Local government technical skills totally lacking, MPs told

Sisa Njikelana Chairperson

Despite relatively positive reports from both Eskom on skills training in the electrical engineering workplace and from SAPIA on petro chemical industry advancements in the same sphere, a report from the Association of Municipal Electricity Undertakings caused chairperson of the portfolio committee on energy, Sisa Njikelana, to remark that the country faced massive problems unless efforts to improve the quantity and quality of skills training in all spheres were re-doubled.

Present was the director general of the department of energy (DOE), Nelisiwe Magubane.

Chairman Njikelana remarked in conclusion of the meeting that nobody really seemed “totally coherent on the issue of skills transfer, mentorship and apprentice training as indeed they should be, some worse than others”, although he acknowledged that EWSWTA, the energy sector SETA, had fallen well behind in its targets mainly as a result of mal-administration in the past.

As the meeting progressed it became more and more evident that skills at local level service delivery level were a “crisis issue”.

Senzeni Sokwana, on behalf of EWSWTA’s interim board recently appointed, said that in the year under review this SETA had made a certain recovery; had identified a strategic direction with a revised corporate governance plan and that past performance in the recent short period had received unqualified audits. Nevertheless, MPs commented later, the SETA was still under-achieving.

Artisan learners registered for the energy and water SETA were 1765 with 1004 persons completing their courses and 649 wireman’s licences were issued. Included were projects such as that of Coega and a special emphasis that had been laid of “green energy” skills.  Clearly what EWSWTA was achieving, said Sokwana, was a “drop in the ocean compared with what was required” but MPs noted that it was pleasing that the turnaround in governance had been achieved.

A relatively positive contribution came from Dr Raymond Patel of the metal, engineering and motor retailing SETA, merSETA, which institution had received major funding from the German DIZ programme. He gave positive figures on learners enrolled on traditional-energy related programmes, sponsorships and programmes initiated as a result of international skills training agreements.

Training was reported with positive numbers in the metal and engineering; auto manufacturing; motor and retail management; tyre manufacturing and plastics industries. Of specific interest was their “green energy” programme and Dr Patel told parliamentarians of their first internally bench-marked forum being held at that time on the subject.   merSETA was part-sponsor of the VW-NMMU solar car being developed at Tshwane University; had signed photovoltaic skills development agreements in the Eastern Cape and was working with Eskom on the Kusile power project and Medupi power station.

SAPIA’s presentation came from Gerard Derbsy, CEO of BPSA, who told parliamentarians that the industry was going through “a period of transition as a new generation of engineers and operators entered the industry”.     The annual payroll if the industry was some R5bn with 1bn paid in tax, he said, and the industry offered 100,000 jobs both direct and indirect.

Survey findings clearly indicated, Derbsy said, that the industry was lacking high level technical skills and the reasons for scarce occupations in the petro-chemical industry were lack of experience and a lack of qualifications of equity candidates, especially black women.

There was a need, he said, to recruit people with petroleum industry-specific knowledge and “upskill” existing employees and replace those already trained but who had moved on.

At the end of 2010, 1215 artisans and process operators qualified and another 106 were completing training for qualification mid 2011. Such were funded jointly by the Chemical Industries Educational and Training Authority. 348 people, mainly black people and women graduated from the 2006-11 “Leadership in Oil and Energy Programme”. An advanced certificate in oil and gas management programme is to be launched next year, he said.

Parliamentarians noted the lack of a recognised qualification in the industry and BP’s Derbsy said that the possibility of an “institute of petroleum qualification” had been initiated and an MOU between Total, the French government and Sapia with Wits University was about to be entered into.

On the lack of women entrants into the industry, he answered that that one of the problems with the petro industry was its global nature.

On questions regarding skills training being given on oil procurement, he countered these by stating that most of the answers here lay with DOE, the future of and direction of renewable energy and a conclusion of the ISMO Bill..

Eskom showed a year 2013 target of 5,735 on stream for internal learners in training from apprentices to engineers and the utility had already achieved 7,110 persons, mainly because of the emphasis on power station building in the New Build programme.   In addition, they had achieved a total of 5,018 “external” learners mainly through the support of the sixteen Further Education and Training (FET) colleges in South Africa.

In addition, Eskom was supporting six universities in South Africa, each “leading” in a specific area of research and development, which programme was called the Eskom Power Plant Institute programme. For example, Wits University handled combustion engineering and high voltage (AC) subjects, UCT handled and energy efficiency, Stellenbosch University renewable energy; Pretoria University handled asset management and Kwa-Zulu University high voltage (DC).

Eskom said it had 4,950 artisans in the pipeline which represented 11.8% of the Eskom artisan headcount; they were investing R758m in skills training and 80% of the workforce was undergoing some form of training.

The Association of Municipal Electricity Undertakings reported that a crisis was developing at municipal level throughout the country insofar as training of electrical engineers and trade qualified artisans was concerned and the necessity to re-build staffing levels was critical.

CEO Rhodes said that South Africa had gone through a process of indecision over the REDs issue; underfunding, incoherent SETA programming and liaison; and a process of moving towards outsourcing to the private sector, all of which had left the cupboard bare in terms of local level staffing in municipal structures.

He called for a complete and national review of the needs to improve training and skills development at local government level and he was aware that SALGA was very active with the department of energy on this issue, who again were awaiting the outcome of the ISMO Bill to see what training emphasis was necessary.

Chairman Sisa Njikelana concluded that “the grim environment” in the local government area had to be investigated in the next parliamentary session.



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