Ask any high school kid what they want to be when they leave school and their answer will more than likely be something along the lines of doctor, lawyer or accountant (and these days possibly even influencer or YouTuber, but that’s a whole other topic). Their career aspirations would seldom, if ever, include the likes of electrician, carpenter or confectioner. With university degrees the order of the day, it seems that the days of learning a manual skill to use professionally are over. Is the artisan on the endangered species list?
What is an artisan?
An artisan is a worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand. Artisanal businesses help expand opportunities by growing the local economy and creating new jobs that can help families and communities make a living. While artisans can be creators of anything from unique handmade clothing to cheese made in small quantities and sold at a farmer’s market, South Africa needs more trained technical artisans for infrastructure and development across all industries including building of roads and railways, construction of buildings and maintenance of power stations.
Why is there a shortage of artisans?
Unemployment in South Africa has hit a record high of 34.4% – that equates to a staggering 7.8 million people without jobs. This doesn’t mean tertiary education is lacking. In fact, the market is saturated with degrees and there is a dire shortage of jobs to accommodate graduates. And yet we have an insufficient supply of artisans and cannot meet industry demand. Why are young people not choosing trade as a career option?
South Africa is not alone in this challenge. Globally, there is an unspoken societal hierarchy of qualifications and a perceived prestige when it comes to university degrees over technical trade qualifications. Students are choosing to become doctors, lawyers and actuaries, and we have a large gap when it comes to technical and industrial expertise. The problem is that while we all need doctors, economic wheels turn when industries thrive – and industries require artisans.
In South Africa, we have additional, more nuanced influencing factors. Historically, artisanal training and employment have been viewed as exclusionary and exploitative, with black people being prevented from entering certain trades. This association has largely been carried into the present. Through political, systemic and policy changes, these perceptions are slowly being altered, but there is a long way to go.
How can artisans evolve in the future?
It’s clear, then, that artisans are critical to the future – not just for South Africa, but globally. But with the advent of the 4th industrial revolution and the impact of the digital age on the workplace, what is the role of artisans in the future?
Technology is changing daily and there is no doubt that this will be a driving force going forward, allowing for more efficient and streamlined ways of working for companies. The artisan of the future will have to think in new and creative ways in order to remain relevant. Since ways of working would change, the new artisan would have to be flexible and adapt to new techniques, and knowledge relating to new and developing technology would have to be gained and maintained on an ongoing basis.
Why is training vital?
in South Africa, with a shortage of jobs and a population with mixed skill levels, it would be unrealistic to leap forward into the future without proper planning. There might be people on the upper end of the artisan scale who have the necessary skills and tech savvy, but the reality is that a large majority of the population hasn’t even had the opportunity to learn the very basics. Businesses need to ensure that they have a solid foundation in basic technical skills; collaboration between companies, the education sector and technical training providers is critical to ensure access to the relevant training.
What skills does an artisan need?
Aspiring artisans must attend a TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) college to learn the theory and practical skills required. TVET colleges offer qualifications such as the National Certificate (Vocational) and Nated (Technical) National Certificate courses that are linked to artisanal trades. The duration of a course can be anything from a semester to three years, depending on the programme you register for. Once the course is complete, a Trade Test must be done in order to be recognised nationally in the chosen field.