Investing in tomorrow

The release of the latest unemployment figures does not bode well for job seekers in South Africa. The situation is far more dire for the youth of the country with pundits speculating that unemployment among school leavers and university graduates may be as high as 50%. The problem has been exacerbated over the last few years with major companies cutting their apprenticeship programs and loathe to invest in training programmes. This is, however, not the case at Pilot Crushtec International, that has made it part of its company ethos to offer practical experience to students who wish to complete their diplomas.

Tania Tarr, director HR & Organisational Development at Pilot Crushtec, has been the driving force behind this initiative for several years. “Some eight or nine years ago we decided to start our own recruitment pool from which to draw the very best talent in South Africa,” says Tarr. “We noticed, quite quickly, that we were being approached by both educational institutions and learners who wanted to complete their practical training with us in order to secure their qualification. As part of the National Diploma, in either mechanical or electrical engineering, there is a practical phase one, that needs to be done in a workshop, and a phase two that needs to be done in an engineering design environment. We made it an HR priority to address this opportunity, and soon began bringing students in who had done their three- or four-year course at a higher education institution to take them through their paces.”

This practical experience offered by Pilot Crushtec is an integrated process with numerous formalities and milestones that must be reached and passed in order to qualify. “All our programmes are in line with, and approved by the respective institutions, who visit us regularly to ensure we are maintaining our rigid standards.”

At the moment Pilot Crushtec brings in around four students into the P1, workshop phase, every six months. “After they have done the full six months they are, via an interview process, progressed through to P2. Generally, we can only handle two people in our P2 phase as there is a lot of personal interaction that needs to take place, as opposed to the workshop phase where there is a higher degree of independence. This in-service training has yielded several benefits for both the students and Pilot Crushtec alike. Firstly, it has allowed us to create a recruitment pool second to none and, more importantly, the people who go through both P1 and P2 get their National Diploma.”

The practical part of the Diploma is necessary to graduate but it is an unfortunate reality in South Africa that there are not that many companies who offer practical opportunities. “Additionally, there are costs associated with embarking on this journey which many small to medium companies just cannot afford. The SETA’s do their part but, as with all government processes, there is lots of red tape and bureaucracy to deal with which may deter organisations that don’t have dedicated training officers, or HR departments. We have, however, realised that the reason behind all our efforts is for the learners, the future of the country, and the sustainability of our Company. We therefore do the due diligence. We would like to urge all Stakeholders to help streamline the process, so as to make it easier for companies to offer these types of training programmes, but we do understand this will take time.”

Over the years Pilot Crushtec has become known to students at all campuses across South Africa and applications pour in from all corners of the country. “We receive so many applications, all through the year, from Students wanting to complete their Diplomas, by doing their Practical Phases through us and are blessed to have such a good reputation. The unfortunate thing is that we cannot accommodate everyone that approach us and that needs this Practical Training. It breaks my heart to have to turn so many people away who are hungry to learn, eager to work, and can make a real difference in South Africa. I urge all companies to take up the gauntlet and start similar programmes – even if they take on a single learner. It is so sad to consider that someone who has done their three-year Theory course, cannot complete their Diploma and graduate. Sometimes they sit at home for years at a time before they can graduate and then again, before they are gainfully employed in their chosen field.”

One of the beneficiaries of the Pilot Crushtec Internship initiative is Lerato Modisapuli, who studied for a Diploma in Financial Management at Ekurhuleni West College. “After doing the 18-month theoretical side of the course I was lucky enough to get into Pilot Crushtec to do the practical part of the course. Since being here management and colleagues have been incredibly supportive and have given me an opportunity to experience a wide variety of functions within the Company. This experience has led me to want to pursue my education further and eventually go all the way and become a chartered accountant. I think that my education will be more of a journey and not just a destination.”

Another Pilot Crushtec success story is Luyanda Nxele, a graduate of the Mangosuthu University of Technology in KZN. “After completing the theory section for my Diploma in Mechanical Engineering I started at Pilot Crushtec where I completed both P1 and P2 and received my Diploma. I was fortunate that they saw potential in me and offered me a Trainee role and then a role as a Junior Service Technician. One of the most important parts of my experience has been the real-world application of the theory. There are talks that Practicals should be dropped from the process of getting a Diploma, but I feel that only after experiencing the practical side of things do, I now really understand what is expected of me, and how to do the job properly. Going forward I will further my studies but, for the moment, I am concentrating on getting as much experience as I can.”

Last, but by no means least, is Basebenzile Mnyandu, another Mechanical Engineering graduate of the Mangosuthu University of Technology. She, unfortunately, sat idle for almost a year after completing her theoretical studies as there was nowhere to do Practicals. “Many of the people I studied with also battled to find places to do their Practicals, so I am extremely grateful that I managed to secure a place here at Pilot Crushtec. This has been my dream since a was a kid as I used to watch my father, a bush mechanic, who could fix just about anything. I was one of those kids who took everything in the house apart just to figure out how they worked. I was a little worried about being the only female doing Mechanical Engineering but, since being at Pilot Crushtec, I know I made the right decision. My co-workers treat me like their sister and the work environment is a pleasure. Over the next few years I would like to get to a point where I am the best Technician at Pilot Crushtec and justify their faith in me.”

Going forward Tarr would like to expand the scope of their training programmes and internships. “The one thing I would like to see happen, in the coming years, is for Industry to become more altruistic – not to necessarily want something out of the process. I think Industry has the responsibility to help our young people who are, not to be clichéd, our future. It is that simple. We need to take the moral high-ground here and, in return, the powers that be should incentivise and encourage programmes across the board. I don’t mean exclusively financial incentives but making it simpler for Employers and Students to come together and to build the future.”

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