Year of the Artisan: Artisans needed to help grow the economy

African Education Week to gather experts in Johannesburg in June

South Africa has a shortfall of about 40 000 skilled artisans and industries often have to import migrant workers at exorbitant costs.

In a recent speech, the South African Minister of Higher Education, Mr Blade Nzimande, quoted this figure when he opened a technical training academy in Cape Town.  Those involved in training artisans therefore rejoiced when Nzimande in March declared 2013 the Year of the Artisan.

“The Year of the Artisan is good news for the industry because we need to seriously focus on training people for the trades,” says Mr Sam Zungu, principal of the Umfolozi College, an institution for further education and training (FET) with five campuses in KwaZulu-Natal.

“Young people need to be made aware of the great need for skilled people. This country needs artisans across the board in fields such as electricity, plumbing, fitting and turning and mechanisation. The biggest need is in the energy sector where we need skilled people to maintain and build infrastructure.”

He continues:  “Eskom is battling and new power plants are being erected.  But we do not have a big enough pool of skilled people to draw from locally for these projects. We are moving towards the same situation as before 2010 when the country had to import artisans to work on the stadiums and infrastructure needed for the Soccer World Cup.”

The Year of the Artisan dovetails neatly with the South African government’s National Development Plan (NDP). This plan focuses on reducing poverty and inequality by 2013 and crucial to attaining to these goals is the stated aim of training at least 30 000 qualified artisans annually.

African Education Week
Sam Zungu is chairing a panel discussion on the future of FET Colleges during the upcoming African Education Week at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg from 19-22 June.

He explains that while artisans can earn quite high salaries, there is still a stigma attached to the trades which also impacts negatively on how the Further Education and Training (FET) colleges are viewed.

“We need to change perceptions and we need to create an awareness of the opportunities for artisans.  There are many opportunities for skilled people to become entrepreneurs thus creating work opportunities for others.”

South Africa needs specialist artisans
Another speaker at African Education Week, Wilson Nzimande, head of Imithente, an education and business consultancy, cautions that South Africa needs specialist artisans – amongst others in the maritime fields. Over 90% of South African trade takes place via the oceans.

“Many people want to train as, for example, general electricians or mechanics. But we need specialists – we need divers who can do specialist welding and painting underwater and we need ship building specialists.  In many fields South Africa relies on foreigners and this is not an acceptable strategy.  We need to develop artisans because they are incredibly important in helping to grow developing countries economically.”

He emphasises that strategic partnerships need to be formed between training institutions, government and the private sector.

“In this Year of the Artisan we need more than just words and rallies. We need a particular programme of action. This means that government should do more to structure incentive mechanisms to the benefit of all parties.”

Too much emphasis on university degree
Horst Weinert, managing director of Festo Didactics, says there is concern that the average age of South African artisans is 50.

“These people will soon be retiring and there will be few to take their place if we do not train enough people to fill their shoes.”

University educated Weinert believes there is too much emphasis on a university degree:  “there are about 800 000 university students and 600 000 students at universities of technology and only between 100 000 and 200 000 at FET colleges. This pyramid is the wrong way around. We need more enrolments at FET colleges.”

According to Weinert, artisans can demand monthly salaries of up to R50 000 and more.

“Highly skilled artisans are in short supply and those who can deliver the goods can basically determine their own salaries.”

His advice to people who are set on obtaining a university degree in fields such as engineering is to enrol at an FET college for at least one year.

“This practical training obtained at a FET college will enable the student to fly through university.”

Although the trades are dominated by men, Weinert says there are many opportunities for women in field such as fitting and turning, instrumentation mechanisation and mechatronics – a multidisciplinary field of engineering which combines mechanical, control, electrical and computer engineering.

“I am a huge supporter of competitions like WorldSkills International (previously known as the Skills Olympics). There top artisans from different countries compete against each other. These competitions set benchmarks. The winners are highly regarded and others look up to them as leaders and innovators in their field.  This can act as inspiration for young people to train as artisans. When magic is created productivity is boosted and this in turn boosts the economy,” says Weinert.

Highlights from African Education Week
The African Education Week Convention and Learning Expo is the meeting and trading platform for everyone who is passionate about improving the standard of education in Africa.  Now in its 7th year, it remains the continent’s leading educational resources and training event, attracting more education professionals than any other event.  The co-located Career Indaba attracted m
ore than 4000 learners last year.  The expo aims to bridge the gap for students between studying and entering the world of work.

Highlights of the African Education Week programme on Further and Higher Education:

· Panel discussion:  The turnaround strategy for FET Colleges:  Creating institutions of choice

o Chairperson and panelist:  Sam Zungu, CEO, Umfolozi College, South Africa

o Panelist:  Dan Nkosi, CEO, South West College, South Africa

o Panelist:  Wilson Nzimande, CEO, Imethente, South Africa

· Panel discussion:  Strategies to equip learners with the skills to build their own future in tomorrow’s world

o Chairperson:  Amanda van der Vyver, Centre for Prospective Students, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa

o Do we equip learners for the workplace? The solution to take education to the next level
Elaine van Rensburg, MD, Compass Academy of Learning, South Africa

o Developing an extended curicula for NCV L2
Gert Hanekom, Manager, Centre for Teaching and Learning, University of the Free State, South Africa

o Aligning courses with the needs of the workplace
Mziwakhe Ramos Sibuqashe, Centre for Curriculum Development, Central University of Technology, Free State, South Africa

o Entrepreneurship Education in Secondary Schools in Mauritius
Dr Sheik Abbass, Lecturer, Business Education Department, Mauritius Institute of Education, Mauritius

Event dates:
Wednesday, 19 June 2013: Preconference workshops
Thursday, 20 June 2013:  Opening keynote session, Learning Expo opens
Friday, 21 June 2013: Conference sessions, Learning Expo open
Saturday, 22 June 2013: Learning Expo open, Post conference workshops

Location: Sandton Convention Centre, South Africa
Websites: ;

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