South Africa continues to import foreign welding skills because of the inability to meet local demand, according to Sean Blake, executive director of the South African Institute for Welding (SAIW).
Blake says recent discussions with Eskom confirms that more than 70% of welders who are currently working on the Medupi and Kusile power stations are from foreign countries.
“Based on our experience over the years and the feedback we receive from industry, we do believe that South Africa currently lacks sufficient artisan skills to support growth and even more so when it comes to welding skills, which forms a critical part of most manufacturing processes,” he says.
The importing of welding skills remains an industry hot potato. The issue surfaced five years ago when the SAIW red-flagged a lack of welding skills not only on Eskom’s power generation projects, but also on major construction and infrastructure developments such as Transnet’s pipelines and Sasol’s petrochemical plants.
The 2012 SAIW study, led by former executive director, Jim Guild, reported welding skills imports of 30 to 40% on operating power stations, and up to 80% on new power generations projects.
Public statements by Eskom’s then-chief operating officer Dan Morokane confirmed these numbers. He stated that in order for Eskom to meet its construction deadlines, it had to employ 75% of welders from outside South Africa.
A study by René van Wyk from the Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management at the University of Johannesburg, highlighted that other construction and manufacturing industries were experiencing similar challenges.
As stated in her case study, “large firms such as Grinaker-LTA and Sasol import welders from Malaysia, Ireland, India and Thailand to perform construction and maintenance work.” The problem forms part of the overall shortage of artisans in the country.
To respond to the shortage, South African training institutes have provided significant focus to the development of local welding expertise, and welding schools have mushroomed across the country.
Sean Jones, managing director of the Artisan Training Institute (ATI) says although a skills injection into the South African welding trade is critical, training academies need to maintain the quality of training outcomes to meet demand.
He says ATI has been actively focussing on addressing learners’ attitudes and welding competence to ensure that they perform on par with foreign labour. “Enhancing the competitiveness of our local welders require a mind shift from management, unions and artisans that embrace the common goal of growing the employability of local welders. We need to collectively match the quality of welding skills supply with that of industry’s demand, he concludes.