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How welding apprenticeships can help solve SA’s skills crisis

Home Metals Cutting & Welding How welding apprenticeships can help solve SA’s skills crisis

WELDERS it seems are a dime a dozen, but highly skilled welders are not. This is the stark reality facing the South African industrial sector according to John Tarboton, Executive Director of the Southern African Institute of Welding (SAIW).

He is concerned about the number of “fly-by-night” training institutions that “churn out” graduates without the proper qualifications in place. This, he said, wastes students’ hard-earned or even borrowed financing and sends out a generation of unqualified welders into the marketplace.

It also results in situations like that found during the construction of the Medupi Power Station where 150 Taiwanese welders were employed for specialised welding work due to a lack of local skills in this specialised field which is certainly not an acceptable situation.

This, he added, is made worse within the context of South Africa’s 34.9% unemployment rate equating to 7.6 million people without work.

“However, even when welders seek out employment; anecdotally what we have found, is that out of ten interviewed, only one will be sufficiently qualified for the job,” Tarboton said.

“Unfortunately, this stems from the issue that training providers do not always understand the need for suitably qualified and experienced trainers within their institutions, who follow clearly outlined training guidelines in properly equipped facilities.”

In addition, certification bodies do not always understand the need for properly trained assessors with a proper understanding of Codes and Standards underwritten by objective assessments.

“As a result, what we are increasingly seeing is students who have already completed training at other institutions coming to us to gain the proper certified, government recognised training after battling to find or keep employment due to a lack of skills.”

This, he said, is especially worrying given the danger this poses to the quality of the installations or projects or products that they work on prior to achieving the appropriate level of skill.
“The training of welders needs to be given the respect it is due. Welding is an essential skill to manufacturing and fabrication in strategic sectors such as power generation, chemical processing and construction, transportation, food and beverage and mining.”

Against this backdrop, SAIW is seeking to partner with companies who want to produce artisan welders to the correct standard and with the necessary skill levels. This can take place via the government approved QCTO, a Registered National Occupational Qualification (Welder) 3-year Apprenticeship scheme.

Tarboton said that as an Approved Training Body’s (ATB) under the IIW and a QCTO accredited training institute, the SAIW is in a prime position to assist companies with the selection of candidates for its three-year apprenticeship training scheme, which offers both QCTO and IIW Diplomas, the latter recognised in 60 countries.

The SAIW’s training methodology utilises both theoretical in-depth knowledge and practical real-world skills. “There is a reason our QCTO programme takes three years, not three weeks, as in many other institutions where training is rushed and based on the easiest methods of welding to ensure sufficient pass rates.

“We are not focused on ticking off a list of training modules as quickly as possible, with little regard to whether the required technique has been mastered and sufficiently practised. Our training culminates in a test based on objective criteria according to ISO 3834 standards where the actual quality of a weld, including its height and thickness, for example, is assessed – not just the act of having completed a weld.”

Business benefits

Tarboton said the apprenticeship scheme is also not just a ‘nice to have’. It has tangible commercial benefits for companies including the ability to recruit and develop a highly skilled workforce that helps improve productivity, profitability and their bottom line
It also allows them to minimise liability costs through appropriate training of workers and unlocks access to SETA grants, SARS tax benefits and BBBEE scorecard points for skills development.
“The apprenticeship scheme has also been proven to reduce training and recruitment costs. Once the training programme is complete, business’s gain skilled employees who are trained to industry standards and familiar with a company’s operations and culture. This provides a lower-risk, lower-cost style of recruitment and enhanced employee retention.”

To promote the use of this scheme the SAIW is offering QCTO apprenticeship courses at its Johannesburg Headquarters with the potential for a satellite school in the Highveld Industrial Park in Emalahleni and a second potential site in Middelburg, Mpumalanga in collaboration with the Department of Economic Development and Tourism.

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