Artisan renewal key for South Africa’s Infrastructure Development program


By Thandisizwe Mgudlwa

South Africa needs to train 50 000 new artisans by 2015.

Is this possible?

“If government’s mooted multi billion Rand investment in South Africa’s infrastructure goes ahead, the country’s already serious shortage of trained artisans is going to get more serious”, said Sean Jones, a director of the black empowered Artisan Training Institute (ATI), formerly known as Ikhaya Fundisa Techniskills Academy (IFTA).

Jones said the government’s infrastructure push would create a bigger demand for artisans across several disciplines and would place greater pressure to find talented youth who are trainable in an effort to “deliver the goods”.

“We are already sitting with a huge backlog of artisans and, if the government’s New Growth Path does conjure up the work demand it says it will, the country will have to train 50 000 new artisans by 2015 and at least 30 000 additional engineers by 2014.”

Speaking to the press earlier this year, Blade Nzimande, the minister of higher education, stated that the training of artisans must be given the highest level of priority, as highlighted in the government’s intentions to strengthen the manufacturing sector – and in line with the New Growth Path and the Industrial Policy Action Plan II.

“There is nothing more patriotic than developing artisans, they are the heart of South Africa’s economic development, and will be the main driver behind the manufacturing sector in years to come.”

And more, last year, 24 000 artisans were registered in further education and training (FET) colleges in the country. But only an estimated 13 000 artisans were qualified. While this in itself is not a good sign, the pace of economic growth remains muted and is being exacerbated by government’s delays in awarding tenders, despite its frequent talk of investing R845 billion in infrastructure.

And this is also the conclusion of the 2012 Infrastructure Sector Research Survey, conducted by executive search firm, Landelahni Business Leaders Amprop SA.

Signs are that across the world crucial infrastructure schemes are competing for a dwindling skills pool amid fears that the skills shortage could delay projects in major markets. Driven largely by China and India, construction is expected to grow globally by 67% over the next eight years. The study reveals that developing and retaining key technical skills is essential if South Africa is to meet the challenge of building a massive new infrastructure envisaged by the R845 billion input.

The 2012 Landelahni Infrastructure Sector Survey researched 75 companies with just over 300 000 permanent employees in the electricity, water, waste, road, rail and ports sectors, as well as consulting engineers, major listed and unlisted construction companies and large suppliers to the construction industry.

Construction is expected to grow from $7,2 trillion to $12 trillion in 2020, driven substantially by emerging markets. An Oxford Economics survey estimates that construction will make up 13,2% of global GDP by 2020.

Growth in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to be about 14% higher than that in South Africa. An estimated $20 billion in infrastructure projects are already underway on the continent of Africa.

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