Here Are The Current Trends in Engineering Training


Artisan Training Institute (ATI) recently attended the Electra Mining expo. The CEO of ATI discussed the current and future trends in engineering training.  



Dr Sean Jones of Artisan Training Institute gave a presentation at Electra Mining 2022, titled, Current and Future Trends in Engineering Training. This editorial highlights insights from the presentation touching on unemployment, demand cycles for engineering trades, gender representation and legal changes affecting entry qualifications for these trades.

Unemployment and demand for the engineering trades

Against a backdrop of staggering unemployment, Statistics South Africa has reported the stubborn unemployment trends affecting the country. Youth unemployment remains particularly severe.

engineering stats

Source: South Africa’s youth continues to bear the burden of unemployment. | Statistics South Africa (

Youth not in employment, education, or training (NEET) was reported to be 37%. This then begs the question as to where the jobs are in the engineering trades. Artisan Training Institute collects data on these demand trends. These indicators provide an effective representation of demand where ATI currently train around 2 000 apprentices per annum for several industries.

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Figure 1: Demand for the engineering trades from 2014 - 2022

To counter youth unemployment there is a need to focus on providing youth with effective career guidance. Figure 1 reveals the top three trades as being electrical, automotive, followed by fitting. The automotive trades include diesel mechanic, petrol mechanic, earth moving equipment mechanic, tractor mechanic and auto electricians. The diesel trades are those that have driven most of this demand at ATI.

Where boilermaking has enjoyed constant demand, instrumentation has the greatest likelihood of increasing in future, especially as mines and other plants embrace the Internet of Things (IOT) and embark on process improvement. The rigging trade has been particularly poorly supported. This is surprising, especially as there are legal obligations for employers relating to lifting and moving.

The effects of COVID-19 on training can be seen in the steep drop-off in enrolment during the 2019-2020 period.

Gender Inclusion in Engineering Training

Year on year, more women are entering traditionally gender segregated occupations. This serves to broaden the talent pool while also reducing poverty among women in South Africa.

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Table 2: Gender inclusion per trade comparison

In most engineering trades there has been an increase in female participation rates. Instrumentation has had a net zero increase in female participation although this is already off a high base of 32% representation. Typically, women are more represented in trades that are less physically demanding. The motor – diesel, boilermaking, fitting and turning and rigging trades are normally more physically demanding than electrical and instrumentation trades.

It is widely acknowledged that women bring different attributes to the engineering trades including patience, diligence, and higher safety compliance in executing different tasks. In many environments where women have been effectively integrated into engineering, they are highly regarded.

Unfortunately, there are also many work environments where women are not effectively integrated. This leads to extensive dysfunction because of inter gender conflicts and power struggles. More needs to be done to foster work environments where gender neutral cultures are promoted. Merely threatening individuals with disciplinary measures
for discrimination is deficient.

Legal Changes Affecting Entry into the Engineering Trades

The South African government are planning to remove TVET college nated courses N 1 – 3. Where N2 was a minimum entry level to the engineering trades for most of the trades, it is to be replaced with a Foundational Learning Competence (FLC). This consists of basic English and mathematics literacy.

Learners who complete grade 10 with maths (literacy) and English will not be required to do an FLC to enter an engineering trade. Learners who finish grades nine, ten, eleven or twelve without English or maths will be required to do FLC. FLC will be an approximate four-month qualification.

Figure 2: N1 – 3 falling away to be replaced by Foundational Learning Component (FLC)

We remain unsure how industry will respond to these changes in entry level requirements imposed by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). It is likely that most employers will look for candidates who have completed grade twelve with science and maths as their first option. It is widely speculated that the introduction of the FLC in this instance, will exacerbate the unemployability of South African Youth.

Training providers like Artisan Training Institute will be required to include in their institutional content the historic N1 – 3 theory. This has the potential to increase costs for apprentice training as training durations will need to be increased.

Technology Divide

In most cases emerging technology is outstripping the pace at which training providers can keep abreast with industry needs. Advances in robotics, sensor technology, process automation as examples, are costly to roll out in training institutions. These costs are related to both technology and human capacity. Furthermore, the qualifications standards are not keeping abreast with industry advancements.

What is needed is more flexibility in industry training models which encourage capacity building through partnerships. It is only through key partnerships that apprentice training can maintain the quality standards industry should expect.

Until the mid-1980’s it was commonplace for parents to encourage artisanal careers for their children. There is many a successful entrepreneur, CEO, salesperson, or engineer that started their career as an artisan. It is time to question global societies obsession with university education. Africa needs mid-level skills to develop localised skills bases.

If we are to build the continent, we must ensure a new trend, that includes, making the trades attractive to parents and children alike. As such, choosing to obtain a trade should be seen as a first choice for most children.




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