Access to digital technology in rural South Africa has been a topic of concern and effort in recent years. This article is written by Chemical Industries Education & Training Authority (CHIETA).
While some gains have been made to bridge the digital divide, there is still a great deal of work to be done as research has revealed that access to the internet in rural communities is a very low 1%.
This statistic affirms the extent to which young people living in rural reaches of the country are at a disadvantage in terms of gaining skills and knowledge that are critical to future careers across a broad range of sectors and the chemical industries sector is no exception.
With rural communities unable to function in a 4IR world, the impact will be felt with job losses and increased unemployment due to a deficiency of the necessary and potential technical skills.
In 2020, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande articulated his vision for SMART Skills Centres to be established in all parts of the country. Just two years after this call made by the Minister, CHIETA successfully opened its first SMART Skills Centre in Saldanha Bay, in the Western Cape and the second centre at the Port Elizabeth TVET College Iqhayiya campus, in Gqeberha, in the Eastern Cape Province.
Babanango, a small rural town near Melmoth in Northern KwaZulu-Natal will host the third SMART skills centre that is scheduled to open in September 2023. More recently, CHIETA signed a memorandum of understanding with the South African Forest Company Limited (SAFCOL) that will result in the construction of the first-ever Eco-Friendly SMART Skills Centre made entirely from timber. The centre will be situated in the Sabie area of Mpumalanga.
Our plan is to establish a SMART Skills Centre in all nine provinces and the CHIETA team is working steadily on this flagship project to usher in a new era of skills development and training. The strategic location of the SMART Skills Centres makes them accessible to remote communities that will ultimately benefit from the digitised training programmes for rural masses and also eases the cost burden of transport and data for poor learners.
The SMART Skills Centres’ services are free and include access to data and training courses aimed at job seekers, business start-ups and small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) that wish to grow their operations. The centres are fully automated and feature equipment that is in line with 4IR training requirements.
Each centre is an exemplar for excellence in technology education and research, enabling the development of high calibre solutions and the generation of business opportunities that drive innovation as part of these rural areas’ socioeconomic development.
CHIETA envisages that the rollout of the SMART Skills Centres will ultimately contribute towards advancing rural communities’ employability within various economic sectors, as it will enable skills development in line with the demands of emerging technologies and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
Whilst CHIETA’s determined and steadfast approach to making the SMART Skills Centres a reality have been a key success factor, it is important that we recognise the important role played by the numerous partners that have worked closely with us in the successful establishment of the centres to date.
This serves to highlight the important role of partnerships in addressing the skills development challenges in the country.
Whilst we are the SETA mandated to drive skills development in South Africa’s chemical industries sector, we cannot possibly do it alone. We rely extensively on forming partnerships with various sector stakeholders to ensure that the sector has the right skills in place now and in the future. It is for this reason that CHIETA has adopted a robust and ambitious partnership strategy that seeks to involve a wide cross-section of sector stakeholders in achieving our skills development mandate.
Innovative and ‘out-the-box’ thinking’ is critical and we will consistently seek innovative opportunities that allow for cross-sector collaboration and the implementation of meaningful projects and programmes that will yield the greatest impact.