“Society has oversold the four-year university degree at the expense of artisan courses, which provide a certain prospect for employment and a sustainable livelihood in current times. This has resulted in a lopsided situation where artisan vacancies that are available have been filled by foreigners from neighbouring countries and afar, while South African graduates and the majority remain unemployed. This should not have been happening had artisanship been marketed as a rewarding career path amongst learners from the foundation stage.“
Amongst the youth, the overall-clad artisan is still considered less glamorous, lowly and someone not to be taken seriously. Instead, sadly, the mindset that a four-year degree is a surefire ticket to a decent job and blissful life is still deeply entrenched. What else can one suggest apart from the way the youth have been socialised?
However, with the current high rate of unemployment (which former Stats SA Head, Dr Pali Lehola, puts at 74.7%, based on expanded definition), an attitude change is overdue. The current model of a four-year university degree is increasingly being challenged by rapid changes at the workplace, worldwide, even in first world countries. Inevitably, as a middle income country, South Africa finds itself grappling with this challenge, a situation exacerbated by an economic downtown. Currently, it is not uncommon to hear some disillusioned, unemployed young graduates ruing why they wasted four years of their lives studying disciplines the world no longer needs.
Palpably, society has oversold the four-year university degree at the expense of artisan courses, which provide a certain prospect for employment and a sustainable livelihood in current times. This has resulted in a lopsided situation where artisan vacancies available are filled by foreigners from neighbouring countries and afar, while South African graduates and the majority remain unemployed. This should not have been happening had artisanship been marketed as a rewarding career path amongst learners from the foundation stage.
It is self-explanatory that there is a need for change of thinking, if South Africa is to arrest the monster of unsustainably high unemployment, which could trigger new social economical challenges or worsen existing ones like crime. And so, it is high time artisanship was deservedly promoted as a decent career path starting from primary school.
Thus far, there are various fields which offer vast opportunities for youth as artisans. Letitia van Rensburg, Training Officer at the Master Builders’ Association Western Cape (MBAWC), mentions the construction sector as an case in point of a field worth exploring for the youth. “Artisans, by definition, are people who work with their hands and as their skills are generally multi-faceted, they are sought after in a wide range of industries.”
“Despite technological advancements brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which has resulted in an evolving job landscape, these skills remain essential as there is always a need for people who work with their hands,” she adds.
Van Rensburg points out that, worryingly, most skilled artisans in South Africa are older than 40. On a positive note, though, this presents an opportunity for younger people to acquire these skills and enter the workplace. “There is a gap in the market for young people to pursue artisan careers such as carpenters, electricians, plumbers and mechanics to address the dearth of competent people required to perform these jobs in order to maintain and upgrade the country’s infrastructure.”
3 ways youth can upskill themselves as artisans
To assist the youth in taking advantage of these opportunities, van Rensburg outlines various steps they can take to upskill themselves:
Enrol in training: “Look for ways to improve yourself through free training courses, which are available on online platforms such as Udemy and Youtube. There are also various educational and training programmes, as well as apprenticeships, offered by various organisations such as the MBAWC,” notes van Rensburg.
For those young people who have not been able to complete their formal academic training, entry level requirements to study a trade such as carpentry requires numeracy and literacy from a Grade 9 level.
“Importantly, candidates need to display a willingness to work with their hands and to do physical labour. They should have a passion for the built environment and be prepared to work outdoors, sometimes in adverse weather conditions, as well as be comfortable working at heights,” adds van Rensburg.
Work with a mentor: She notes that there are industry experts who are keen to impart their skills and knowledge to youth. “Young people just need to reach out to experts to find out if they will be willing to become mentors. Mentees will then be able to gain first-hand practical experience under their guidance.”
Seek opportunities: “Once you have completed some training or worked with a mentor, be on the lookout for items that may need repair and offer to fix them, even if there is no compensation,” she says. “This is how you build resilience, remain agile and above all, this is how you will aid your own growth.”
“ It is crucial to highlight these opportunities and urge the youth to take advantage of them in order to improve their livelihoods whilst working in a rewarding profession,” she explains.
Van Rensburg concludes by advising young people looking for jobs to focus on what they want to achieve and take advantage of the opportunities they come across. “Young people who are persistent and clearly driven to succeed will find that there are people and organisations that are willing to help them build a future for themselves.”