Apprenticeships are making a big comeback, perhaps not in SA yet, but in many other countries worldwide. It is especially true in the motor industry where these on-the-job-training routes are proving to be a win-win option for technicians, workshops and governments.

The Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) is essentially the arbiter of internationally recognised motor industry apprentice qualifications in the world and it has now found its way to SA after being sought out by Merseta and the Retail Motor Industry (RMI). Established in 1920, it was only in 1945 that the institution changed its name to the IMI and has remained this way to this day, aiding incubation for world-renowned qualifications within the automotive industry.

We spoke to Steve Nash, CEO of the IMI, while on a visit to SA recently. One of the main reasons for his visit was to engage with stakeholders and open the first IMI-accredited facility in partnership with Imperial Motus.

To give automotive apprentices the best theoretical and practical experiences, Imperial has made its Technical Training Academy in Germiston, Gauteng the base camp for all tuition phases, ranging from Level 1 to Level 5. The facilities have a computer lab where the students can participate in online mock exams, before sitting for their online-based proper exams. There is also a well-equipped workshop where all sorts of vehicle components, including petrol engines for both cars and bikes, can be stripped and re-assembled to manufacturer standards.

In SA training is normally done under the banner of each original equipment manufacturer (OEM), the car company itself. So a technician can have an accreditation from Toyota or Audi, but if they move to BMW or Volkswagen they have to do the course again, even though there will be duplication.

An IMI accreditation is something that can be carried from company to company and not just in SA. The IMI is present in more than 50 countries meaning technicians can be confident their qualification will be accepted around the world.

There is a suite of 25 professional accreditations available and the IMI, together with its partners in SA, is also working with QCTO (quality council for trades and occupations) on further implementation. QCTO has already committed to a pilot project which will probably be to accredit technicians to work on hybrid and electric vehicles.

The choice of alternative drivetrain training is interesting, but Nash says SA is no further behind than anyone else in this field. He says that technology has levelled the playing field in this regard adding that there are definitely further opportunities like this for SA.

The accreditation also helps to maintain global standards. Nash says that the qualification in SA has to be the same as elsewhere in the world, but points out that how you get there can be quite different.

Much of that difference can be in the area of formal training versus experience and it is here that the subject of the informal sector comes up. It is topical at the moment with the Competition Commission proposing the restrictions imposed by OEMs on where you can service or repair your car and what parts you can use be lifted. One aim is to allow all workshops to work on all vehicles, even new ones, although there are concerns that would need to be addressed.

"I am not aware of anywhere in the world where you have to use an OEM workshop," says Nash. It is "ridiculous SA has a skills shortage with such massive unemployment", adding "why not find a way of formalising the informal sector?"

His approach will be welcomed by those seeking to enhance their employment opportunities. With Nash claiming apprenticeships can provide up to a 300% return on investment, even during training, it is an area that is sure to be monitored closely by individuals, the private sector and government.

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