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One of our passions at Automotive Refinisher is training and upliftment. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to recognise the dire skills shortage in our sector or the poverty in our rural areas where growth of local business makes a huge impact – far more than we can actually comprehend.

It has been great to work with Lawrence Tshifura from Sfera Training and Development and see how his brain child has been developing. Automotive Refinisher caught up with him recently at his office in Midrand.

Sfera Training and Development now have 120 candidates in the rural areas of Limpopo, Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Eastern Cape. The project began in October 2019 with full-time training, but after only five months, the lockdown hit and everyone returned home. Just with this little bit of training, plus ongoing mentorship from Lawrence, the candidates have been implementing what they have learnt and are working full-steam ahead building their businesses.

“Government are over the moon with our clear audit and progress,” said Lawrence, “and as such the next tranche of money is waiting for the SFERA team to maintain this forward and positive momentum.

“The candidates now come to the training centre one week a month for ongoing training. They are being taught skills for the collision repair sector as well as business management so that if they don’t already have their own business, they will be well equipped to open and run a successful operation in the future. Land has already been pin-pointed in industrial areas if need be for this development. After three years and once they have their accreditation, the next step will be to formalize their businesses and place them where services are required and introduce mentorship programmes in their businesses.

“The core idea behind reaching out to the rural areas is that it is envisioned that these microcosms of entrepreneurship will help develop income, education and expansion within the rural areas. It’s the long-term view that we at Sfera Training and Development are striving toward,” Lawrence continued.

The participants were hand-picked for the programme as they already showed an enthusiasm for the industry and are already working on vehicles in their villages. They show a good work ethic as well as a keen interest to learn and improve their skill set and build a successful business in the future.

As part of Sfera’s training initiative, a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van has been fully kitted out for mobile training for when Lawrence is visiting his candidates and monitoring their progress. His office was packed to the brim with 120 new laptops, spray guns, sanders, air fed masks, health and safety equipment plus other tools to help raise these new businesses to the new level of quality in their service offering and also meet the standards of the OEMs. Slow and steady is how you win the race and this is exactly how Sfera Training and Development are managing their programme – with open communication and one step at a time.

Sfera Training and Development candidate spotlight

Marvin Ramophwala started KMR Automotive in May 2019, in a village 25 kilometres outside of Tzaneen. He has a civil engineering and land surveying background. When his brother was involved in an accident the panel beaters quoted him more than the car’s value to fix it. It was then that Marvin began to wonder to himself if there wasn’t a more affordable way to fix cars and so a new venture was born.

Initially he employed a family member who had collision repair experience. It was a difficult first two months of knocking on doors to get business as everyone was waiting to see if vehicles could be repaired well before trying out KMR Automotive’s services. A sort of chicken and egg syndrome – which comes first?

In this time a friend from the municipality gave him a call to say that he had met Lawrence, who was in the same industry as Marvin, and that he should contact him. Things really started to snowball from there. Lawrence invited Marvin to spend the day with him in Johannesburg to show him around his facilities. Lawrence is himself a self-made successful businessman in the collision repair industry who started out in Soweto over four decades ago. It was very inspirational for Marvin to see a man of his own colour who had made it – and still continues to do so – in the industry.

He returned home with a new perspective and filled with energy. He decided to register with Transit Solutions as well as Standard Bank’s programme. The inspector who came to verify Marvin’s business then advised him to no just register for collision repair, but for the service and maintenance of vehicles as well. By doing that, Marvin was able to solidify a contract to service the Eskom vehicles from the nearby office. It has been the combination of both of these services that has been the secret to KMR Automotive’s success thus far.

The vehicle repair side of the business is growing due to public demand and as such Marvin is very pleased at being able to receive the technical and business development skills that Sfera Training and Development are offering. However, the continual mentorship and enthusiasm given by Lawrence is reiterated again and again by Marvin and shows how integral this really is. Passing on knowledge is one thing, but establishing a legacy is a game changer.

In a day and age that seems to be constantly filled with reports of corruption, embezzlement and other negative news, it is absolutely brilliant to see tax money finally being used for what it should be… the upliftment and education for the betterment of our rainbow nation.

If you would like to get more information or come alongside Sfera Training and Development in support of time, supplies or equipment, you can contact Lawrence on 082 972 9383 or email him on lawrence@sfera.co.za

Story by Claire Macfie