The TVET initiative will end with some graduates offered jobs at Indian companies. Picture: ISTOCK
The TVET initiative will end with some graduates offered jobs at Indian companies. Picture: ISTOCK

Education is the real, slow-burning crisis facing the country — and the focal point of the deficiencies of the system are the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges.

SA requires about 1-million artisans, according to some estimates. The government’s stimulus packages and infrastructure programmes are dead in the water without skilled workers.

"Unfortunately, there is no skills force of qualified artisans to complete these projects," says Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa skills development executive Melanie Mulholland.

TVET colleges have been neglected severely in democratic SA, and students complain about outdated equipment, unskilled lecturers and having to wait for years after completing their studies for their certificates — condemning to unemployment people with the skills the country needs the most.

Representatives of the Indian government and higher education and training minister Naledi Pandor have been discussing this problem and are ready to unveil the fruits of their collaboration: India will open a centre for artisan skills at a TVET college in a pilot project that could end with a similar venture in every province.

India’s high commissioner, Ruchira Kamboj, says the idea emerged during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to SA in 2016. Her country has been "opening up" and, as part of this, the Indian government wanted to offer a joint project to SA. Both countries are Brics members, but the joint project also marks a unique confluence of important dates, says Kamboj: Nelson Mandela’s 100th anniversary, Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th anniversary and the silver jubilee of India forging diplomatic ties with SA in 1993.

In SA, says Kamboj, Indian engineers are designing the telescope manager, the brains of the Square Kilometre Array in the Karoo.

India’s had a growth rate of 8.2% in 2017, is the world’s fastest-growing major economy, and analysts say this will be sustained for years.

The country plans to become the third-largest economy by 2025.

India wants to extend its niche IT offerings to the continent under its Pan-African e-Network programme launched in 2009. It aims to connect all AU countries through an undersea cable and satellites, with priority given to educational and health services.

In the second phase, three universities and hospitals in SA are set to join the programme.

There are more than a dozen large Indian companies operating in SA. Kamboj says her government hopes more SA companies will venture into India. She says that SA has many niche offerings, including defence products, airport management and agroprocessing.

Kamboj says that corporate social responsibility is practised by most Indian companies; they get involved in education and health projects particularly.

The TVET initiative will end with some graduates offered jobs at Indian companies.

The pilot will be Tshwane South TVET college.

The Indian government will supply lecturers, equipment, course material and the finance needed to educate hundreds of electricians, fitters and turners, millwrights and boilermakers.

The Mandela-Ghandi Skills Institute will have a soft launch on Monday — "it is Gandhi’s birth month, but also fits in with Ms Pandor’s diary", Kamboj quips — and formal classes will start next year.

There is already talk, she says, of establishing a similar venture in KwaZulu-Natal.