BMW April 2022

South Africa has an ambitious Automotive Masterplan that aims, amongst other objectives, to double employment in the sector by 2035 and to increase local content in South African assembled vehicles from 40% to 60%. To achieve these objectives, the automotive components manufacturing industry requires a pipeline of young people with demand-aligned engineering, higher-order thinking, and work readiness competencies. High Gear, a skills development initiative, is collaborating with the country’s public Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges to develop this industry-aligned skills pipeline, to the benefit of both young people and employers. 

The National Association of Automotive Component and Allied Manufacturers (NAACAM) and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) are the lead national partners of High Gear. IYF manages the initiative.

The UK Government’s Skills for Prosperity Programme is funding High Gear in the KwaZulu-Natal Province, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation are funding the project in the Eastern Cape Province.

Historical lack of skills

Through recent High Gear automotive component employer surveys, NAACAM has identified skills gaps as a significant barrier to further localisation of automotive components and raw materials in South Africa. The country therefore remains overly reliant on imports of components for vehicle assembly, despite the domestic component sector’s capability for generating significant business and employment growth. 

Pre-COVID-19, the automotive sector contributed 6.8% to South Africa’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and accounted for almost 30% of manufacturing output. The industry employs around 110 000 people in vehicle assembly and component manufacturing, and vehicle assemblers annually invest R7.2 billion in the economy.

The South African Automotive Masterplan: Vision 2035 aims to increase local vehicle assembly from 540 000 cars in 2019 to 1.4 million cars (1% of global vehicle production) by 2035 while increasing local content in South African assembled vehicles to 60% – up from the current 40%. Through these production volume increases, the Masterplan anticipates the sector will double employment to more than 220 000 jobs. 

Solid training outcomes

Colin Hagans, the High Gear Programme Director at IYF, says the foundation for the initiative was laid in 2020. Through an initial collaboration with the Durban Automotive Cluster and the East Cape Automotive Industry Forum, the project identified priority industry competencies for TVET engineering graduates. High Gear then worked with industry and TVET college partners to design models for strengthening those competencies within existing courses and qualifications.  

In partnership with Eastcape Midlands College in Kariega, Eastern Cape and Elangeni College in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, High Gear is now launching a number of industry-aligned TVET course enhancements. 

One upgrade is the introduction of lecturing demonstration kits – co-designed with TVET staff and industry experts– that will enhance mechanical and electrical engineering students’ practical skills and knowledge. These demonstration kits will be especially impactful in engineering theory courses that have traditionally lacked in student workshop facilities. To complement these in-classroom upgrades, High Gear is facilitating automotive manufacturing workplace exposure for TVET lecturers and students, with the Automotive Industry Development Centre (AIDC) in Eastern Cape and NAACAM in KwaZulu-Natal leading these efforts. 

High Gear will also soon launch an online career experience platform geared towards TVET students and hosted on NAACAM’s website. The platform, expected to go live in early 2022, will include an interactive “how to build a car” feature, career pathway information with testimonials from youth employed in automotive manufacturing, mini-games to build key competencies, and links to the South Africa Office of the Presidency’s job search platform. High Gear’s ambitions for this platform have grown since the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with funding from the Government of Japan, are now supporting the platform’s development. 

Hagans says High Gear’s package of curricula upgrades aim to create a model for sustained industry involvement in public TVET course design and delivery that generates solid outcomes for young people and employers. “This model will create a benchmark for the coordination of dynamic industry and education partnerships that will help grow local industry by unlocking young South African’s potential,” says Hagans.

The collaboration between all these various organisations is a massive win for the automotive industry, says Shivani Singh, Commercial Director of NAACAM. 

“By strengthening the country’s skills pipeline, we have the opportunity to truly advance South Africa as a competitive automotive manufacturing destination, with potential customer demand from around the world,” she adds. 

Skills ecosystem

High Gear is strengthening a skills ecosystem to unlock the potential of the public TVET colleges. It connects colleges, industry players, employers, and government to ensure students receive market-relevant and work-ready training.

“High Gear’s partnership approach means that responsibility and resources for addressing skills shortages in the country are jointly shared between key public and private stakeholders,” says Hagans.

Singh adds that as a national industry body, NAACAM will generate and deliver regular and nuanced intelligence on manufacturer trends and skills requirements. “A custom industry competency model for the automotive components manufacturing industry has been designed with input from 36 firms. This ensures High Gear is aligning TVET course upgrades with industry-demanded skills,” says Singh.

The automotive components manufacturing industry in South Africa is a prominent employer in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. High Gear provides a much-needed injection of technical support to meet the huge demand for learning and development in these provinces, says Hagans. Singh adds that NAACAM is also exploring expansion of High Gear to additional provinces, such as Gauteng, where the automotive components manufacturing sector is also prominent.  

“We have designed High Gear to be a sustainable, scalable initiative that is owned and led by industry and government partners going forward. So far, the response from all partners and donors has been incredible,” says Hagans.

“We are excited about the development and introduction of several curricula upgrades in the next few months along with the deepening High Gear’s partnerships with individual employers”, says Singh. “This is a real step towards our goal of doubling employment in the sector by 2035,” concluded Singh.