IRM pilot promising intervention to expanding artisanal employment pathways

Maryla Bialobrzeska

Despite significant investments in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and skills development, the pathways for technical occupations are blocked for large numbers of young people in South Africa. For those who embark on artisanal pathways, relatively few get access to formal apprenticeship opportunities that lead to a trade. For the majority of youth, their best option is to be employed in a low skilled role. This often results in a large number of young people getting trapped in low-skilled, low-paying and highly insecure jobs with little opportunity for career progression writes Saide’s Maryla Bialobrzeska.

The two key bottle necks to opening up artisanal pathways and the opportunity for decent work exist: people with college qualifications do not get meaningful employment without industry relevant skills, and work experience; and current employees cannot progress and are stuck because of limited access to good quality training and because they do not meet the industry skills requirements.

The National Business Initiative (NBI) in partnership with Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, the Institute of Plumbing South Africa (IOPSA), GIZ (the German development cooperation with South Africa) and Ekurhuleni East TVET College’s Artisan Skills Development Centre (ASDC) set out topilot an Installation, Repair, and Maintenance (IRM) intervention. 

Saide was invited to join the initiative to provide support to the conceptual design of the IRM Green Skills TVET College intervention programme; conduct a gap analysis of the capacity of TVET curriculum managers and lecturers in the targeted college to deliver the IRM curriculum; and to facilitate a process towards the design of a capacity building plan and programme for TVET College institutional change development to deliver the planned IRM programme.

The IRM pilot plumbing programme, included a focus on green skills (offering training related to the installation and maintenance of solar water heaters and photovoltaic systems) was designed by NBI, IOPSA and Harambee and implemented at the ASDC from October 2019 – January 2020. Thereafter, the candidates began their six-month structured workplace-based learning with 13 plumbing companies, across Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni. The programme focused on; formalising and consolidating knowledge for the identified trade (plumbing), determining and addressing gaps in skills and behaviours for a workplace role; and creating sufficient opportunity to apply knowledge in the workplace.

The target group was 37 TVET graduates with an N3 engineering qualification. NBI’s long term plan is to develop a number of IRM programmes that will open up employment pathways for candidates who have studied in a variety of fields such as plant operations, automotive repair and maintenance, refrigeration, solar water heating installation, carpentry and electrical installation, maintain and repair.

A key objective of the IRM initiative was to demonstrate a TVET College intervention model that significantly improves teaching and learning and industry responsiveness and can be replicated across the TVET sub-system. 

Click here to read more about the IRM curriculum 

Reflections on the pilot

Recognising the capacity and resource challenges in the TVET colleges and current economic realities and constraints in the industrial sector, the creation of scalable and sustainable pathways for TVET College students to Green Skills and other technical occupations in large companies and SMEs is a challenge. It requires a fundamental paradigm shift in the design and delivery of college programmes.  

For the objective of the IRM initiative to be achieved, the intervention must be built through co-creation, with the college as an equal partner, and must result in the work becoming embedded in the college operations so to ensure buy-in and sustainability. 

Many TVET lecturers will also require significant capacity building to facilitate the practical project-based learning approach to curriculum implementation that is promoted in the IRM programme. 

For these reason a quick fix is not possible, however, given the very high rate of unemployment and poverty in South Africa, creating an intervention, like the IRM programme, that will expand artisanal employment pathways is certainly an aim worth working towards.