By Tebogo Moalusi
South Africa is well known for its mining and oil & gas industries that contribute to a large portion of the world’s metals and minerals and form a significant part of Sub-Saharan Africa’s oil production. However, for a country that contributes to these highly technical and specialist industries, we have a dearth of many of the artisanal skills required within these industries.
Most notable is the shortage of skilled, suitably qualified double coded welders to be found within our borders. Double coded welders are qualified to work on more than a single material type in adverse or challenging conditions, such as underwater or in confined spaces.
Typically, to cover the skills gap, South African industries turn to feeder countries to source these skills like Thailand, India, Pakistan and the Philippines. This negatively impacts our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures, especially when South Africa has the people and industrial environment to potentially become a feeder country, too.
At the recent launch of the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation Artisan Programme, Sean Jones, Marketing Director for the Artisan Training Institute, said, “Skilled tradesmen are highly sought after in our economy, and yet every year we are forced to recruit thousands of artisans from other countries to fulfil this demand. We have over 600,000 unemployed graduates in South Africa. We need to show young people that learning a trade is a viable and desirable alternative to university.”
There is a marked lack of education around the opportunities available for careers in welding. Despite it being a relatively lucrative field and many training institutes and technical colleges offering training in this niche skill, not many institutions take advantage of school job fairs or fully advertise the possibilities.
Becoming a double coded welder is a very intensive process. Beyond rigorous training in harsh environments, as with any artisanal skill, it requires consistent practice. However, double coded welding is often project based, and in a specific area where there are large requirements, a project tends to only come around a few times per year. For this reason, many welders tend to move to wherever the work is, neglecting a project in one area in order to cover a new project elsewhere.
The requirements to become a double coded welder are also quite specialised. To enter the field, people need to be able to work in harsh, confined and often solitary environments. They also need to possess a level of ambidextrousness, as the ability to weld with either hand to reach awkward positions is necessary.
There is a large demand for double coded welders in South Africa, and this is a gap that is well suited for Temporary Employment Service (TES) providers to fill. Due to the project-based nature of the job, TES providers are able to permanently employ double coded welders and move them to wherever projects are happening. They can ensure that the welders are compensated fairly, taking care of transport and accommodation costs no matter where the job takes them.
TES providers can also provide the training, as well as put welders through the stringent testing process. Typically, we find that only five to seven welders out of every 100 that are tested, pass the test for double coded welding. This is a very concerning figure, compared with the ninety percent pass rate for welders from feeder countries – the industry norm.
Frequent training and regular work can help to maintain a higher standard of local double coded welders who pass the test. Additionally, TES providers are able to manage the testing process, which is usually expensive due to the cost of materials used to conduct a test.
What industry can do
Artisanal apprenticeships have decelerated in recent times. Apprenticeships used to be considered one of the primary methods of instruction for specialised skills, however today’s job market tends to value certifications and theoretical qualifications over technical experience. In this type of field, experience is absolutely critical, and the only way that many school leavers are able to build up the skills needed to become a double coded welder is through apprenticeships.
Schools can invest in creating more awareness from a grassroots level, already, highlighting the options and possibilities outside of current trending careers like marketing and IT. There will always be a need for skilled artisans, and as the likes of automation begins to surge in industries, artisanal trade skills will become increasingly valuable.
Finally, industry can turn to TES providers to facilitate their staffing needs for these skills, accessing a pool of experienced, qualified and pass-tested individuals to fulfil their requirements. TES providers can not only bolster the local skills availability but can also seamlessly provide access to skills from feeder countries for various projects, without a business having to concern themselves with VISAs, passports, travel, or even training and testing.
Tebogo Moalusi is National IR Director at Workforce Staffing