/ 28 February 2014

Providing much-needed experience

Graduates at the Rand Water Academy.
Graduates at the Rand Water Academy.

In 2009, the department of water and environmental affairs urged municipalities to ensure that they were equipped with the skills and resources to operate and maintain water services, especially in the poor communities that rely on free basic services.

However, in the water sector there has been a significant skills shortage and a lack of the technical capacity (through engineers, technologists and artisans) that have been hindering municipalities to deliver on infrastructure.

The National Treasury prioritised the need to make a contribution towards addressing skills shortages in low capacity municipalities and assist in job creation.

In the case of waste water infrastructure, poor maintenance has the potential to result in polluted water systems. This would occur to a greater extent in rural municipalities with limited capacity and resources.

In November 2010, the National Treasury approached various state-owned entities to give unemployed graduates an opportunity to get practical training in their respective functional areas.

With Rand Water being identified as the government entity to pilot this programme, it launched the Rand Water Academy.

It has been charged with recruiting, hosting and providing training facilities for graduates for a specific period.

During this time, the graduates will be exposed to the water assets and learning how to operate and maintain them.

The graduates will receive theoretical training for 18 months and do practical internships at municipalities for a further 18 months.

This has been designed to equip them with both theoretical and practical skills to help address the challenges in the water sector in the country.

At the end of last year, the initial intake of graduates completed the first phase of their training and have been placed in several municipalities from January to work on their practical component.

Here is the view from two of the graduates of the programme and what they hope to achieve from it.

Graduate Tsakani Glenda Muhlarhi a graduate of the programme, says: “I started my studies at the University of Venda in 2005 and completed my master’s degree in 2010. Following that, the intern positions came out from the Rand Water Academy and I was successfully accepted. What attracted me most to the position was the fact that there is an extensive practical component to the programme.”

The problem many graduates face is that they might have a lot of theoretical knowledge, but many organisations are looking for people with practical experience.

She says that after starting at the Academy, she had to get used to sitting in a classroom again.

“We received a lot of help on soft skills such as emotional intelligence, how to make presentations and working on computers. I think some of us got a bit frustrated sitting in class again, but it was a good experience overall.

“Now it is a case of getting stuck in and applying the knowledge we learn in a practical way at the municipalities. I am working in the development section focused mainly on engineering and environmental stuff.

“This is great as it is a return to my roots at university. It is especially interesting to work on the engineering part of waste water plants.

“I think I can speak for others when I say we are all loving the ability to experience things more on a practical level and really helping municipalities to try and meet their water targets.

“I really do want to get as much practical experience as possible. The academy is great from this perspective as it really does meet in those needs. Sure, there have been a few challenges on the way, but that is only logical considering that we are the first group of graduates to go through it.

“I for one would love to see them reduce the time spent on the soft skills and getting to the hands-on experience sooner.”

Graduate Sephuma Muronga says: “I completed my degree in environmental studies at the University of Venda majoring in water and hydrology in 2008.

“This led me to volunteer at a water purification plant in Venda. Shortly thereafter, I started working at the Tshwane Municipality to gain experience in water purification and management. However, there was an opportunity to move to the Rand Water Academy in 2012 which I took as I felt it would provide me with additional exposure to practical work.

“At the academy, I work as a water generalist focusing on the quality of potable and waste water. The first phase of our internship was focused very much on soft skills. This provided us with training on project management and computer skills we could use in a practical environment.

“However, the last part of our theoretical work did involve some practical exercises at Rand Water for eight months. This was really great as they have access to all the facilities you could hope to work on when it comes to the water sector.

"Muronga is now doing his practical work at the Municipality of eMalahleni and applying what he has learnt over the past 18 months.

“The nice thing is that all the graduates are improving and refining our skills as we get exposed to more practical things.

“I am also very fortunate in the sense that I am doing what I started at university. For me, it really is a case now of being able to give back to the communities with the skills we are gaining.

“Certainly, there have been a few challenges because this is a new programme, but we have been able to reach all our goals and get where we want to be. I would love to see more municipalities involved so even more unemployed graduates can get involved and benefit from the academy.”

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