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Schalk Burger | 21 July 2023

Businesses can take actions to upskill young people and empower them with work experience that will better their chances of standing out in an oversaturated labour market, says electrical equipment manufacturer Eaton learning and development manager Melanie Riches.

She adds that apprenticeships offer ambitious youth on-the-job training and valuable work experience, thereby strengthening their skills.

While addressing South Africa's significant macroeconomic challenges requires a sustained effort from both businesses and government in the long term, apprenticeships provide learners who completed matric an opportunity to use their hands and talents to build a creative and successful career.

"It is also a medium to get qualified artisans, tradesmen and tradeswomen back into the industry and I believe it’s where there is huge potential for entrepreneurial skills to be extracted from," she notes.

For example, Rina Letsebe started as an electrician apprentice in 2013 in Eaton's four-year apprenticeship programme and qualified as an electrician in 2016. In 2019, she was promoted to production planner, and currently serves as an environmental health and safety analyst, as well as serving as an inspiration to other women entering the electrical manufacturing sector, Riches illustrates.

South Africa’s youth are entering a daunting job market, where slow economic growth has meant businesses are struggling more than ever to absorb each new wave of entrants into the workforce.

"Many apprenticeships often overlook the essential soft skills that young professionals need to thrive in their careers. The transition from graduate to professional can be challenging, and entering the workforce as a fresh graduate can be intimidating," she adds.

Eaton apprenticeship alumna Nneheng Khusu credits her apprenticeship with helping her adapt to the working world and jumpstarting her career with a goal-driven mindset.

"Apprenticeships not only refine technical skills, but also guide young individuals in professionalising themselves and expanding their knowledge," Riches says.

Eaton’s four-year learnership programme emphasises competencies such as communication, teamwork and problem-solving.

Additionally, the company also offers training sessions and networking events aimed at imparting practical and valuable knowledge that promotes holistic professional development, she adds.

Eaton employee Seyakamela Maropene says her apprenticeship taught her how to work and think independently, remain persistent in her personal career goals and not allow herself to be swept up with the crowd.

"This is proof of the personal development that takes place alongside the professional growth that an apprenticeship offers," Riches avers.

Eaton South Africa says it understands the need for change and creating opportunities for the youth. For many years, it has been running apprenticeship programmes, as testament to its commitment to equipping young individuals with sustainable skills of excellence for the future.

"At Eaton, we specifically focus on electrical apprenticeships for our Wireman positions, which, despite the name, are available to male and female apprentices. Once qualified, these apprentices work on our shopfloor as Wiremen. Some apprentices move on to work in the quality test section as well," she says.

"We onboard 10 to 15 apprentices per four-year programme. Although small, this ensures that we get all of them qualified, and possibly placed for permanent positions internally."

Further, young women need to be given equal opportunities in historically male-dominated industries to gain entry-level experience, advance their careers and ultimately take on leadership roles, just like their male counterparts.

"This should also be across business units or segments. In the manufacturing industry, young women are increasingly showing an interest in areas such as environmental health, safety management, electrical or power engineering, operations engineering, human resources, finance, accounting, supply chain management, informational technology and technical sales," adds Riches.

Meanwhile, while many businesses in South Africa may struggle to provide apprentices with additional enrichment experiences, those that can should provide young professionals with work opportunities that go beyond their expectations.

"This is especially pertinent for multinational companies, like Eaton, that have a global footprint. Collaborating with overseas teams, and even having the opportunity to visit operations abroad, can be transformational for a young professional," Riches notes.

A highlight for Eaton apprentices is the annual assessment course, in France, where these young minds visit and collaborate with their young colleagues from Eaton’s operations across the world.

"We cannot solely rely on the government for solutions. It is a shared task. However, offering a professionally robust and inclusive apprenticeship programme is one way businesses can play their part in helping to alleviate unemployment.

"Even if a business cannot absorb all of its apprentices, these young professionals leave the programme with skills, experience, and a growth mindset that will enable them to stand out as they continue their professional journey," Riches says.

‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’.


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