In 2015, then Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the South African Government plans to address the engineering skills shortage in South Africa. The goal is to have at least 24 000 competent artisans by 2020. While this is an ambitious goal, many people are wondering what alternative routes there are to achieving “competent artisans” in the built environment and in the flooring sector specifically.

In an opinion piece published on News24, founder of Flux Trends Dion Chang said that while South African students were fighting the right war with the #FeesMustFall campaign, he wasn’t sure whether they picked the right battle, mainly due to South Africa having what he calls a “dual economy”

Mechanical engineers, electrical engineers and civil engineers are still among the most in-demand skills in the country and these skills account for 16 of the top 20 scarce skills in South Africa. South Africa has one qualified engineer for every 3 166 people while America has one for 29 people, the UK has one for 311 people, Germany has one for 217 people and China has one for 130 people.

Are the skills needed necessarily academic?
According to research, about 25% of children who enter grade 1 at government schools in South Africa don’t make it to matric, while 80% of learners with a government school education fail their first year at university. These statistics, combined with the lack of job opportunities in the market, call for a paradigm shift in how we approach employment, skills and training in South Africa.

While free education is an important challenge that needs to be addressed, South Africa also has a large population of millennials (approximately 60% of the population). This “youth bulge” can be a blessing if a country has many jobs that need to be filled and if it is able to deliver good education. In South Africa, however, there is a high unemployment rate and a stagnant economy, which makes the youth bulge a concerning liability.

“We need to get our young population skilled and ready for employment as soon as possible, and this is where my concern lies. Are those skills necessarily academic?” asks Dion.

Industries, companies and business models continue to change at a rapid pace because of digitisation and ongoing disruptions in the marketplace. To run new, agile businesses, different skillsets are needed.

FAQ with the Flooring Industry Training Association (FITA)
• What are some of the most in demand skills in the flooring market today?

The provision of education and training in South Africa has not been aligned with the economy and that of society. In South Africa, the growing skill crisis in the flooring industry has been highlighted many times and has been identified as an impediment to growth and development, as well as service delivery. This is especially true in the construction industry where there is a dearth of qualified flooring installers, contract managers and sales representatives.

• Do you think that more millennials should look at alternatives outside of traditional academic institutions to pursue careers? What are the benefits of this?

Given the high levels of youth unemployment, where a large number have less than a secondary certificate, there is a strong argument to prioritise scarce skills training by SETAs. 78% of millennials between the ages of 25 and 34 years are unemployed. The Construction and Education Training Authority (CETA) has made funds available to provide employment opportunities to our youth and FITA is well positioned to utilise these funds in meeting the needs in the flooring industry. The prohibitive cost of, and limited access to, tertiary education has resulted in more and more millennials looking to taking up trade occupations.

• What kind of careers in the flooring market are needed today that weren’t necessarily needed a few years / decades ago?

Installations are more complex and products more specialised than those done years ago. The “one installer does all” no longer applies. Flooring projects have become customised and require niche installations, with higher than usual performance and aesthetic characteristics. It is FITA’s intention to produce installers who have specialised skills in a particular discipline. The organisation is in the process of writing an advanced curriculum which will enable installers to do just this and in turn build a career.

• What type of qualifications should people consider if they are already working in the built environment and want to upskill themselves?

The cavalier attitude that exists in the flooring industry concerning training must be addressed. With the assistance of flooring manufacturers, contractors and certified flooring installers, we aim to bring about major change. There are enormous opportunities available to a millennial wishing to enter the flooring industry, because FITA is working with the South African government. These include specialised flooring installers and harnessing the skills of retired flooring installers to become trainers, assessors and moderators. Many flooring companies have launched training initiatives, workshops and courses to help upskill installers. Besides offering customised programmes where a minimum number of students are enrolled, some of the manufacturers in South Africa are also going one step further by offering scholarships to previously disadvantaged students. These are all steps in the right direction.

• What career paths in the flooring market would you advise millennials to consider and why?

FITA would like to see unemployed youth enter our industry and be given the opportunity of a future career with the ability to be upskilled and mentored. The opportunity then exists to specialise, learn business skills and ultimately create employment opportunities by opening a new flooring business.

The Southern African Wood, Laminate & Flooring Association (SAWLFA) has seen in the last 5 years a steady increase of learners at its training sessions. Not only have members seen the benefit of sending in the learners at an early stage, they now know and understand the value of up-skilling their staff. If installers understand the products they are working with, they will avoid a floor failure. Training is a win, win for all.

Specialised tip: The prohibitive cost of and limited access to tertiary education has resulted in more and more Millennials looking to taking up trade occupations.

Thanks and acknowledgement are given to,,, and for some of the information contained in this article.

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