More skills can lead to ?exponential? growth

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The fact that the South African chemical industry produces a quarter of manufacturing Gross Domestic Product yet the country remains a net importer of high value chemicals "points to a lack of technical and entrepreneurial skills in this industry'.

So it was that SA national chairperson of British Petroleum - and former director-general of the Department of Labour - Rams Ramashia set the tone for the annual Chemical Industries Education and Training Authority (Chieta).

"Many specific opportunities exist in fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals and advanced specialty chemicals to further develop the local chemicals sector,' he said. "The chemical industry in South Africa has a number of competitive advantages that, if fully exploited, could lead to exponential growth in the volume, quality and value of chemicals that could be exported.'

These included lower energy costs; an abundance of raw material (coal, inorganic material, natural products); a unique slate of chemical intermediates as produced by NECSA, AECI, Sasol and others; world class tertiary institutions, and an abundance of minerals and precious metals resources used as catalysts.

"In spite of these advantages, the chemical sector does not contribute optimally to the South African economy. The major challenge facing the industry is the chronic lack of skills throughout the entire value chain and, more specifically, the specialised technical skills required to transform low value feedstocks into high value products.'

Delivering the conference?s keynote address, he quoted Chieta statistics indicating that more than 90 percent of companies in the sector employed fewer than 150 workers. "The bulk of the employees are, however, employed by the larger companies.'

The largest of the large include the petroleum megaliths, within which there existed a number of human resources development (HRD) challenges.

The SA Petroleum Industries Association (SAPIA), which comprises BP, Engen, Caltex, PetroSA, Sasol, Shell and Total, has "been working for two years at industry level to underpin HRD transformation in the sub-sector. Over this period, we have conducted annual HRD analyses from all member company employment equity reports submitted to the Department of Labour and the annual education and training reports submitted to Chieta.

Some of the major findings from the 2005 situational analysis had been that:

  • African females were by far the most under-represented group, followed by African males;
  • At top management, 67 percent of recruitment favoured African males and 33 percent favoured white males;
  • No females were recruited or promoted into top management;
  • White males dominated the legislator and senior official occupational category. African, coloured and Indian females showed particularly low representation;
  • The petroleum industry lagged behind the national average (Department of Labour statistics) for formally employed workers that showed only 0.9 percent of employees were people with disabilities;
  • The reported scarce and critical skills amongst SAPIA member companies also demonstrated a strong racial and gender bias.

    "The petroleum industry has a serious shortage of black professionals and managers skilled in technical areas of the petroleum industry such as retail operations, logistics and transport operations, supply optimisation, planning and performance management, health safety and environment. Other areas like finance, information technology, legal and leadership skills were also highlighted,' said Ramashia.

    "I am happy to report that we recently signed off the first-ever SAPIA HRD Strategy (2005-2010). This strategy rests on four industry skills development objectives ...' These included:

  • Annually quantifying and communicating scarce skills to enable sustainable growth, development and equity;
  • Increasing the relevance and quality of occupationally directed qualifications and learning programmes;
  • Assisting designated groups, including new entrants, to acquire critical skills and enter the petroleum industry by participating in accredited and work-based programmes such as development programmes tailor-made to promote women in leadership;

    Among the groundbreaking key performance indicators he announced was the development of "an occupationally-directed Petroleum Qualifications Framework to scope and codify knowledge and qualifications and the targeted development and advancement of women'.

    "I am proud to announce that the petroleum industry is has committed to signing a memorandum of agreement with Chieta, worth R2 million, to develop 63 female professionals and managers in 2006 on a tailor-made Petroleum Industry Leadership in Oil and Energy Programme.'

    Jim Freeman ([email protected])

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