While South Africa is ranked number one out of the top 10 countries with the highest unemployment rates globally (World Population Review), the Master Builders’ Association, Western Cape notes that there is a shortfall of 40 000 skilled artisans in the country. This shortfall could be addressed if young people stepped up to pursue careers in industries that require skills such as plumbing, building, and carpentry.

When taking a closer look at the number of qualified artisans in the industry, the most noticeable observation is that over the past three to four years, many qualified and experienced artisans have retired and left the industry. The number of retired artisans versus the number of new entrants does not equate, which has resulted in a shortfall when it comes to training and upskilling new artisans. “This is a concern, not only for the MBAWC, but for the construction sector and the country as a whole, as the built environment is a huge contributor to the country’s economy”, says Letitia van Rensburg – Training Officer at the MBAWC. 

Over the years, the MBAWC has kept a close eye on the talent pool within the sector and a key trend that has emerged is that many young people may not be aware of the career opportunities offered to artisans (such as carpenters, plumbers, or joiners). This means that there is an immediate need for associations such as the MBAWC, the Department of Education, and the government to start educating young people about career opportunities available within the built environment.  Some inroads have been made with the introduction of the A21 program, but there is still a lot of work to do to close the skills gap.

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Although many people can use their hands, for instance, to build a house, skilled professionals are still needed to get the job done according to proper industry standards. “Some individuals have the basic skills to build a structure of some sort. However, these structures may not withstand the onslaughts of bad weather or even time, as they were not built by someone equipped with the appropriate skills and knowledge. In essence, being qualified and possessing the correct skills allows for structures that are sustainable, safe, and environmentally friendly,” adds van Rensburg. 

Training a qualified artisan takes between three and five years and it takes about 10 years to qualify as a master artisan. What is important for young people to know, is that pursuing a career within the built environment and ultimately qualifying as an artisan is multi-faceted and allows for personal growth and the ability to make a good living once qualified.  

The MBAWC has several training programs aimed at empowering and upskilling young people. One of the best performing training programs is the Apprentice Training Programme, which is particularly tailored for young people between the ages of 18 and 32 years. The purpose of the program is to ensure that young people can be placed in the industry as qualified artisans. 

In addition, the MBAWC runs a Supervisory Learnership Programme and an Occupational Health and Safety Programme, which are both aimed at jump-starting careers for young people in the built environment.

“As the MBAWC, we are focused on providing learning opportunities for young people, but we need more young people to join and grow in the field. Many retired artisans are willing to mentor new entrants who have a passion for working with their hands. Our young people need to understand that a career that requires one to do physical labor is just as important, and rewarding, as a career that requires one to work on a PC behind a desk,” notes van Rensburg.

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Letitia van Rensburg 

“One thing about the world we live in today is that there are opportunities and platforms for people to constantly upskill themselves and keep abreast of industry changes. I always advise young people – especially those with a passion for the built environment – to start creating and building things while they wait for their artisan and apprenticeship training applications to be processed. 

“Platforms such as YouTube allow anyone to acquire new skills. In essence, my advice is to always be on the lookout for ways to grow and upskill yourself, whilst knocking on doors of opportunity,” concludes van Rensburg.