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VET-Partnership with South Africa: Skills for sustainable development

Since 2015, the District Crafts Association Steinfurt-Warendorf (KH) has had a vocational training partnership (BBP) with the uMfolozi College. This is located in the city of Richard’s Bay in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. Dr. Jan-Niclas Gesenhues, Head of the International Vocational Training Department at the Steinfurt-Warendorf District Crafts Association, reports on the project and the effects Corona has on the vocational training partnership.

Vocational training is an effective tool against unemployment and a shortage of skilled workers and also an important prerequisite for the competitiveness of companies. What is the importance of the skilled crafts sector and skilled crafts training in South Africa?

The second largest economy in Africa is still in a phase of building its infrastructure. The construction sector is thus of great importance. The craft sector is of great relevance for the economy as a whole, but above all it is of great importance for employment policy: it offers good jobs in an environment of high unemployment – especially among young people.

The so-called informal sector with self-employed, small and micro businesses is also important for the South African labor market. It offers many people career prospects with the opportunity to get out of unemployment and become self-employed. Craftsmanship plays an important role in this sector. Especially people with qualified training, like the one we build up within the framework of the BBP, can become self-employed and succeed on the market with high-quality services.

Apprenticeship in uMfolozi College

Training for plant mechanics for sanitary, heating and climate.

How did the project come about and what are its goals?

The starting point for the cooperation with the uMfolozi College was a visit from a South African delegation to the District Crafts Association Steinfurt-Warendorf. The delegation trip provided information on the dual training system in Germany. From these first contacts resultet the wish to deepen the cooperation.

At the end of 2015, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)t granted funding for the vocational training partnership (BBP). Since then we have been active in South Africa and maintain a close partnership with the uMfolozi TVET College and various associations in the private sector, but also in politics.

The overarching goal of the BBP is to improve the employment opportunities of the graduates of the college and at the same time to provide the companies there with qualified specialists.

Our approach to achieve this goal is to implement selected elements of dual education in South Africa. It is always necessary to find country-specific solutions. Due to South African legislation, for example, trainees continue to be enrolled in college first and do not first sign the apprenticeship contract with a company, as is common in Germany. We concentrate on the professions of masons, plant mechanics for sanitary, heating and climate, plasterers and carpenters.

South African delegation visiting Germany: Construction

What are the main results of the project so far?

A very important result is the establishment of the “Construction Center of Excellence” – a training center. 150 trainees are already undergoing vocational training. At this center, we supported our partner – the uMfolozi College – in introducing dual vocational training. For this purpose, we first revised the curricula and clarified the legal framework with various authorities and institutions. We have also set up a company network so that the trainees in the 25 participating companies can learn under practical conditions.

We supported the development of the dual training with intensive training of the actors involved. We have trained eight instructors at the training center in terms of professional and didactical skills. We have held courses in both South Africa and Germany. In addition, we have trained 25 in-company trainers to the quality of the in-company training both technically and didactically.

Another important result is the establishment of our start-up center. Since 2017, start-ups which link skilled crafts and digital economy have been supported. There are now 25 spin-offs with a focus on innovative business models. As a result, 60 new jobs have been created.

In addition, we have ensured that the framework conditions are suitable for successful dual training. That is to say that we did a lot of persuasion in the companies. They were amongst other things invited to delegation trips to Germany, where the system of dual training was presented. In addition, we have contributed to the fact that the craft in the region around Richard’s Bay is now perceived as more attractive by supporting the partners intensively in their endeavour to improve this image.

These are lighthouses that already shine within South Africa. In the current project phase, we are working to ensure that the results of our pilot project in South Africa are further disseminated and applied.

Technology project with children and youth at the start-up centre

Which hurdles have you already overcome in the project work and which challenges do you still face?

In the beginning there was the first big challenge: “Search for suitable long-term staff”. The District Crafts Association attached importance to experience, suitability and skills as well as regional roots. The regional roots of our long-term experts mean that they have cultural knowledge, a network in South Africa and identify with the partner country. All of this is of invaluable for our project – especially currently in times of the corona pandemic. So our employees are still on site and continue the work there.

As part of this project, we have done a lot of networking, without which in-company training would be inconceivable. The networking activities of the college with the companies were expanded. They first had to – and still have to – be convinced that in-company training is a useful tool. The willingness of the regulatory authorities for in-company training also had to be won.

Another challenge is that the willingness of the partners to cooperate in international projects is very dependent on the people in charge.

So far, we have still mastered the challenges mentioned.

Environmental protection and social and economic sustainability are important issues for the skilled crafts sector. What role do environmental protection and sustainability play in the project?

Economic sustainability is one of our core goals. With the approach of offering qualified training, we strive to create long-term, high-quality employment. Graduates should find economic prospects for themselves and their families in the long term through employment or self-employment. On the one hand, this is an aspect of social sustainability for the trainees, and on the other hand, it is an aspect of economic sustainability. That is because by increasing the level of qualifications we make a contribution to securing skilled workers in South Africa – and thus to sustainable economic development in South Africa.

We perceive that the subject of environmental protection / hygiene is a very important one for the project partners under the heading “Occupational safety”. Deficits are often communicated here. Both the college and companies ask for training in these areas.

Delegation from South Africa

South African Delegation visiting Germany: Renewable Energy.

Who are your key supporters in the project?

The main supporters are the South African Department of Higher Education and Training as well as the Ministry of Economics. However, this support is also mutual. South Africa has national councils for the future of vocational training. In this context, the Ministry of Education brings together various actors from the vocational training sector and the private sector at one table. The KH advises and supports the South African government on the subject of dual vocational training. There is a good working relationship with GIZ. We are also involved in the round table of the German embassy in Pretoria through our long-term expert.

Exchange with the private sector

Training for plant mechanics for sanitary, heating and climate.

South Africa is experiencing a long and very strict lockdown in the wake of the corona pandemic. What effects – with regard to the restrictions in the context of the measures to combat corona – is there on the project? How do you deal with that?

The lockdown in South Africa has an extremely negative impact on the South African economy. Even before Corona, the country had to struggle with high unemployment and economic difficulties. In the informal economy, a week-long lockdown can mean that people have no income to survive on. The effects of the corona pandemic can therefore be felt even more intensely in South Africa than in Germany.

The uMfolozi College was of course also affected by the lockdown. It is currently working in reduced operation. Since the colleges in South Africa have to largely finance themselves, the financial impact is not negligible and a major task is to ensure the future financial security of the college. Due to the desolate economic situation, there is a fear that local companies will not prioritize company training.

There are currently no short-term assignments of German specialists in South Africa, nor are South African specialists being trained in Germany, and there are currently no delegation trips. We have partially compensated for these cancellations through digital training. In the purely manual-practical area, such measures are often difficult or not fully implementable.

How could the current project develop and how could the collaboration be designed in the future?

We would like to help ensure that the structures that have been set up are sustained over the long term. German development policy can provide us with targeted support through targeted follow-up measures and cooperation opportunities. We would like to continue to contribute to the development cooperation of the BMZ through the cooperation with our previous and new partners and help to spread the good ideas of the project in South Africa. There are also good potential starting points in our close cooperation with GIZ and the South African associations.

What are the interests of KH Steinfurt Warendorf in this collaboration? How do you benefit from this?

With our international projects, we assume global responsibility and thereby also contribute to increasing the attractiveness of skilled crafts in our region. The KH is perceived more in public and the establishment of good networks to politics, associations and authorities is promoted by international partnerships.

Thanks to the international projects, we can also give specialists and trainees from our region or our organisation the opportunity to gain international experience in the form of expert assignments or internships.

We see ourselves as part of a partnership in which both sides learn and benefit from each other. We are not a classic institution for development cooperation, but an organization with a structure, goals and tasks similar to that of our partner organizations. Or to put it more specifically: we are educational and service providers for the skilled trades, as are the training institutions and associations with which we cooperate in the partner countries. Our partners greatly appreciate this approach.

Our positive experiences in South Africa were the basis for the development of further partnership projects. For example, we are now coordinating, among other things, another vocational training partnership in Mozambique and a joint project with GIZ for skills training in Jordan. Without the great personal commitment of our management and the support from our member companies and colleagues, these good results in the area of ​​international projects at the KH would not have been possible.

Dr. Jan-Niclas Gesenhues

Head of Department Vocational Education and Training International at the District Crafts Association Steinfurt-Warendorf

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