Artisanry is an elite profession

Artisanry needs to be promoted as an elite profession if South Africa is going to succeed in developing a large pool of competent skills required to complete construction projects on time and within budget.

So says Frans Toua, Chief Executive Officer of Tjeka Training Matters, a leading provider of construction industry training. The company’s comprehensive training programmes include high quality apprenticeship instruction that strives for zero defects on worksites.

“Unfortunately, so many young adults still view artisanry as a second-choice career,” Toua says. “This is a false perception that all stakeholders in the construction industry need to help address if we are going to attract and retain young talent. Artisanry should be promoted in the same manner that we do other professions that require a degree, diploma or certificate. Who other than competent tradespeople are going to construct key infrastructure that will drive economic growth? A doctor is not going to do it, nor is accountant or a lawyer. They do not possess these skills.”

Led by a team of built-environment professionals who have an intricate understanding of the functioning of modern worksites, Tjeka Training Matters is also a member of leading industry bodies, such as Master Builders Association North, Master Builders Association Western Cape, the Institute of Plumbing South Africa and the South African Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors. This has enabled the private Technical Vocational Education and Training college to stay abreast of the skills requirements of industry. Forging strong partnerships with leading suppliers of construction equipment, tools and products has also ensured that the company is always aware of the latest innovation that it can impart to learners. This has ensured that they are at the cutting-edge of industry when they commence working in their fields.

The skills shortage manifests in poor workmanship, which compromises the overall quality of final infrastructure. There are many examples in the country where sub-standard workmanship, combined with poor leadership capabilities and materials on worksites, has even resulted in structural collapses.

It also shows in costly project delays. This is due to having to redo substandard workmanship or an inability to operate at optimal levels on building and civil-engineering construction sites because workers are not sufficiently skilled.

Skilled apprentices have undergone at least three years of training. This includes both theoretical and practical instruction before completing a trade test that certifies that they are competent to work in their respective fields.

Learners who have completed Tjeka Training Matters’ learnerships and skills paths are fit to apply their trades. Considering the quality of their training, they are also able to work abroad where there is also a high demand for apprentices. This also supports the company’s mantra of only providing training that will enable people to become employed or self-employed and not for just the sake of it.

Tjeka Training Matters’ Construction Education and Training Authority-accredited and South African Qualifications Authority-registered learnerships and skills paths provide a structured learning programme towards a national qualification. The unit-standard-based training consists of between 30% and 70% theory in a classroom environment and minimum of 30% and a maximum of 70% workplace learning. They comprise three types of unit standards, namely Fundamental, Core and Elective. Elective unit standards are field specific and represent a planned and appropriate intervention that has been structured according to a qualification. Tjeka Training Matters’ skilled and experienced site managers, mentors and coaches provide the necessary support for the job-learning component of the learnership.

The company also offers short courses to refine and hone existing competencies or as an introduction to its learnerships and skills paths.

Worryingly, there are still companies that expect to quickly train employees when they have been awarded contracts and clients then demand to see formal qualifications of the team appointed to undertake the work. These formal qualifications are important as they demonstrate an ability to perform according to the required standard and specification – and, just as importantly, in a safe manner.

“There is no getting around the fact that apprenticeship training has to be done correctly and this takes time – in the same way that it takes many years for other professionals to qualify and be deemed competent to perform their duties in the world of work. In addition to being proficient in their trade, a suitably qualified tradesperson will have a broader view of construction. For example, appropriately trained apprentices will have already set their eyes on building regulations and specifications, as well as understand the importance of compliance with regulations and standards when they start working,” Toua concludes.