Call to the youth: the country needs more artisans

Our young people must consider careers as artisans because of a skills shortage and a high rate of absorption into industry, writes JESSIE DUARTE 

Unemployment in South Africa is at its highest level for nearly 15 years, with almost half a million people added to the job seekers lift, offsetting the nearly 150 000 jobs added to the economy.

The unemployment rate of 27.7% in the first quarter was up by 1.2 percentage points from the fourth quarter of 2016.

These figures challenge us as the ANC and government to make effort in ensuring that the projections outlined in National Development Plan are achieved in the shortest possible time frame. Job creation and economic stimulus remain our number target in attracting private sector (local and foreign) investment in our industrialisation projects and economy in general. These plans are clearly outlined in our various policy statements i.e. IPAP, Operation Phakisa, the Green Economy, etc. 

Job creation begins with a skilled workforce and requires policies which are geared towards fostering an environment in which there is a cohesive approach in terms of educational outcomes to grow South Africa’s human capital.

We need to therefore look at alternative career options for our young people and therefore the government continues to encourage more young learners across the length and breadth of the country to train to become artisans. Statistics show that South Africa has a shortfall of about 40 000 qualified artisans – this is measured against the annual production rate of 13 000 qualified artisans.

According to the 2014 Development Indicators Report, artisans completing vocational training reached an average of 18 000. The skills shortage is widely regarded as a key obstacle to economic growth, job creation and business expansion.

The ANC has pointed out that the the National Development Plan – which aims to ensure that all South Africans attain a decent standard of living through the elimination of poverty and reduction of inequality by 2030 – states that South Africa should produce more than 30 000 qualified artisans a year if the labour demands are to be met.

“Infrastructure expansion, economic growth and overall development require specific skills. We need more engineers, more artisans, more qualified teachers and health professionals, to name but a few. We encourage young people to look beyond academic universities for further education.

One of the most integral parts of advancing prosperity is a society in which small businesses and co-operatives flourish.”  But worryingly, statistician-general Pali Lehohla said at the recent release of the Statistics SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey that the gap in reaching the 2030 National Development Plan (NDP) target of 24-million employed people was now 7.8-million.

Soberingly, the recent jobs numbers showed that the youth unemployment rate rose by 1.6 percentage points to 38.6%‚ with 58% of unemployed people aged between 15 and 34.

Said Lehohla: ”The unemployment (rate) in these two age groups — 15-24 and 25-35 — has increased. Once they’re unemployed for a period of time‚ (it is) getting harder and harder for them to get jobs.”

In recent years, the government has engaged some of its key trading partners with the purpose of training young South Africans.

During an engagement with young people in Cape Town a few years back, deputy minister in the Presidency, Buti Manamela suggested that T-Vet and FET Colleges were viable options school leavers must consider in order to follow careers as artisans.

Sean Jones, chief executive officer of black empowered Artisan Training Institute (ATI) agrees. He points out that currently, the failure rate at university is at around 50%. He says the solution to this dilemma was for young people to consider a career as an artisan, as there is quicker access to full-time employment – with apprentices often getting an apprenticeship with a company in their first year. 

Critically, this means they also start earning money far sooner. He argues that artisans are almost guaranteed formal employment and, upon graduation can earn R20 000 to R25 000 per month. That’s more than most university graduates will earn.

The government also continues to call on families to seriously consider sending their children to vocational schools as they clearly have a better chance at landing a job as there is a skills shortage in this sector. The government’s relationship with its main trading partner – China – and others also continues to create jobs in the local market for artisans. In the past two years Chinese direct investment to South Africa has expanded. 

Some of these examples where artisans have been employed include the home appliance factory of Hisense Group, the cement production line invested by Hebei Jidong Development Group and the assembly plant of China First Automotive Works (FAW) in the Coega Industrial Park. Hisense’s Atlantis factory, for example, employs 600 workers from the local community, which it has trained. In 2015, China trained more than 400 artisans, technicians and managers in South Africa.

Also in  2015, at a seminar in Johannesburg, organised by the Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO), the Japanese Embassy in South Africa and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in South Africa, the embassy pledged to train local artisans. As part of the African Business Education Initiative for young people, Japan plans to train 100 young South Africans by the end of 2016 for Master’s degrees at Japanese universities, in conjunction with internships at Japanese businesses.

These programmes have all been made a reality through the work done by the government which continues to seek partnerships to help grow our job skills and which would employ our young people. Corporates here at home have also recognised the threat of large-scale unemployment.

Ryan Ravens, CEO of business leadership organisation Accelerate Cape Town, told ENCA recently:“ Just about two-thirds of our population is less than 35 years of age and normally that would be an asset for any country. But 58% of that demographic is unemployed; that’s a significant part of our human capital.

“The Youth Employment Services initiative, called YES, is to give unemployed youth between the ages of 18 and 30 the opportunity to experience the world of work. That will be an accreditation by companies, large and small, on a platform we’re creating.

Goldman Sachs MD Colin Coleman said: “Hopefully companies will take in up to 330,000 people on aggregate per year for the next three years.”

What is needed is an overhaul of the education system so that employers do not look at graduates from poorer schools or less regarded tertiary institutions and exclude them from possible job considerations.

The marginalised and the vulnerable in our society needs to be brought into the mainstream structures of society if we are to have any hope of growing socio-economically.

Duarte, is Deputy Secretary General of the ANC 

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