Wilma den Hartigh
Many people don't consider welding to be a viable career option, but perceptions of the trade are unwarranted.
This is the view of Etienne Nell, manager of training services at the South African Institute of Welding (SAIW), in response to the recent establishment of the Eskom Academy of Learning Welding School.
Based in Midrand, the school is a partnership between SAIW and Eskom. The aim of the initiative is to help alleviate the critical skills shortage of qualified welding professionals in the country.
Eskom CEO Brian Dames has indicated that in the next seven years the school will train at least 700 young people as welders.
Development and training a priority
Prioritising training and skills development for welders is a great need in South Africa's metal and engineering sectors, and Eskom's answer should offer relief for the industry.
According to Nell, professional high-end local welders are in short supply.
"There is a massive shortage of welding professionals in South Africa," he said.
"One of the reasons for this is that the training of welding apprentices no longer gets priority."
Thumbs up from government
The Minister of Public Enterprises Malusi Gigaba has flagged the project as an important strategic technical skills development programme for the country.
At the opening of the school, Gigaba said it is important for state institutions to develop skills in-house. This will help to ease the skills shortage and stimulate economic and employment opportunities.
"The welders will be able to work not only for Eskom, but will also be of use to the broader South African economy", said Gigaba.
Aiming for international standards
The school forms part of Eskom's Professional Welding Capability Development Programme, which aims to improve the utility's capacity to train welders in keeping with international quality standards.
As the country builds its numbers of professional welders, Eskom will be in a better position to meet its obligations for the construction of new power plants, as well as maintenance and upgrading of existing plants.
With more welders qualifying locally, it will also be easier for Eskom to replace skills that have to be imported from other countries.
Nell cautions that the situation has become so dire that many local companies in the construction and steel sectors have to import welding skills from countries such as Korea, Argentina and the Philippines.
Eskom chairman Zola Tsotsi said through the programme, they will create many employment opportunities for locals in the scarce skills category, both in South Africa and abroad.
Once the trainees have completed the course, which comprises a theory component as well as an on-the-job training at power stations, they will receive a dual qualification that will be recognised not only within the country, but internationally as well.
Apart from SAIW, the certificate is also accredited by the International Institute of Welding, and is recognised in 54 countries worldwide.
"This is one of the benefits of getting the qualification. It opens a world of opportunity for welders", noted Nell.
"It will make a big difference to the dwindling numbers of welders in South Africa by providing a good training platform".