“Although the skills shortage has reached global crisis proportions, particularly on the African continent, it is not a problem without solutions,” says Afrox Business Manager, Application Development, Johan Pieterse.
“However, finding solutions will require focus, tenacity and teamwork to ensure that we create an environment where our people can be trained and developed to build a successful future for South Africa. Skills development will uplift our growing economy, enable it to compete globally and, in turn, create more employment.
“We regard welding as the backbone of the manufacturing industry, since any infrastructural project such as power, roads, rail, shipping etc. requires a vast amount of welding. It is therefore critical to ensure that we train and develop skilled welders and boilermakers for the industry.
“We can all play a role in resolving the skills issue. Institutions such as the Southern African Institute of Welding (SAIW) and other approved training facilities offer world class welder training courses,” says Pieterse. “Some of these courses, such as those offered by the SAIW are internationally approved by the International Institute of Welding and are highly sought-after qualifications.”
He emphasises that although Afrox is not heavily involved in the training of qualified welders, the organisation actively supports recognised training institutions with products developed in South Africa, as well as those manufactured by global suppliers such as Miller and Hobart.
“We believe that if welders are to be trained to international standards, the products they use during training must conform to the highest quality and safety standards,” he adds. “We therefore take every opportunity to donate our products and services.”
Afrox also offers bursaries for learnerships and apprenticeships and partners with training bodies to develop individuals into qualified artisans. In addition, the organisation actively participates in the development of new training facilities and has played a role in the establishment of new training centres in Gauteng, Limpopo, the Eastern Cape and Western Cape.
“The quality of the learners emerging from these training facilities is evident in the fact that we’ve seen two winners and a runner-up in the SAIW Young Welder of the Year competition held every second year,” Pieterse says.
“But the buck doesn’t stop here. We can’t train and develop welders and then simply dump them into the industry. Once a new welder enters the market, the hard work of gaining experience starts. Experience can only be gained from two sources — time spent on the job and by learning from knowledge handed down by senior welders. The second source is quite a challenge, since we’ve seen a decline in expertise in past years as training and development was placed on the back burner in favour of other focus areas, leaving a gap that will be difficult to bridge.”
Afrox has developed an in-house solution that Pieterse believes will help to close this gap. It has established a technical support division, comprised of welding experts both within Afrox and from the greater industry, who together have years of experience to contribute.
“We share this expertise with our own staff to ensure that we improve our customer support,” Pieterse explains. “We accomplish this through internal training courses, as well as on-site support at customer premises. We also develop tailor-made training courses for customers, based on a combination of theoretical training and on-site coaching on customer-specific applications.
“The theory helps the welding operator understand the various processes better and provides him with the necessary insight. We follow this up with on-the-job training, firstly by optimising all the parameters and variables of the process and then by coaching the operator to produce the best possible welding results.
“This achieves two positive outcomes. Firstly, it bridges the experience gap, resulting in a more motivated and experienced welder, able to take ownership of his job and be responsible for the outcome. Secondly, the company’s quality standards improve; productivity increases and costs come down.”
The technical team is also responsible for translating global experience into knowledge, particularly in terms of new technology. This knowledge is further developed and introduced into Sub-Saharan African markets to achieve a positive impact on productivity and quality.
Johan concludes: “The skills shortage poses a real challenge to the country’s economic wellbeing and the solutions are the responsibility of all South Africans. This responsibility lies not only with training bodies, but with all industry stakeholders. A positive ‘Can Do’ attitude will result in a skill upliftment that will turn us into a globally competitive market player.”
Afrox is the largest manufacturer and distributor of welding gases and related products in Sub-Saharan Africa.