LETTER: Yes to apprenticeships

I have previously written about the need for a revision of our education system to again include an apprenticeship scheme and so Allister Sparks (How to get around the big problem of skills training, April 25) makes huge sense. His comments are made all the more tragic because until just after 1994 we had a system very similar to the one he describes.

I also agree that the trade unions in SA are part of our problem in this regard. They tend to regard apprenticeships as an exploitation of the workers because the apprentice learns by doing and generally starts with menial jobs like carrying the journeyman’s tool box. This is demeaning in labour union speak.

I believe, however, that we face an even more difficult challenge to implementing this much-needed apprenticeship. Since the demise of the previous apprenticeship scheme at the hands of the African National Congress — and I include the demise of the teacher and nurses training colleges in this — we have lost significant volumes of critical artisan skill. This artisan skill is fundamental to the success of any apprenticeship programme. The skills were at the time of the transition of government and the corresponding demise of the scheme, largely in the hands of white South Africans. Many of these skilled individuals left SA during the period since 1994. How now do we get them back?

We may end up having to do what the hotel industry did in the ’70s when eating out in fine restaurants and hotels became the vogue. Being a chef was seen then as a low-class job. The industry imported many highly skilled chefs from places such as Germany, Switzerland, the UK and Austria. These highly skilled men and women raised the profile of the profession and in doing so trained a generation of excellent chefs that are benefiting the industry and our country today.

We may have to import skills to support the apprenticeship programme Mr Sparks argues in favour of. Is this likely to happen, one must ask. While we should all pray that it does, one must also ask the follow-on question. What is likely to hinder such a move?

The first is likely to be a lack of political will to admit that the government failed SA and her people by abolishing apprenticeship schemes in the first place. The second is likely to be the trade union movement. The unions will object to bringing in the highly skilled professionals that we need to underpin such a scheme.

They will argue that we have the skills in SA and therefore don’t need foreign skills. They will argue this as they have little understanding of excellence and the very nature of the movement is to ensure collective uniformity — no one should be better than the rest. They would be wrong. Our skills base has been critically weakened and cannot hope to achieve the levels of excellence required to impart these critical, job-creating skills. I believe, as does Mr Sparks, that out national economic survival may depend on well-structured and well-resourced apprenticeships.

Barry Ross

Cape Town

Paul Champion
Strategic Project Manager

Mobile: 07540 704920

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