PLUMBING sector leads a new approach to apprenticeships.
PLUMBING sector leads a new approach to apprenticeships.

Plumbing sector reinvents itself with apprenticeships

By Tamara Mafilika Time of article published Jul 13, 2021

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THE plumbing sector is being transformed by collaboration between Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, employers, educators and the Institute of Plumbing South Africa (Iopsa).

They have created two game-changing formal apprenticeships that inspire entry-level youth to achieve professional qualifications and unlock new employment opportunities. In the process, the standard of plumbing in South Africa is improving, creating a multiplier effect that increases earnings for plumbers and achieves significant sector growth.

When a sector organises itself into an engine of inclusive growth, it can focus on the mutual interests of all stakeholders, including industry bodies, employers and educators. Working together enables them to identify sector needs, create jobs, and fill those jobs with young people who would otherwise be locked out of the economy.

“Plumbing offers great opportunities. It features on the 2020 National List of Occupations in High Demand and is part of the government’s target to have 30 000 trained artisans in place annually to fulfil strategic infrastructure projects and Covid recovery plans,” says Brendan Reynolds, Executive Director of Iopsa.

“If we can change employers’ perceptions of apprentices, we will see significant growth in apprenticeships and new employment opportunities to meet the government’s target.”

Both programmes start with Harambee sourcing and matching candidates through the platform, based on the attitudes and aptitudes most valued in successful plumbers. According to Reynolds, many young people arbitrarily choose trade jobs because they offer a faster route to earning a stipend. However, if a young person is not suited to the work, they will not succeed regardless of how desperate they are to make a living.

The two formal apprenticeships offer different pathways to employment. The first is a three-year programme by BluLever Education that results in qualified plumbers who have Red Seal certification and can work on their own.

The second apprenticeship is a newly-created one year programme by the National Business Initiative (NBI) that results in apprentices known as Plumbing Hands who work alongside qualified plumbers to learn a vital role in offices, hotels, or any building with plumbing where small things often go wrong, such as leaking toilets or dripping taps.

Apprentices spend 13 weeks in the classroom where the curriculum includes an intensive focus on plumbing skills supported by an effective work readiness programme, developed by Harambee, that teaches behaviours and socialisation for work.

In addition, the Allan Gray Makers programme introduces the opportunities and possibilities for business ownership and entrepreneurship. This is followed by six-to-nine months of structured learning in the workplace under the supervision of a qualified, experienced plumber.

Classrooms are hosted by select TVET colleges. Because of the industry-wide approach and the involvement of NBI, Iopsa and Harambee, this programme has given TVETs a much higher pass rate of 86% more than before. Most importantly, it has enabled TVETs to shift their mindset to a more employment-oriented programme that addresses the gap between theory and workplace application. It’s an important collaboration because it enables training to be scaled up.

Kaela Wilson, marketing director for Women in Plumbing, says, “Women have an eye for detail and patience for challenging situations. They are also better at communicating with customers and are perceived as less threatening.”

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