BMW April 2022

The skills development landscape within South Africa’s automotive component manufacturing sector, which has largely been characterised by limited coordination between key stakeholders and the inconsistent implementation of key initiatives, has contributed to growing concerns about the robustness of the inherent skills held by the pipeline of new entrants to the sector and their ability to contribute to the South African Automotive Masterplan 2035 growth targets and objectives.

To this end, initiative High Gear undertook research to understand the nuances of skills development in the sector; unpack global best practise pertaining to developing a robust and highly skilled labour market; and to identify skills interventions required to support the growth of the South African automotive component sector.

High Gear is a collaborative project between the National Association of Automotive Component and Allied Manufacturers (NAACAM), the International Youth Foundation and the Department of Higher Education and Training.

Through focus groups, it was found that companies noted that urgent responses to Covid-19, supply chain disruptors and the increased adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies are all demanding a more highly skilled and multi-disciplinary workforce.

Discussing these change drivers, focus group participants placed emphasis on changing skills requirements pertaining to Industry 4.0 production methodologies and the importance of nurturing robust ‘soft’ skills, as well as ensuring the development of a solid grounding in fundamental technical skills, to support the rapid change currently being experienced in the sector, High Gear said in a statement.

Contrary to the narrative that Industry 4.0 threatens many entry-level occupations, the initiative said evidence from workplace adoption of advanced technologies in the automotive component sector suggests otherwise.

“NAACAM members noted that changing skills requirements present a meaningful opportunity for shopfloor upskilling. They also noted that the adoption of advanced technologies can ultimately support cost-savings, yield productivity gains, enhance new business development and ultimately create new employment opportunities,” it said.

NAACAM commercial director Shivani Singh noted that the globally integrated production environment requires consistent investment by component suppliers in upgrading the technical proficiency of shopfloor staff.

Singh explained that, through NAACAM’s experience in delivering firm-level competitiveness upgrading interventions, “it has become clear that traditional kaizen and production optimisation methodologies are not sufficient to ensure the South African supply base can compete with low-cost manufacturing destinations such as Thailand and Malaysia”.

Singh also noted that South African suppliers that have been successful in implementing Industry 4.0 methodologies are those which nurture a holistic approach to skills development in their organisations, and which prioritise the development of ‘lateral’ inter-disciplinary skills. 

To capitalise on these opportunities, employers highlight the criticality of improved ‘soft’ and technical skills within the graduate pipeline entering the sector.

To identify and adapt to change, it is suggested that the sector requires a workforce that is agile, highly proficient in problem-solving, and which displays a willingness to learn on-the-job.

Moreover, to support the uptake of new technology, sound technical skills remain a key requirement for new entrants as identified in the High Gear survey. Employers, however, report difficulties in identifying prospective employees with these skills.

Learnings

Further, global best practice applied in Turkey and Germany show that, along with substantial, co-ordinated and continued investment into skills, there are four core elements behind building a robust and highly skilled labour market.

These comprise a strong primary and secondary education; sound career guidance and an improved reputation for technical qualifications; strong linkages between the private sector, tertiary institutions, and government; along with a focus on providing transferable skills training.