Skills development is becoming an increasingly pressing concern and an essential priority for South Africa business at all levels. Local unemployment rates continue to climb, with Statistics South Africa’s (Stats SA) Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) for the second quarter of 2019 stating that the number of unemployed persons increased by 455,000 to 6,7 million in Q2: 2019, compared to the first three months of the year.

The quarterly drop in total employment, said the report, was largely due to decreases in the following industries: manufacturing (-1,2 percent), business services (-0,6 percent), trade (-0,4 percent), construction (-1,5 percent) and electricity (-1,7 percent).

Of serious concern is the fact that 40,3 percent of the country’s youth, aged between 15 and 24 years (20,4 million individuals), are not in employment, education or training. In fact, President Cyril Ramaphosa dubbed this a ‘national crisis’ in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) earlier this year, saying that youth unemployment “demands urgent, innovative and coordinated solutions where all of us should see it as a requirement to work together”.

At the same time skills shortages are deepening, with a combination of retrenchments, baby boomers reaching retirement age (having a knock-on effect on mentorship measures) and an increase in emigration figures all contributing to the so-called ‘brain drain’. This has been keenly felt in the technology, engineering, finance and health sectors, with a particular demand for artisans to help deliver on South Africa’s Strategic Infrastructure Projects (SIPs), which include the building of roads, bridges, schools, harbours, power stations, and other social and economic infrastructure.

Back in 2017, government revealed that South Africa needed around 40,000 qualified artisans for time-sensitive projects. Recent research conducted by Xpatweb shows that this is still a challenge. The survey says that 14,15 percent of the respondents are still struggling to find skilled artisans, up 45 percent from last year.

In particular demand are bricklayers, electricians, millwrights, boilermakers, plumbers, mechanics (including automotive and diesel), carpenters and joiners, welders, riggers, as well as fitters and turners (including mechanical and pipe fitters).

It is clear that there is an urgent need for skills transfer and education at the artisan level, with an emphasis on fast, but high-quality technical training. This will not only play an important role in boosting the economy, but also create a positive turn-around in unemployment levels.

It is here that a platform like the upcoming AfriBuild 2020 show, the new building services trade expo, can play a strategic role. The show, which will run alongside the continent’s only tradeshow focused on all elements of plumbing, PlumbDrain Africa, aims to provide the local building industry with the opportunity to deepen learning, with a dedicated skills development area.

The show’s dedicated Skills Development Zone will be managed by private training provider, the Artisan Training Institute (ATI). It is exclusively earmarked to give a hands-on demonstration of technical skills such as fitting & turning, fabrication, welding, boilermaking, electrical & instrumentation, as well as pneumatics, hydraulics and electro-pneumatics.

It takes on an interactive workshop format during which conference delegates can ask ATI’s training managers specific questions about training opportunities and career pathways for future artisans. It also aims to fill the gap between the demand and supply of technical skills.

According to Sean Jones, managing director of ATI, the AfriBuild Skills Development Zone concept proved to be highly successful at other exhibitions such as Electra Mining and the Local Manufacturing Expo (LME).

“The Skills Development Zone is geared at showing young people the endless possibilities of a career in artisan training and encouraging companies to invest in artisan training as a solution to South Africa’s unemployment problems,” says Jones.

“We are excited to again host this highlight at AfriBuild2020. Skills development can unlock a multitude of opportunities in Africa’s building sector, and we look forward to explore these opportunities with delegates,” he concludes.

In addition to this, AfriBuild 2020 puts a strong emphasis on practical knowledge exchange, providing real-life experience through multiple demonstration areas, and offers two free, fit-for-purpose seminar theatres featuring expert speakers providing business-related guidance.

AfriBuild is gearing up for its exciting launch at the Johannesburg Expo Centre, Nasrec, from 13 to 15 October 2020. The trade-only expo will be a biennial event that will take place over three days and intends to become a hands-on building solutions show for the entire sector.

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