Gautrain Delivers Skills Dividends: Novel Employment and Training Methods Used during the Construction of South Africa's Gautrain Project Have Been So Successful That the Model Is Now Being Deployed throughout Southern Africa. Report by Tom Nevin
Nevin, Tom, African Business
South Africa's much-vaunted Gautrain rapid commuter transporter promises a legacy beyond taking people quickly and comfortably between strategic destinations in the country's busiest province.
It has also broken new ground in the way big projects can turn out skilled workers in quick order to address shortages in trained personnel in both the short and long term. The innovators are now testing ways in which the model can be moved out of its industrial incubator on the Gautrain project and applied to the broader problems and opportunities in the Southern African region.
With South Africa alone due to spend around a trillion rand on new projects in the next decade, and the rest of the continent committed to investing billions more in development funding, "the project environment is ready for a system that can efficiently address the critical need for home-grown skills and talent", says Neil Devereaux Nel, chief executive of Reamogetse, the company appointed to oversee the recruitment and training of the human resources required by the R5bn Gautrain project.
"The training model emerged from two problem areas facing South Africa," Devereaux Nel told African Business. "The one is the dire situation of poverty and unemployment in South Africa and the other is the critical shortage of skilled and semi-skilled workers in the construction boom under way in the region. The Employment and Training Programme (E&TP) developed in the tunnels and viaducts of the Gautrain Rapid Rail Project has emerged as a proven method that can make a meaningful contribution to the employment of people and to providing skilled workers to the construction industry."
The model uses a 'pull mechanism' where the needs and actual positions are identified in a specific mega-project and then unemployed persons are screened, employed and trained for these specific jobs. The success rests on the identification of the actual skills needed prior to training.
"This is opposed to the generally applied 'push mechanism' where training institutions provide a standard training programme and then successful candidates seek appropriate employment," explains Devereaux Nel. "The latter is prone to failure as very few of these people eventually find positions."
Applying the 'push-pull'
Devereaux Nel provides an example: "A young person from a wealthy background with a classical education and university training goes job hunting. He or she has connections, a cellphone, transport, access to information, access to advice and a support network that allows him or her to look around and if all else fails, flit off to Europe and join a commune. This is not always the case but more often than not it is.
"Now take Mazondi from the township. She is educated but has no support network, no spare cash, no transport, no access to information and does not know where to get it; she is possibly supporting a family. She has no chance of getting a good job and takes what she can. She is in a poverty trap and will stay there."
The pull model eliminates the disadvantaged background and seeks the potential with which to work. She gets a job and is then trained--and in this process she has cash, a support network, advice and good, if limited, prospects.
"The pull mechanism therefore uses the potential and not the circumstances," says Nel. "The applicants tested scored 95% and above."
Expanding on the pull mechanism, the employment and training programme model proposes a partnership between the government's skills development programmes, organisations such as the Expanded Public Works Programme and the Umsovombu Youth Programme, and the private sector's large construction projects currently under way or being planned. …