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Auto skills development in South Africa is often a matter of treading a long and lonely road. Apprentice training is not just a job, it is a vocational activity and in South Africa often a let down by an apathetic approach from the many and varied business owners across the Republic. This picture is set against a future when the technical tsunami of progress and total change is coming on the trade’s chest like a gale force wind. Anyone will quickly realise that the major body of collision repair concerns will suffer, in the same way that all dinosaurs did because of their complacency.

One man who is seeing this absolute disconnect in South Africa in skills development is Wesley Huntly who is responsible for training development and learning at Imperial Technical Training Academy. There are three centres, one in Germiston, one in Cape Town and one in Wadeville that is specifically for body shop training. They specifically cater for body shop apprentice training. Wesley says, “At Imperial we have in recent years invested over R33 million in. There are many changes taking place in body construction, glass fitment and parts repair. To be honest, the low level of independent operators to take advantage of our initiative has been nothing short of abysmal. Our dedicated training courses often run at around 5% capacity. Set this against our mechanical, diesel and heavy duty apprentice numbers. that remain oversubscribed for months ahead.

“Our training has been updated to cover things like airbag technology and complex data retrieval with computers which is the way in future body repair. Thankfully Kansai Plascon and BASF have given their full support and backing. We need a much bigger push to engage with body shops to enroll their top apprentices with the Imperial initiative.

“The facts are out there. In a recent survey conducted independently there are approximately 750 skilled body shop panel beaters and spray painters that cover the entire repair trade in South Africa. It is all quite hopeless when viewed against the very technical road of repair that lies ahead.”

“On a positive note the Bluespec Group, Kansai Plascon, the Imperial auto body shops and BMW have been incredibly supportive. We must put in place a much more collaborative approach to the elephant in the room, which will become the development skills in apprentice training. At Imperial we are now sending out a very clear message to both sponsors, trade bodies, Merseta and other key role players, to develop mechanisms that will support all these training initiatives. These are developed at huge cost by Imperial to secure a brighter future in auto skills development. These skills are in short supply right now. Many top shops are over paying to keep key staff in place. It is high time that the trade listened and learned that staff and apprentice skills will form a vital part of our future success,” concluded Wesley.


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