Mind the skills gap

by Tania Wannenburg
Skills feature Jnl 2 15

Considered still relatively new, the flooring association sets out to offer training to improve fitting skills.

The shortage of skills in the country is not unique to the building industry alone, but affects all organisations, and is felt more in some sectors as opposed to others. Addressing these shortages has been at the top of the list for the country, government, The Department of Higher Education and Training, the SETAs (Sector Education Training Authorities), businesses, CETA (The Construction Education and Training Authority) i.e. the construction SETA, and, more recently, FITA (The Flooring Industry Training Association).

To address this skills gap, training has to be provided and, currently, there are numerous training opportunities available in various forms at various institutions to ensure that this goal can be achieved. This onerous task cannot be left to The Department of Higher Education and Training alone, which is why various programmes and authorities, such as SETAs, were formed, so that every sector is able to actively get involved with skills training and development and help implement the National Skills Development Strategy by increasing the skills of people in their sector.. However, this does not preclude organisations from participating by means of creating and offering their own in-house training programmes, and many industries are already undertaking this enormous task to ensure that their staff complement comprises skilled workers.

Unfortunately, a lack of financial resources is often the reason why organisations and associations cannot go ahead with skills training; and why funding therefore plays such a critical role in skills development and training. At a recent media briefing the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr BE Nzimande, stated that there are 85 000 occupationally directed opportunities (apprenticeships or learnerships) available in collaboration with Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges, SETAs and employers, and an additional 37 423 learning programme opportunities in the form of 3 380 apprenticeships, 4 513 bursaries and 29 530 learnerships that will be further provided by SETAs.

“The post-school education and training sector through the SETAs and National Skills Fund has committed over R1.7 billion in the 2015/16 financial year to opportunities in these artisan fields that will result in grants for over 16 250 artisan learners,” said Dr. Nzimande. “Out-of-school youths who wish to enter the world of work, or need to increase their skills capabilities, can consider the options of learnerships, apprenticeships and skills programmes.”

He went on to say that TVET colleges (formerly known as Further Education and Training – FET – colleges) also offer occupationally directed programmes that are accredited by the SETAs under the auspices of the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations. “Among these are programmes that are offered through apprenticeship or learnership agreements between the student, TVET colleges and employers,” he continued. “TVET colleges have set aside 85 900 study opportunities for this mode of delivery.

On behalf of The Department of Higher Education and Training, Dr. Nzimande enthusiastically welcomed the Class of 2014 into the Post-School Education and Training system where learning and growth can take place in 26 Universities, 50 TVET Colleges and 21 SETAs.

Flooring Association gains momentum

The flooring industry is one such sector that continues to grapple with the challenges regarding unskilled and unqualified fitters in South Africa, which is what instigated the formation of the Flooring Industry Training Association (FITA) in 2013 with Neil Duncan from Kevin Bates Flooring, Tandy Coleman-Spolander from Polyflor and Rick Barrow from Turner Peirson as its initial Directors. The decision to establish FITA was taken with the support and approval of a number of industry stakeholders.

“The flooring sector’s ageing workforce will further reduce the pool of skilled artisans, which is why skills training is of the utmost importance to ensure the sustainability of the industry and address job creation,” adds Neil. “The flooring industry has taken positive steps in this regard with the formation of FITA which has led to several previously unemployed young people receiving training as installers to enter the industry this year.”

CETA (Construction Education and Training Authority) also saw the need for of an association such as FITA that would represent the flooring industry, as it is a sub-sector of the construction industry. Sonja Pilusa, CEO of CETA, explains that they were acutely aware of the fact that the flooring industry was taking training matters into its own hands, and for this reason they identified a need for CETA to get involved and help drive training in this sector forward.

Belgotex Floorcoverings and FITA work in partnership with Sparrow FET College along with flooring contractors, which has enabled just over 100 young and previously unemployed youngsters to complete the Construction Floor Coverer NQF Level 1 qualification, which started in 2013. In turn, Kevin Bates Flooring and Carpeting (KBAC) work in conjunction with Tjeka Training Matters, an accredited training provider and FET college, and can proudly state that 31 of their Johannesburg-based installers have successfully completed the qualification.

“This is a vast step forward in that we now have a workable programme to introduce new blood to the industry who will, in time, be able to succeed the older, more experienced installers,” enthuses Neil. “FITA is currently expanding its training offering to introduce a career path with a more specialised NQF level 2 learnership and short skills programmes to accommodate the specialist aspects of installation.”

As noted, the aforementioned two training institutions are responsible for the successful training of fitters in order to achieve the goals set out by FITA and CETA alike. Firstly, Sparrow FET College was established in 2011 and offers numerous qualifications and skill programmes, such as floor laying with CETA and welding accredited by MERSETA, to name a few. “In 2015 we intend training a further 60 learners, and all of them who have gone through the training process will have to complete a six-month practical training internship within an actual workplace setting,” explains Melanie Malema at Sparrow FET College.

She goes on to explain the role that Sparrow FET College play in terms of training and qualifying floorcovering fitters, by highlighting that Sparrow FET College works in partnership with FITA and CETA to deliver on the training for the accredited programme. Sparrow FET College also interact with the companies in the flooring industry advising on the training programme while monitoring learners in the workplace. In addition, Sparrow FET College recruit learners from previously disadvantaged backgrounds to the programme.

Secondly, Tjeka Training Matters is an organisation that focuses on training and entrepreneurial development in the building and civil engineering industries. Established in 2000, it offers training conducted in mobile units whereby accredited training is conducted on the project as well as in accredited training institutions in both the building and civil construction industries.

Turning to the impact that FITA will have on the industry going forward, Neil notes that, with the support of flooring contractors, installers and manufacturers, FITA will ensure that the industry has properly qualified and trained installers going forward. “In time the aim is to attract more young people to the industry as they will view it as a viable career opportunity,” he continues.

“FITA has made substantial progress since its formation. Discussions are currently underway to expand on the training offered, and to provide the opportunity for training in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. There is now a full set of training material available for the basic learnership, which will ensure that the training is of the same standard and criteria on a national basis.”

However, funding remains a challenge, and while flooring contractors all acknowledge the need for properly trained installers, they are not always prepared to invest the necessary time, effort and money to ensure that this becomes a reality. Melanie concurs and says that without companies committing to the training of new installers, the programme will not result in the desired success.

“Companies have to understand that the learners come with no experience and in some cases have never been exposed to the workplace,” she emphasises. “Mentoring and coaching these young people is crucial as it enables new youngsters to enter the flooring industry. Should the industry not acknowledge the importance of these factors, then several years from now there will undoubtedly be a serious shortage of installers that will negatively affect flooring businesses.”

Reflecting on 2014, Neil notes that training interventions are available as a result of the initiatives taken over the past two years. “Flooring contractors and installers need to take advantage of these opportunities to ensure the ongoing success of their organisations,” he concludes.

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