Why young South Africans should study a trade

Learning a trade can open many doors for young people and deserves to be higher on the “what do I do after I leave school” lists of both parents and learners. This is the view of Zizile Lushaba, Human Capital & Skills Development Executive at the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa).

Lushaba believes that innovative, self-driven self-starters who are technical and enjoy solving problems and working with their hands make good candidates for artisan training, which can include becoming a welder, fitter and turner, boilermaker or pipe fitter.

At a time when the unemployment rate is close to 40% (39.2% in the first quarter of 2023), with the unemployment rate among young South Africans as high as 61%, the focus on post-school education and training must be on rendering young people employable.

She says choosing a trade increases young people’s chances of being employed as there is a huge demand for more artisans in all sectors of the economy, and this is not only true of South Africa.

“Degree-based careers may pay better, but you have to be employed before getting paid. South Africa has many unemployed graduates, which just goes to show that a degree does not always guarantee a job. Of interest, there are far fewer trained artisans languishing among the unemployed,” added Lushaba.

The emphasis on practical training makes newly qualified tradespeople infinitely more employable than university graduates.

“Trades require the following three elements — theory, simulation (practical training) and experiential learning (on-the-job training). Experiential learning allows the learner to be exposed to the workplace sooner than university graduates, which provides the opportunity to learn from professionals who guide and mentor them,” said Lushaba.

She also noted that trades offer learners who may battle to achieve the marks needed to study at university an alternative, and sometimes far better option than simply “slotting into whatever degree I will be accepted into”. 

“University is theory-intensive, while a trade provides an opportunity for individuals who might not excel as much in theory but would be far better with hands-on, practical exposure and learning. Being employed as an apprentice and/or qualifying as an artisan also provides earlier earnings prospects, which is a big benefit for many South African families.” 

There are many colleges around the country where young people can learn a trade. The Seifsa Training Centre in Benoni, Gauteng, for example, offers a full range of artisan training — from welders to electricians. It has also kept up to date with the needs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

Furthermore, the centre also offers skills such as robotics and 3D printing to meet industry demands, and these skills are taught using e-learning, virtual reality and e-assessments. The centre can train 250 people per day and offers apprenticeships in 10 trades.

As part of its commitment to empowering young South Africans, Seifsa took part in Cell C’s recent Youth Day Event. The See Youth focused on ways to empower the country’s youth, including helping them to develop the skills of entrepreneurship, among other things.

Many artisans find that their practical skills and experience are perfectly suited to running their own small businesses. These skills are useful in “day-to-day life for those who are looking to explore the entrepreneurial route”.

Young people choosing to study trade will also be helping the South African economy as there is a dire need for more artisans in the country.

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