The two most recent issues of the Financial Mail refer.

Claire Bisseker (Features, November 9-15) and Johann Maree (Letters, November 16-22) touched on education and formal skills development.

Technical skills are nothing less than a disaster at the moment.

Government keeps reminding us that business must train employees. Sure, but qualified technicians to use as trainers and mentors are just not around any more. How can we train technicians when the majority of school leavers do not have mathematics and science as subjects? These subjects teach one to think and solve problems.

We employ youngsters who have passed grade 12, but they have achieved less than 50% for all their subjects. And yet we have to teach them a trade.

I am in the heating, ventilation, air-conditioning & refrigeration industry. It takes three to five years at least before a technician can become proficient and be sent out on his or her own.

I don’t think technical high schools and colleges exist any more. So how can a school leaver decide which career to follow?

Consider that in everyday life one might require a motor mechanic, an electrician, a plumber, a refrigeration technician or an air-conditioning technician. The products used in these disciplines are becoming more hi-tech and require people with good-quality training as trainers.

There are only about three institutions in SA that I am aware of that offer any sort of training in air conditioning and refrigeration. The training costs are ridiculously high for a person trying to fund him-or herself. For example, a two-week module at the Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Academy costs about R12,000. There are six modules to pass before a candidate can attend the diploma course.

While there are technicians who have passed the trade test in industrial refrigeration, in my experience this certificate is not an indication of the person’s ability.

Technical Vocational Education & Training, or TVET, colleges are not geared up to train air-conditioning and refrigeration technicians.

So my question is: how long will it take to train technicians, and who must train them when the basics are not taught in our schools or technical schools? It makes it extremely difficult to identify potential candidates for learnerships or apprenticeships.

With government’s transformation policy there are now more broad-based BEE-compliant enterprises winning contracts and tenders. These small and medium enterprises do not have the structure, expertise or finances to support any training.

So a lot of work and financing is required from government, particularly at school level. The private sector can do its part only in partnership with government.

John O’Donoghue
BJ Cooling & Heating,
Johannesburg

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