STEADY demand for plastics in diverse industries should place plastics manufacturers in good stead but increasing global competition and a shortage of qualified skills make them ill-equipped to respond.
That’s according to Deon Oberholzer, Director at ProudAfrique Human Capital, who said plastic product machine operators are on the list of skills that are lacking in South Africa. This includes machine operators for plastic cable making, plastic compounding and reclamation, plastics fabricators or welders, as well as plastics production, reinforced plastics and composite trade workers.
“These skills are not difficult to learn. However, most schools are not geared to prepare people for trades work. Yes, there are trade schools but for many South Africans these are not accessible due to location and financial circumstances,” Oberholzer said.
“Although there is strong effort from government with its Fit for Jobs Initiative, it is not pervasive enough to reach learners in townships. What this means is that young people who could have an interest and talent are not being exposed to trade subjects and are unaware of career prospects in these fields.”
The local plastics manufacturing industry is grappling with a shortage of qualified skills as processes, materials and production become more sophisticated. The need to address the skills gap is pertinent enough that the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) introduced a new degree, the Bachelor of Engineering Technology in Materials Engineering in Polymer Technology, in 2019.
Oberholzer said plastics manufacturing companies have a role to play in equipping people with the relevant training and practical skills. Work-based programmes that focus on developing practical skills and knowledge in the field would help to address the skills gap and help companies to participate more effectively in the plastics manufacturing and injection moulding industry.
“Apprentice programmes provide good entry level education as well as crucial on-the-job training and experience. For companies, workplace-based learnership programmes are an effective way to build the skills and competencies they need to remain competitive.”
Gideon Potgieter from Resolution Circle agreed. “There is a critical need to provide integrated, service-learning opportunities to drive skills development in the ever-changing field of engineering and related technologies,” he said.
Proud Afrique Human Capital and Resolution Circle, a training hub part of the University of Johannesburg, are collaborating to deliver focused workplace based learnership programmes for the Plastics Manufacturing, CNC and Injection Moulding Industries.
These programmes are recognised as Category B Skills Programmes in the Learning Matrix of the Amended BEE Codes, which allows for the salaries of participants to be recognised as part of the Skills Development Expenditure and companies can improve their BEE rating. Companies are also eligible for tax rebates.
For example, an organisation with a R40-million turnover budget receives R270 000 over three years for training three people. They can claim from SARS under Section 128 for R160 000 in tax relief. Multiplied by 28%, which is the company tax they would get back, would see them receiving an additional R44 800.
The company would score 15 BEE-points for employing black learners. Higher points can be achieved for employing black females, people with disabilities and for employing them permanently once their training is complete.
“The bottom line is that companies have an important role to play in addressing the skills gap in the plastics manufacturing industry and it does not have to break the bank if they offer recognised work-based learnership programmes that allow them to apply for subsidies and claim tax rebates,” Oberholzer said.