Siemens South Africa is making a concerted effort to address the shortage of skilled artisans in the country with the revival of an apprenticeship training programme, launched to the industry, customers and the media.

“This programme will eventually cost Siemens millions of rands, since it is a long-term commitment, and will produce far more artisans than Siemens itself needs internally,” says Harry Hollier, Siemens Executive Director. “However, we consider this an investment in the future of our company, our industry and our country.

“It’s a milestone in the history of our continuing human resources development in southern Africa and a first for this century.”

In his keynote address, Chief Executive Sigi Proebstl pointed out that South Africa’s National Research and Development expenditure for science and technology amounts to R12 billion, or nearly 0.9% of its GDP. By contrast, China has the fastest growing research intensity at 1.44% of its GDP. Similarly, South Africa produces only 1200 engineering graduates a year, compared to Korea and Taiwan which each produce 30,000 and 10,000 respectively.

“The same shortfall – though in far greater dimension in terms of numbers – holds for apprentices in training,” he said. “The market requires one engineer for every four technicians and every 16 artisans.  Currently the ratio stands at one engineer for every one technician and two artisans, and it’s time the industry rose to this challenge."

Siemens’ objective is to develop skills for South Africa’s future. The company is ideally positioned to create top-level technical engineering skills, given its long-standing reputation and experience in this area. Siemens has been considered a benchmark for transformation in technical training since the 1970s.

The first apprentice training programme is already under way, with 20 delegates representing the demographics of the country – not only in terms of colour, but also in gender equality. The group consists of 16 black males, three black females and one white male. As such, Siemens’ choice of candidates also supports its programme of social upliftment. In addition, Siemens has committed to liaise with its business partners to negotiate employment for the artisans once the training has been completed.

The revival of the programme was done in alignment with the Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa (ASGISA) and the Joint Initiative for Priority Skills Acquisition (JIPSA) initiatives as well as in consultation with the Deputy President, Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka and the Minister of Public Works.  JIPSA is developing strategies for fast-tracking skills delivery in priority areas, and for unblocking obstacles to support AGSIGA’s objectives of promoting economic growth and halving poverty and unemployment by 2014.

“By helping young people complete a trade test and becoming economically active, we can make a real contribution to the development of South Africa.” Hollier says.

“The challenge lies in equipping the hands and minds of our future generation of technical workers to implement the solutions provided by our innovative society to the benefit of industry, commerce and society in general, but above all in support of a vibrant economy,” Proebstl says. “With the launch of this programme, Siemens is meeting this challenge.”