the mix of soft and technical skills. The challenge for universities is getting that engagement with industry – they struggle to get that engagement even when they try. Universities are more than open to that level of collaboration and it is key to preparing the workforce for 4IR.”
  • The creation of a Reskilling Fund equivalent to the UIF. Such funds are available through some SETAs via the normal processes, and will be increased as demand increases.
  • Career guidance at school from a young age, utilising technology and industry experts as mentors and coaches. Esterhuizen said this is one of the most important components of successful education.
  • Overhaul learning pathways and duration of learning through a blended approach from early learning.
  • Wimpie Lodewyk, DCES Manager Vocational Schools for Technical and Agricultural schools in the Free State, noted that the Free State DoE has adapted one of the educational streams for marketing purposes – Technical Occupational stream. From next year this stream is being introduced from Grade 8 – 9. “We will use this as a foundational phase for learners continuing in Grade 10. It will offer practical training in the nine specialisation subjects to introduce learners to technology streams,” says Lodewyk.
  • Encourage corporates with skills to lecture in colleges and to create interchangeable skills and trades. Industry is willing and able, has the power and the expertise to do so.

“At the end of the day we need to achieve a higher quality of artisan, and find opportunities for industry to assist with giving artisans better work experience. We don’t have to look outside this county to find best practice, because most of the international companies are here and have training facilities. They are delivering world-class training to their people and have the technology, and often that learning is not restricted to their personnel but available to interested parties.  We need the support of the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training Authority (MerSETA), to facilitate setting up an Industry Education forum whereby these issues can be taken forward into practical solutions to the skills shortage and alignment with 4IR,” concludes Esterhuizen.

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