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RMI German Chamber of Crafts partnership shines in Eastern Cape

Caption 2 Zizipho Sikhom

Last year the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI) and the Chamber of Crafts Erfurt, also more popularly known as Handwerkskammer Erfurt (HWK), concluded a partnership to drive vocational training in the automotive aftermarket in the Eastern Cape.

This month industry stakeholders including a representative from the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training Authority MerSETA attended a function at the Iqhayiya Campus at Port Elizabeth College to create further awareness about the project and discuss progress to date. Cliff Jonas, Iqhayiya campus manager, emphasised the importance of the initiative in furthering training in the sector and equipping new entrants with the skills necessary to work on modern constantly evolving vehicles.

Technological advances in the automotive after-market sales, repair, and maintenance sector continue to provide challenges for businesses to attract staff with the right kind of skills who can add value. The access to international trends, through the German Craft Chamber is invaluable for apprentices, particularly in an environment where skills are valued and provide businesses with a competitive advantage. Erwin Stroebel, Regional Manager in the Eastern Cape for the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI) said the partnership with HWK was progressing well and stressed the importance of the close link between training institutions and industry.  To date 18 TVET lecturers and teachers from 9 institutions have benefitted from training interventions and workshops the HWK and RMI have arranged,” says Stroebel.

Birgit Mac Mahon from HWK said she was impressed with the work already undertaken to empower the trainers. “We are aware of the difference in cultures and have been very impressed with how the local trainers have adopted and adapted to our methods in their professional development.” Mac Mahon says when the project was first launched certain gaps were pinpointed which needed to be addressed. Since November the trainers have been exposed to a number of practical courses, both locally and in Germany, and this has been highly beneficial.  She says a sequence of three online training seminars covering engine management, gearbox and drive and chassis and brake and steering systems have been offered by the HWK in Germany.  The first seminar took place in March.  Practical training takes place at an accredited training centre.

RMI’s Training Manager, Louis van Huyssteen notes how important the upskilling of apprentice facilitators and lecturers is to train apprentices at institutions.  “The technological advances in vehicles requires both institutions and industry to take hands and share knowledge.  TVET colleges, as part of the education system in South Africa, have an opportunity to lead the way with lecturers who are up to date and stay abreast of all changes in vehicle technology.  Attending relevant courses, albeit face-to-face, virtual, online and in a hybrid manner, is key to lecturer development,” says van Huyssteen.   

Encouraging feedback was also received from some industry representatives who are beneficiaries of the project. Bridget Finn from Finn Auto Repairs and Diagnostics in PE in particular said having now employed two artisans, she would have no hesitation in encouraging other companies to take advantage of the training opportunity, particularly now that merSETA has confirmed any member organisations applying will qualify for training funding support.

One of the highlights of the day was a presentation by two of the trainees, currently enrolled at the College.

“Trainees like these are helping to change the perception of trade qualifications and make them much more appealing to young people looking for a career as well as encouraging women to enter the profession,” says Mac Mahon.

“We are very happy with the progress being made in the Eastern Cape Region and if the model works we can think about extending it further into other provinces,” she concludes.

There is no doubt that the benefits of a well-run apprentice program with a reputable skills development provider, accrue to the employer, the learner, the private or public training institution, and the economic growth of our country as a whole. With 4IR and all the many changes taking place, this is an exciting industry for young people to consider moving into.

Photo: Zizipho Sikhom, motor mechanic apprentice at Eastern Cape Midlands College talking with passion about her choice to become a motor mechanic