Journey from training to sustainability is key

By Eamonn Ryan

The theme of this year’s CETA summit, hosted by the Construction Education and Training Authority (CETA), was ‘Progressing SMMEs from basic training to sustainability’.

Robert Semenya

A draft five-year strategic plan was developed prior to the 2019 CETA Summit and to complete the document this summit hosted six ‘commissions’ or panel discussions where the input of the several hundred stakeholder participants attending the summit would be considered.

CETA acting CEO Robert Semenya outlined the five-year strategic plan, calling the present cycle in the construction sector “an interesting time”.

“I always say, when there is a crisis there is a solution. This strategy we are releasing is aimed at addressing some obstacles that have been bedevilling the country: the issue of transformation, the issue of women empowerment, the issue of introducing people with disabilities to the sector.

“The people who have come here today, come with expectations – you want to run successful enterprises. Some of you are already in business; some of you are interested; some of you are not sure. This strategy we are developing is aimed at answering your questions. Everyone is trying to do something to help the SMME: MBSA [Master Builders South Africa], SAFCEC, IOPSA [Institute of Plumbing South Africa] – but there’s always been a gap,” said Semenya.

“With the advent of the National Skills Development programme, we’ve seen the start of learnership and short work-skills programmes, but one thing we have not seen is skills development that focuses on enterprise development. That’s where we want to go.”

Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor, published the National Skills Development Plan (NSDP), aimed at assisting the South African Government to contribute towards the economic growth, creation of employment and social development. Published in the Government Gazette (Vol 645, no42290) of 7 March, in line with Section 9 (4) of the Skills Development Act,
No. 97 of 1998 as amended, the plan responds to the goals of the National Development Plan and the White Paper for Post-School Education and Training.

“All these plans talk of SMME development. As a CETA, we cannot develop learnerships for SMMEs, so the type of programmes we want to implement are modular based for SMMEs. It cannot be a matter of a three- or five-day programme – and that’s it. The first step is to research what are the skills available in South Africa – aggregating the huge number of people one typically sees outside hardware stores with signs saying they are tilers, painters or plumbers. They can do the job but don’t have formal qualifications.”

Currently no-one is looking after them, although many of them may have valuable skills. This is also why the programme addresses SMMEs, whereas in business the focus is more usually on SMEs. The second M refers to micro enterprises, or the survivalist economy, rather than small businesses.

“We’re collecting information of those people throughout the country. Once we have done that, we will look at a programme that will assist these people who are ‘standing outside’. We want to take it further than just developing programmes – we want to add technology in the shape of 4th Industrial Revolution technologies to see how we can formalise these people,” added Semenya. “We need to know who they are, what can they do and what their level of education is.”

The Plan

The CETA Plan involves a three-pronged approach:

  • Grassroots level;
  • Those already in the construction sector; and
  • Those who require support to make their existing businesses sustainable.

“To assist these companies, we need to look at a database of employees of traditional construction companies which are currently in financial difficulty [Basil Read, Group 5, Esor, Liviero and more] to identify those individuals that have more than
15 years‘ work experience to develop a programme to prepare them to become mentors for the new players.”

He emphasised that given the business focus of such a programme, this would not be led by CETA itself which would remain in the background. The inaugural summit was called to present the five-year plan, which was aimed at becoming a dynamic process. The summit will now be an annual report-back event to update the industry; measure how the plan was delivering on its targets; and how to address bottlenecks which could emerge.

The summit was split into the six commissions:

  • Enhance technical competence;
  • Improve entrepreneurial acumen;
  • Understand and comply to technical and business-related regulations;
  • Granting of seed capital to grow the business;
  • Develop and support partnerships to drive market access opportunities; and
  • Leverage professional bodies to support the growth of SMME and enhance synergies.

There’s a doctor in the house

Prior to the presentation of the plan, the industry perspective on the plan was given by Dr Thandi Ndlovu, CEO of Motheo Construction.

“We must move beyond training to stimulating entrepreneurship, so we can give opportunities to those we have trained because they are able to participate in the economy. We must not at this stage in a developing economy focus too much on skills development, because over the past 25 years we have trained lots of people. Those people are sitting at home – they’re frustrated, they’ve lost hope because they do not have access to opportunity.

“Partnerships with the private sector will help us to get out of this training mode and into an entrepreneurship mode.”

Regarding the demise of several of South Africa’s big construction companies, what Ndlovu called ‘the Big Seven’, she said, “They are either on the way out or they are struggling, which decline I must emphasise is good for business.

“On the other hand, it is good for you [the SMME] because it presents you – [provided you are] sound businesses, properly structured, well trained, well geared, with a new way of thinking – to enter into that space. The old tenants have to move out and the new tenants move in. The new tenants are small businesses. However, you should not enter this industry thinking you will become wealthy in the next 10 years – if you do, this is not the space for you. Construction is very tough, but it is rewarding. You have to progress up the cidb grade rankings progressively with experience. Entrepreneurship in the construction industry is about the long term. 

“The demise of these companies is due to two things. It is a function of the economy; but if truth be told, we took too long as an industry to transform, and to demonstrate to government that we are on the right path towards creating black businesses. Construction is in a phase where transformation is at the core – it is the pillar of what we are trying to achieve,” added Ndlovu. 

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