South Africa

Meeting the future demand of specialised artisanal skills in SA

Sharon White
Operations Executive
4 mins

If you operate within the industrial, manufacturing or mining sectors, you’re probably all too aware of the massive artisanal skills gap we are facing. According to the Xpatweb Critical Skills Survey 2020/21, the highest demand for skills is in the IT sector – but artisans still come in fifth, despite South Africa declaring 2014 to 2024 the Decade of the Artisan. 

As we near the end of the decade that was meant to boost artisanal skills (and therefore employment) it’s worth unpacking why we are in this situation, how we have completely failed to deliver on the Department of Labour’s goals and what the potential solutions are.


The renewed focus on artisans


The 2013 White Paper for Post-School Education and Training (PSET) acknowledged that, even though “in areas of work such as the artisan trades, apprenticeships have traditionally been the pathway to qualifications… the apprenticeship system has been allowed to deteriorate since the mid-1980s, resulting in a shortage of mid-level skills in the engineering and construction fields.”

What this situation looks like on the ground is a skilled but aging workforce that is retiring without the necessary skilled individuals to take their places. In a highly competitive global landscape, industries and businesses want to be growing. Without the necessary skills available, however, the exact opposite is happening.

The result was the ‘Decade of the Artisan’, in which the PSET White Paper highlighted the need for re-establishing a good artisan training system as an urgent priority. The target for the country was set at producing 30 000 artisans a year by 2030. The reality has been 15 000 – half our stated goal.

So, how did we get here? Previously, artisans were trained at Olifanstfontein through five-year apprenticeship programmes, at the end of which they wrote a trade test. Highly skilled artisans were developed through this system.

However, this system slowly fell away. Our CEO, Dr John Wentzel, gives an in-depth explanation of why in his thought leadership article, When did we stop valuing our artisans? For our purposes, let’s focus on what SETA and MERSETA (the metal and engineering SETA) have done to try and plug the gap.

The idea is that instead of a five-year apprenticeship, artisan assistants support artisans and, by virtue of time, gain the necessary skills required. There is no trade test and no focused support highlighting the value of these skills.

The result is self-evident. We’ve only produced half the artisans we need, and they are not as skilled as we require as a country – which of course does nothing to improve how sought-after artisanal skills are in our country. It’s simply not a vocation that many South Africans choose, and yet we are in desperate need of them.


Adding fuel to the fire


Of course, every challenge is multi-faceted and complex, and there are additional elements complicating factors. For example, the rest of the world is also facing artisanal skills shortages, which means our highly skilled artisans, from boilermakers to tool and die makers, and carpenters to fitters and turners, are being enticed overseas. 

Where we do have skills, experience is often an issue. There are many truck drivers with code 14 licenses in South Africa, however, this set is also aging, and we are not seeing enough training to ensure a strong upcoming pool of skilled drivers. The result is too many younger drivers lacking skills or experience, and no transport company (or insurer for that matter) wants to entrust a R20 million rig to a 35-year-old driver with only five years’ experience under their belt. Of course, you can’t gain the necessary experience without doing the work and so we have a chicken and egg situation that is very difficult to solve.


Finding solutions to support workforces and industries


There are many solutions that could be implemented to start solving this crisis. At the Adcorp Group, there are two key ways that we are addressing the issue.

The first is through Adcorp Technical Training (ATT), which delivers a technical training specialisation in short learning programmes and apprenticeships, providing credible theoretical and practical off the job training in mining and manufacturing, resulting in qualified artisans and skilled technical people entering and being retained across a wide spread of industries. ATT’s Artisan Training Programmes (which include apprenticeships and leaderships) are aligned to industry

Requirements. Remember, an artisan is a person who has been certified as competent to perform a listed trade, in accordance with the Skills Development Act, and ATT adheres to these standards. 

The second is through BLU and our contingent workforces. A leading industrial contingent labour service offering compliant fixed term employee contracts governed by HR and ER excellence, BLU has a strong segmental focus within Manufacturing, Trade, Transport, Agriculture and Mining. BLU focusing on mining, construction, energy and engineering. 

The sheer scale and quality of skills we can access, coupled with a comprehensive offering that includes training and professional services means that we are able to support businesses with the artisanal skills they need on a contingent basis. 

We also have a strong youth focus. Many first-time employees find their first job through us. On average it takes graduates 18 months to find a job. In the contingent environment, it takes approximately 90 days. We conduct onboarding, training and placing graduates, which means businesses don’t need to. The result is that we can help youth gain the experience they need to enter the workforce fully and upskill as required.  

As a country, we still have a long way to go in solving the lack of artisanal skills in the workplace. However, we believe that we are moving in the right direction. It is also important that we collectively work towards ending the stigma associated with artisans. In South Africa, many of the jobs associated with artisans are seen as unattractive careers, and yet these are highly sought-after skills overseas. Industries rely on artisans – they are often the lifeblood of critical sector. We need to change these perceptions and attract skills back into these vital categories.

Solutions that turn the economic wheel and create opportunities for social and economic growth. Get in touch with BLU today!

As leaders in workforce solutions, our insights by Adcorp are designed to help businesses grow through their most valuable resources: their people.


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