Unlocking potential through on-the-job training

Making up 36.2% of South Africa’s total population, young people (15 to 34) hold significant potential for South Africa’s future. But it is unlocking this potential that remains a serious challenge. While many youths are breaking new ground by becoming the first of their generation to be employed in formal positions or graduate with a tertiary qualification, 38.2% of them remain locked out of the workforce.

If there was a ‘golden ticket’ to long-term employment, it is to land one’s first job. A 2016 IMF study suggests that experience trumps education, and is more critical for solidifying permanent employment and economic security than a qualification. But how do we open up opportunities for youth to gain work experience? Training initiatives and vocational training, such as apprenticeships, can bring out the best in people on the cusp of their careers.

Apprenticeships can provide valuable skills and specialist career paths for young people and can reduce the skills gap our country desperately needs bridged. But apprenticeships and other on-the-job training programmes are perceived as a “plan b” or “something to fall back on”, are inaccessible (particularly among women candidates and the disabled), are sub-standard compared to the rest of the world, and dependable on the symbiosis between education institutions and relevant businesses. Our mindsets regarding work-based training need to change if we are going to be serious about the transferral of knowledge and skills to the next generation.

Up until now, the work-based training model has been shelved and the state of Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges proved to be futile in cultivating a culture of specialist and technical skills. But government’s YES initiative – which aims to place more than one million young people in short-term work roles over the next three years – is a step in the right direction. While NSSC echoes the importance of such initiative, vocational training is an initiative NSSC has invested in and implemented at its inception, ten years ago.

National Stainless Steel Centre’s apprenticeship programme facilitates the practical requirements of engineering students from various universities. The programme arms students with the expertise to conquer the challenges they could face in their careers. In December 2017, five mechanical engineering students tested their mettle and operated with world-class technology on real-life projects and completed their practical hours in the process.

Individuals who have practical experience are awarded opportunities to incorporate theoretical knowledge in their chosen trade with the RPL programme. On completion of the programme, the candidate is examined on their ability to apply the knowledge gained from the programme. A general welder became the first candidate in the programme, and upon completion, he went on to be promoted as a foreman, while three welders are currently enrolled in the programme.

National Stainless Steel Centre also has its own in-house MERSETA-accredited training facility. The facility has proved to be both beneficial to NSSC and to the manufacturing industry at large by equipping training welders and boilermakers with the necessary skills to effectively carry out their duties.

At a grass-roots level, National Stainless Steel Centre sponsored the tuition fees of four female students at Southern Cross High School in the Limpopo Province. This enabled the students to successfully complete the National Senior Certificate.

Our world-class 10 000m2 processing facility, our cutting-edge machinery, and our fleet of materials-handling equipment may be valuable assets, but at National Stainless Steel Centre, our people are our greatest assets. While non-human capital enables NSSC to offer a superlative range of material processing services, we believe it’s the human element that is fundamental to our success. People seal the deals; people interact with stakeholders; people are in command at the control panel; and people welcome visitors at the gate – essentially, people make the business work. And although investing in people primarily enriches individuals’ lives, it has a knock-on effect for business, industries and entire economies in the long run.