South African state company Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) says a total of 700 high school learners have been admitted to its cadet scheme in a bid to increase the number of people in the technical and engineering fields in the country.
Speaking to SAnews this week at the 'My Tomorrow Technical Careers Expo' at the Nasrec expo centre in Soweto in Johannesburg, TFR executive manager for talent management, Ogotlhe Sathekge, said the programme developed by TFR was aimed at building capacity in terms of youth employment.
The government's major infrastructure plan, announced in President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation Address earlier this year, aims to turn the country into a construction site, with particular emphasis on developing rural areas.
Building green energy supply, infrastructure
As a result, government has planned 18 Strategic Integrated Projects which focus on building the country's green energy supply and bulk infrastructure, among others.
The successful execution of this ambitious development plan will need a major boost in the country skills base, a gap that the Rail Cadet Scheme is now aiming to help fill.
Through the scheme, TFR is sponsoring learners from Grade 10 to 12 who are performing well in school, particularly in maths and science. The students must have an average of 60% and above.
TFR has committed to provide the pupils with school uniforms, as well as to pay for tuition fees for both high school and tertiary education.
The scheme, launched in May this year, today has a total of 700 students and matriculants participating in it.
Exposing learners to the working environment
Learners are mentored and exposed to the working environment in the technical and engineering fields at TFR. The scheme in the future aims to take on 2 000 students annually.
Additionally, learners also have to obtain a motivation letter from their respective schools as part of the selection criteria.
"During the school holidays, they'll come to us, and be exposed to different career opportunities available in Transnet but only in the technical and engineering environments," said Sathekge.
Once learners have completed their matric, they will go on to study at the University of Johannesburg through a partnership between the university and TFR.
"We have a partnership with the university to further their studies in the technical and engineering fields. So we have a rail operations programme that we have with the University of Johannesburg, partnered with Glasgow University. Once they complete their studies, we employ them full time," she said.
Assisting out-of-school youth
Sathekge said the career expo, which TFR was a co-sponsor of - alongside the SABC and other stakeholders - was very important to the company as it was technically focused.
Other than expos and visiting schools, the scheme is also looking at assisting out-of- school youth through the help of NGOs and information handed over by local municipalities.
"We have had interesting reaction to the programme as people assume that Transnet is only about trains, but they realise that there is more to the industry," she said.
Girl pupils had also shown interest in the scheme, which has a total budget of R11- million this year.
The scheme is predominantly aimed at girl children and people with disabilities.
It will also offer financial assistance to learners who require it, Sathekge said. For example, if a first-year student lacks funds to continue with their second year of study, the scheme will look into assisting that student, provided that they perform well.
"I think the programme will do good, seeing that our country faces critical skill shortages. What we are doing is not only for Transnet but for the country," she said.
Providing a 'pipeline of youngsters to grow'
General Manager at TFR, Cleo Shiceka, said education was critical.
"We need a lot of technical skills. It's vital for Transnet that we get a pipeline of youngsters to grow in our business," she told learners at the expo.
Education and training was vital for the development of the country, and that technical and engineering skills were necessary to ensure the growth of the country, said Deputy Director General at the Higher Education and Training Department, Firoz Patel.
Sphiwe Madiba from The Hill High School said the expo was of interest to him, as he wanted to study chemical engineering. His friend Mbuso Tshabalala said he was keen on studying mechanical engineering and the expo would give him more insight into the technical field.
The expo will end today.