/ 28 February 2014

Addressing the water skills shortage

The academy offers rigorious learning programme to graduates.
The academy offers rigorious learning programme to graduates.

According to Rand Water chief executive Percy Sechemane, the goal of the Rand Water Academy is to develop a pool of skilled and capable workers that contribute to the benefits and opportunities of economic expansion.

“The curriculum has been designed to include the statutory requirements of the respective professional bodies, workplace behaviour and discipline specific development,” he says.

To date, the academy has 120 graduates consisting of 40 process controllers, 30 water quality generalists, 30 apprentices and 20 engineers.

The process controllers and water quality generalists have completed the 18 months period of training at Rand Water and are ready for deployment to municipalities with effect from last month.

This has seen the graduates being placed at several municipalities for the second phase of their internship.

The municipalities include the Govan Mbeki Local Municipality, Emalahleni Local Municipality, Thembisile Hani Local Municipality, City of Tshwane Metropolitan Council and Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Council.

Launched in June 2012 at the Water Institute of Southern Africa Conference held in Cape Town, the Rand Water Academy is the result of a vision by the management of Rand Water and a mandate from the National Treasury and the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs.

Municipalities in the South African water sector have the responsibility to ensure that drinkable water is available to the people in their area.

But having a country that has one of the best quality of drinkable water in the world, and yet not having the resources to deliver it raises a red flag immediately.

Graduates will spend 18 months at Rand Water and 18 months with a municipality to get the right mix of theoretical and practical skills required to be absorbed in those municipalities.

International recognition
Shortly after the launch of the academy, it entered into a partnership agreement with the International Office for Water in France.

It sent a team of people to attend a technical training session in France for a train the trainer approach.

This has resulted in an additional training session last year to further build capacity for Rand Water and the academy.

Such has been the growth of the Academy that it received the BHP Billiton Achiever Award for Best Training Partnership Programme in August last year.

This was a result of the key partnerships established by the academy with municipalities in building capacity by providing a platform for occupational and workplace learning for the graduates.

Last year, the academy took four graduates to the Netherlands to represent South Africa on an International Wetskills Challenge for young water professionals.

Wetskills is an international programme where students, graduates, and young water professionals meet and work on innovative solutions for selected water issues provided by the water experts.

Two of the groups in which the Rand Water Academy graduates participated in won prizes based on jury and public judgement.

“The National Treasury Graduate Internship Programme (NTGIP) is an initiative by National Treasury and the Cogta,” says Asief Alli, programme manager of the Rand Water Academy.

“It is a plight highlighted by the department in 2010. Rand Water has been given the opportunity to manage the programme effectively,” he adds.

Speaking at the launch, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa, said that: “It is important to take note that the Rand Water Academy is borne out of the need to systematise the various pockets of excellence in training, operating independently across the organisation into a single integrated unit.”

As such, the academy aims to be the first choice provider of global solutions to the water and sanitation sector by addressing key resource, technological and process challenges that face the sector.

It is focused on training qualified unemployed graduates from Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the Free State to generate a pipeline of skills for local water service authorities.

These skills cover a range of disciplines including water quality generalists, process controllers, engineers, and apprentices or artisans to address the skills shortage and lack of technical capacity faced nationally.

“It has been a rigorous training programme for the graduates and it has made us all proud of their achievements. The placement of the first batch of graduates has been a major milestone in the history of the academy,” says Alli.

The benefits of the Rand Water Academy

The academy will evolve over a number of years to become a world-class institution that will be a first-choice provider of solutions to the challenges in the water and sanitation sector.

The primary function of the academy is to assist in combating unemployment and skills challenges.

It will also provide the best candidates to business and contribute to the productivity of the company hiring a graduate.

It is incorporating several key concepts into how the academy is run.

First, as a centre of excellence the academy wants to create skilled professionals through shared learning, guidance, consistent measurements and good governance.

In addition, by being a centre of competence, the academy aims to enable employees to take an idea from conception all the way through to a marketable product or service.

This supportive and progressive process ensures that ideas do not stay as wishful thinking, but become practical solutions that can benefit any country.

Furthermore, the academy will increase the pool of National Research Foundation graded researchers within the water and sanitation sector.

By being a professional exchange hub, it will allow graduates to learn in different countries and cities throughout the world and use their skills in South Africa to help address the challenges of the sector.

Ultimately, the Rand Water Academy is focused on addressing the challenges of the sector by using a specialist team of trained resources to provide ad hoc specialists solutions to all the stakeholders.

Rand Water Academy roll-out

The programme has been designed to roll out with four phases:

1. Induction
This provides a common understanding of the need for an integrated water quality management approach.

Included in this phase is an orientation component, to refresh knowledge in the respective disciplines, a buffer programme to provide graduates with basic workplace training, and technical induction, which focuses on the technical skills and experience making up the occupational requirements of the job.

2. Immersion
This phase is designed to ensure that graduates acquire a working understanding of the interrelationships between the various essential systems and services.

3. Technical bench work
During this phase, graduates will be exposed to real working conditions and practices.

4. Municipality placement
The ultimate target is for municipalities who have provided the practical training to the graduates to absorb them permanently into their workforce.

This article forms part of the supplement that has been paid for by Rand Water. Contents and photographs were supplied and signed off by Rand Water