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Studying at trade schools in South Africa

    • Data from specialist expat company Xpatweb shows that engineering type skills like plumbing are among the most in-demand skills in South Africa
    • What is a trade school?
    • Where can I study a skilled trade in South Africa?

Are you a schoolkid who enjoys creating and working with your hands? Do you enjoy fixing up bikes or upcycling someone else’s ‘junk’ into a new treasure?

Working behind a desk or working a straight 9 to 5 job isn’t everyone’s idea of paradise. Some people are better at physical activities and strong in problem-solving, as well as being actively engaged in their day-to-day occupation.

Data from specialist expat company Xpatweb shows that engineering type skills like plumbing are among the most in-demand skills in South Africa. Employers are looking for highly qualified tradespeople with many years of experience. This is by no means menial work – any trade holds the promise of becoming an entrepreneur and managing your own business. Learning a trade is one of the easiest routes of entry to self-employment and can provide a stable income and livelihood with the right business structure in place.

There is a massive demand in South Africa for skilled tradespeople. If you want to advance your skills and education but are unsure if a traditional three- or four-year university is for you, you may want to consider trade school. South Africa has a number of public TVETs (technical and vocational education and training) colleges as well as private colleges. Examples of trade schools include False Bay TVET College, Central Johannesburg TVET College, Buffalo City TVET College and Durban University of Technology (DUT).

Education is one of the most important aspects of life. It opens up opportunities for people and allows them to achieve their goals. In South Africa, there are various types of educational institutions, including universities, colleges, and trade schools. Trade schools in South Africa offer vocational training in a range of fields.

So if you’re thinking about studying at a trade school in South Africa, there are first some things you need to know.

What are skilled trades?

A skilled trade – and plumbing is only one example – is a career path that requires hands-on on-the-job work experience and specialist knowledge. Skilled trades workers build and maintain infrastructures like our homes, schools, hospitals, roads, farms and parks. They keep industries running and perform many of the services we rely on daily, like electrical services, plumbing and aircon maintenance. Some skilled tradespeople include builders, electricians, plumbers and carpenters.

There is a great need for experienced and qualified skilled tradespeople in South Africa to carry out national development plans, which has led to government funding and supporting training in its TVETs. Attending a trade school allows candidates to get the necessary training to secure an apprenticeship or to secure a full-time position.

The best part is – trade careers don’t require four years at a university or college. And tradespeople are high in demand.

What is a trade school?

A trade school is a post secondary school educational institution designed to provide students with the technical skills, knowledge and hands-on training in preparation to fulfil a specific role in a skilled industry. At the end of the programme, you will receive a diploma or certificate, prepare for a licensing exam, or become an apprentice in a skilled trade. Admission is mostly open enrollment.

There are usually little to no extracurricular activities or obligations organised by trade schools. The focus is on students to attend their classes and achieve their trade qualifications. You can even get a degree in fields like agriculture, arts and culture, business, hospitality, commerce and management, education, training and development – which can assist companies in educating their workforce in the way of new skills, safety protocols, and methodology – engineering, manufacturing and technology, building construction and security at a trade school.

Where can I study a skilled trade in South Africa?

Once you’ve decided to attend a trade school, your next step is deciding which trade you would like to study. Your chosen school might have a core focus and specialise in preparing candidates in a specific selection of trades. However, most TVET colleges offer courses for all trade types in South Africa and offer a variety of distance learning and short training courses. They aim to enhance professionalism in global trade and help their students accelerate their careers.

TVET colleges provide a practical learning experience that is typically not gained in other institutions of higher learning. This path can be a good fit for people who don’t want to complete a bachelor’s degree or who may want to get a four-year degree later on, just not yet. You can easily google a complete list of TVET Colleges in South Africa. This comprehensive list includes all 50 technical vocational colleges across each of the nine provinces in South Africa.

Also, be sure to check out the Application Dates at these institutions to find out if they are still open for application in 2023.

How long does it take to study a trade in South Africa?

Trade school programme lengths vary typically from eight months to two years. Unlike a four-year university programme, you don’t graduate from a trade school with a bachelor’s degree. Usually, upon completion of the trade programme, you’ll receive a diploma or trade certificate.

What is a trade qualification?

A trade qualification is written evidence that a person has completed an apprenticeship or is certified for a specific trade. In order to get a trade qualification, you will have to write your chosen skilled trade test. A trade test is a final integrated summative assessment for an artisan qualification for a listed trade conducted at an accredited Trade Test Centre by an Assessor registered with the National Artisan Moderating Body. It involves theoretical and practical demonstration of knowledge and skill. A Trade Test Certificate is usually required by employers before they will employ or advance you in your career and allow you to do work at a certain level.

What are the requirements for writing the trade test?

According to the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO), the minimum requirements for a trade test are one of the following:

    • N2 Certificate including the four relevant subjects of Maths, Engineering, Science and a fourth subject as required by the trade
    • Technical trade theory programs quality assured by a Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) deemed to be equivalent to NQF level 3
    • Relevant Engineering NCV Certificate with seven subjects at NQF level 3; or
    • Technical Grade 11 with Maths, Science, Language and related trade theory subject
    • Relevant (directly related to the trade theory subjects) N6 certificate or National Technical Diploma (T, S or N stream) with 18 months relevant work experience

In addition to the above-mentioned minimum level of educational qualification, you must also have:

    • Successfully completed all of the job practical training unit standards (in the case of learnerships) or modules (in the case of an apprenticeship) of an artisan learning program at an accredited training provider
    • Satisfied the requirements of the structured workplace, on the job, learning for a minimum period of 12 months verifiable through a workplace learning record or logbook

What are the benefits of studying a trade?

Studying at trade schools in South Africa offers you the opportunity to learn from experienced professionals who can provide guidance and mentorship. Once you have completed your training and time at the specific school you attend, you will have acquired practical experience that will put you in good stead to land a job. You will be in a better position than other candidates to gain employment opportunities which involve the practical application of a trade or skill.

What trade skills are in the highest demand in South Africa?

The demand for skilled tradespeople such as plumbers, electricians, fitters, builders or carpenters and joiners is constantly on the rise in South Africa and demand for these services is likely to grow because of their evergreen demand. However, according to IOPSA and PIRB, there is a scarcity of individuals trained and qualified to meet the demand.

Trade and vocational professions are set to receive increased focus over the next few years, as part of a new programme by the Department of Higher Education and Training.

“There is a drive towards adopting a dual system of education and training that will systematically integrate theoretical, practical and workplace learning in almost all vocational programmes offered in a TVET college, over the next 5 to 10 years,” it said in its 2021/2022 annual performance plan.

Other skilled trades in demand in South Africa include millwrights (industrial mechanics), toolmakers, boilermakers, welders, riggers, petrol and diesel mechanics.

Whether you’re in the middle of selecting a career as you complete matric or re-evaluating your options, there will always be a demand for skilled tradespeople who can perform work on the machinery and equipment that is the backbone of this industry in South Africa.

Given the ongoing labour shortage affecting this industry, a career in the trades can provide a stable and lucrative career for those who pursue one.

Written by Eamonn Ryan

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