Artisans are indispensable to South Africa’s construction industry but are in short supply. This is why more needs to be done to retain existing artisans as well as to attract youth to future opportunities in the artisanal sphere, writes Lance Cohen, Group Production Director, and Marlize Fourie, Group Human Resources Executive at GVK-Siya Zama.
With the country’s youth unemployment rate at an all-time high of 64.4% in the last quarter of 2021, and STATS SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the third quarter of 2021 indicating that 7.8 million South Africans are unemployed, more needs to be done to create employment opportunities and increase the national GDP. The answer to this, we believe, may lie in the retention and creation of employment opportunities in the artisanal sector.
The number of artisans in South Africa is dwindling, predominantly on the back of artisans leaving the country for a fresh start abroad, and fewer young people aspiring to take up a profession within the sector. The latter is attributed largely to social conditioning and societal aspirations, giving young people the impression that working with one’s hands is less prestigious and lucrative than more conventional career paths.
Adding to this, the rise of digital transformation means the sector is not viewed as “high tech” enough and therefore not as prestigious as others.
Accessible means to a relevant industry-related qualification
Greater numbers of artisans in South Africa will result in increased depth for the industry and prove valuable in the transfer of core skills. As the number of artisans increases, it will offer learners from non-academic streams an accessible means to a relevant industry-related qualification and the ability to earn a living in the sector.
It will potentially prove lucrative if combined with business skills, offering entrepreneurs endless opportunities to launch a business and create much-needed employment.
The key to cultivating a societal mind-shift and changing the paradigm in how the sector is perceived begins at school level with career guidance and career orientation days and would provide dividends for learners in their formative years and lower grades.
While anyone can choose a career as an artisan, it presents a golden opportunity for youth at risk to develop rewarding and potentially lucrative work for themselves in the construction industry.
Skills development services to the construction sector
To this end, several initiatives have been implemented, such as the establishment of the Construction Education and Training Authority (CETA) to meet the requirements set in the Skills Development Act 97 of 1998. The organisation aims to provide skills development services to the construction sector, to implement the objectives of the National Skills Development Strategy (NSDS III), and to ensure that people obtain the relevant crucial and often scarce skills that are required to build capacity in the building and construction sector. These measures are aimed at ensuring the sector becomes economically sustainable and globally competitive.
Supplementary to this, Public Works and Infrastructure Minister, Patricia de Lille, recently commented that more professionals are needed in the built environment, and it is for this reason that the department launched the Bursary and Skills Pipeline Programme. This initiative aims to remove the financial barriers for learners planning to enroll in tertiary education institutions and attain a qualification that focuses on the built environment.
Retaining artisans in SA is vital to country’s success
Retaining artisans and persuading them to continue plying their trade in South Africa is crucial to the success of the country. So much so that GVK-Siya Zama, through its national business operations, not only provides practical exposure and on-the-job training and coaching to its own labour force, but is also actively involved in uplifting, coaching and mentoring SMMEs and several of its subcontractors.
Young people who are more practically minded and not interested in conventional career paths would do well to investigate the multitudes of opportunities that come with a trade qualification.
Those who work hard, apply, and prove themselves, can potentially become self-employed, and subsequently, provide employment to others and reduce SA’s alarming unemployment rate. With several bursaries and scholarships available, young people looking at becoming an artisan will be equipped with valuable skills and the associated support and guidance they need to operate in a crucial industry.