The economic and employment potential of the oil and gas services sector came under the spotlight on Tuesday when Western Cape Finance, Economic Development and Tourism MEC Alan Winde visited a number of Cape Town-based facilities. Up to 6 000 job opportunities were created in the sector last year and it is estimated that about R1.2-billion was generated for the local economy.
“We know this is a large development area and a growing sector and we know there is significant job creation,” Winde said, adding that he hoped his tour would improve his understanding of the potential, as well as allow companies to highlight problems that were inhibiting the industry further expanding.
Winde’s first visit was to Belmet Marine, a diversified steel fabricator, based in Bellville.
Belmet Marine MD Pieter Kroon told Engineering News Online that the bulk of it business arose from the marine and offshore gas sectors, which had grown steadily over the last 15 to 20 years. The company currently employed 130 permanent staff and took on contractors when necessary.
Kroon told Winde that the lack of suitably trained employees was a major constraint for his company and for the industry as a whole. He was also concerned about the fact that many of the firm’s existing artisans were over the age of 50.
The training system, Kroon lamented, had transitioned from producing quality, skilled staff to producing a large number of certificate holders, who lacked the mathematical and theoretical basics required for the workplace.
Belmet had invested significantly in its own training programmes, but even these were inadequate. “People are making money out of it because [the learners] are pushed through like a sausage machine . . . I’m not prepared to pay a cent more for training I don’t believe in.”
Winde acknowledged that the South African Oil and Gas Alliance, which was funded by the Western Cape government, would need to address these training issues as a matter of urgency. But he added that the problem also extended to the broader education system in the country.
Winde’s second visit was to Damen Shipyards, which manufactures a variety of boats both for stock and to order, from its Cape Town harbour facility.
Damen’s human resources manager Nick Penstone told Engineering News Online that the company had also been addressing its own training needs by upgrading the skills of its staff aggressively over the last two years.
As a result, only 3% of the company’s total workforce was considered unskilled, down from a level of about 30% four years ago. The business’s staff complement had grown from about 60 people five years ago to 200 currently. However, the company hoped to expand this further to 250 employees by the end of 2013, and so was currently training 36 apprentices.
Overall, the company was looking at bringing in 16 apprentices each year in the areas of welding, boilermaking and carpentry despite receiving funding support for only five apprentices a year from the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training Authority.
“We will train, and we will train for ourselves and hopefully we will keep each and every one of them,” said Penstone.