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Has South Africa turned its back on apprenticeship?

According to John Tarboton, executive director of the Southern African Welding Institute (SAIW), the country’s welders seem like a dime a dozen, but the highly skilled welders are not. Concerned about the number of makeshift training establishments churning out graduates without the proper qualifications in place, Tarboton says this is wasting hard-earned or even borrowed funding from students and sending a generation of unqualified welders into the market.

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This results in situations like the one encountered during the construction of the Medupi Power Plant where 150 Taiwanese welders were employed for specialized welding work due to a lack of local skills. This situation is compounded against the backdrop of an unemployment rate of 34.9% in South Africa, which equates to 7.6 million people out of work. However, even when welders seek employment, SAIW has found in interviews that, anecdotally, only one in 10 will be sufficiently qualified for the job.

Need for qualified and experienced trainers

Tarboton comments: “Unfortunately, this stems from the fact that training providers do not always understand the need for qualified and experienced trainers within their institutions, who follow clearly defined training guidelines in properly equipped facilities. Additionally, certification bodies do not always understand the need for properly trained assessors with a good understanding of codes and standards supported by objective assessments.

“As a result, what we are seeing more and more are students who have already trained at other institutions coming to us for the right government certified and recognized training after struggling to find or retain a job due to a lack of skills.

He adds that this is particularly concerning given the danger it poses to the quality of the facilities, projects or products they work on before they have reached the appropriate level of competence. The training of welders must receive the respect it deserves. Welding is a critical manufacturing and manufacturing skill in strategic industries such as power generation, chemical processing and construction, transportation, food and beverage, and mining.

Light at the end of the training tunnel

In this context, and to address the crisis of lack of qualified welders in South Africa, SAIW seeks to partner with companies that wish to produce artisanal welders at the correct level and with the necessary skill levels. This can be done through the government-approved QCTO – Registered National Occupational Qualification (Welder) three-year apprenticeship program.

As an Approved Training Organization (ATB) under the IIW and a QCTO Accredited Training Institute, SAIW is in a unique position to help companies select candidates for its three-year apprenticeship training program , which offers both QCTO and IIW degrees. – the latter recognized in 60 countries.

SAIW’s training methodology utilizes both in-depth theoretical knowledge and practical real-world skills. “There is a reason why our QCTO program takes three years, not three weeks like at many other facilities where training is rushed and based on the simplest welding methods to ensure sufficient pass rates.

“We don’t focus on ticking off a list of training modules as quickly as possible, regardless of whether the required technique is mastered and sufficiently practiced. Our training ends with 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 having completed a weld .

Business Benefits

Nor is the apprenticeship program simply a “nice to have”. It has tangible business benefits for companies, including:

  • Recruit and develop a highly skilled workforce that contributes to the growth of their business,
  • Improve productivity, profitability and their profitability,
  • Create flexible training options that ensure staff develop the right skills,
  • Minimize liability costs through proper worker training, and
  • SETA grants, SARS tax benefits and BBBEE scorecard points for skills development.

The apprenticeship program has also been proven to reduce training and recruitment costs. Upon completion of the training program, companies gain skilled employees who are trained to industry standards and familiar with a company’s operations and culture. This offers a lower risk, lower cost style of recruitment and better employee retention. To promote the use of this program, 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 potential second site in Middelburg, Mpumalanga in conjunction with the Department of Economic Development and Tourism.