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Internships and apprenticeships

    • IOPSA executive director Brendan Reynolds discusses the current state of trade education
    • A perfect world would see young people getting educated with basic relevant traits identified early on during their primary school years
    • The many opportunities

A perfect world would see young people getting educated with basic relevant traits identified early on during their primary school years. Those that have aptitude, and a desire to do something with trades, could work with their hands and build or fix things.

IOPSA executive director Brendan Reynolds, sums up that the best way to start your career is an apprenticeship – an assistant or trainee plumber – where you will work alongside an experienced and qualified plumber while servicing residences and businesses. As you gain experience, you will be able to explore opportunities within the industry.

He says: “In this ideal world, thereafter young people ought to be guided into a technical stream and ultimately to a technical high school. However, in order to achieve this vision we really need to have a look at perceptions around trades and technical schools. The current prejudice is that trades and technical schools are for ‘dumb’ kids. In fact, the real difference is that many kids simply are not academically inclined or suited to traditional office work – and are certainly not ‘dumb’. With that same prejudice one could just as easily say those that aren’t technically inclined are ‘useless’.

“While a growing demand for trades is encouraging for those scholars who don’t plan on an academic education or attending university, many scholars also choose to pursue careers in the trades based on their interest in designing, producing, problem-solving, and creating,” he says.

“When kids have the freedom to apply their creative instincts through technical tasks and projects, they in fact develop highly coveted 21st-century employability skills—including efficiency and resourcefulness, collaboration, and the ability to consider the consumer. Most importantly, they like doing what they are doing, which is what they good at.

“As society, we need to have a hard look at ourselves in a mirror as to what we’re doing to our children when we exhibit the kind of attitude which labels kids ‘dumb’. We need to allow those youngsters who are technically inclined to be appropriately identified and suitably directed into technical schools. We also need to make sure those technical schools have all the facilities necessary to teach them a broad range of skills, whether plumbing, electrical, bricklaying, carpentry, motor mechanics and more,” says Reynolds. “From there, they can more easily move into an apprenticeship. How useful is it for an plumbing apprentice, to also have some knowledge of carpentry, or brickwork, all the electrical disciplines. It makes for a well-rounded individual that will do well.

“Ultimately, it gives them the freedom to enter into an apprenticeship. In contrast, what the education system currently does try to force every schoolchild into an academic path, notwithstanding we know that a lot of those children will probably not do well academically because they’re just not that way inclined. They rather have a technical inclination in their DNA. They thereafter may struggle and their sense of self-worth drops. Only later might the technical path be opened to them, or discovered by themselves. Often at this stage it is almost too late. The risk then is they’re forced into the TVET system and forced to join a certain programme which may not be their first choice. The person might perhaps not be really interested in it at all – just the stipend. Kids are joining TVET not because it’s something they really want to do. If it’s the only opportunity in life that comes their way, then they’ll take it and hope after a time they might like it, rather than it’s what they want to do in life or because they think they’ll be a good plumber

“It ends up wrong because the process didn’t start at school. When they arrive for a TVET programme they ought to already have a good grounding to become an apprentice, but in fact have zero grounding. Their technical education which ought to start at a fairly advanced level in fact now has to start with a basic grounding. Therefore, the outcome at the end is not as good as it might have been had the individual been adequately prepared since school.”

Reynolds adds: “So we need to do things a bit differently. The reality of this education is that a TVET college gets a student that wants to do, say, plumbing. Yet it first has to teach them how to use a tape measure, a square or learn the difference between a hacksaw and a wood saw. What happens when young people come from a completely academic background, is they lack the basic knowledge which is the first starting point.

“Can you imagine if the TVET got them out of a technical school when they already knew, for instance, how to read plans; or know all the different tools; or all the health and safety regulations; how to cut and join properly – and actually wanted to be at the TVET because they’re interested in this career. If they’ve already done all that, they could go so much further in a TVET course,” he explains.

“That’s the vision I and IOPSA and PIRB have – and in so doing I believe we’ll grow the trades. I don’t think this current method whereby government is just trying to cram people into any opportunity that’s available is not sustainable,” says Reynolds.

The next step for a plumbing apprentice is that the Construction Education and Training Authority (CETA) and the Quality Council for Trades & Occupations (QCTO) are responsible for evaluating and accrediting all suitable training courses for use by prospective plumbers. You will need to complete CETA- or QCTO-accredited training to become a licensed plumber.

Once an individual has the required skills, they will be in demand and own the ability to earn a decent wage as a plumber in South Africa.

Many opportunities

There are many opportunities for plumbers in South Africa. Some plumbers are independent contractors working on a self-employed basis, while others work for companies in the construction industry, as well as for plumbing companies.

Plumbing is not only about working with pipes and taps in bathrooms and kitchens, it has many specialisations that require proper training and certification in that field.

Specialisations can include:

    • Arbitrators
    • Estimators
    • Training assessors
    • Above and below ground drainage
    • Rainwater disposal
    • Cold or hot water
    • Solar, heat pump, or gas
    • Water energy

In South Africa, a number of organisations support the plumbing industry and plumbers, such as the Plumbing Industry Registration Board (PIRB), the Institute of Plumbing South Africa (IOPSA), and the Joint Acceptance Scheme for Water Services Installation Components (JASWIC). All these organisations support and encourage the upliftment of plumbers and the industry as a whole. Being a plumber is not only a rewarding job but one that is recognised as a valuable pillar of society.

Written by Eamonn Ryan

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