In addition to the widespread boom in steel construction, the Southern African Institute of Steel Construction (SAISC) has also noted a general trend ofreinvestment within the South African industry itself.
Companies are putting capital back into their businesses in the form of new equipment andincreased capacity. Spencer Erling, educationdirector for the SAISC, hasnoticed this particularly with the smaller steel companies.
“A number of the smaller guys are growing bigger and areexamining the numericallycontrolled equipment route. This frees up their skilled employees to do other skilled work,” he says. The increasing investment of companies into computer hardware and software is alsochanging the scene dramatically.
Hennie de Clercq, executive director ofthe SAISC, reports that the current attitude in the industry is extremely positive, with the benefits of a growing demand being felt even before major projects such as the Gautrain, the 2010 soccer World Cup stadiums and the power stations have begun in earnest. “The demand is broad-based. From shopping centres to warehouses, there is consumption of steel across all markets,” says De Clercq. The boom in the construction industry, which follows closely on the heels of a nationalconsumer boom, has put significant pressure on the steel manufacturers and contractors alike. De Clercq notes that figures from Europe indicate that the average ratio of structural steel sections to the amount of reinforcing used in construction in South Africa is 50% greater than in Europe.
This is a clear indicator of South Africa’sreliance on steel in construction.
However, in spite of this, there remains room for improvement, when compared with the UK, for example, which uses steel framing in 80% of its high-rise construction with thefigure in South Africa only 5%, its ratio of steel to reinforcing once again double South Africa’s. In absolute terms, the UK uses triple the amount of steel in construction than South Africa. However, high-tech machinery can only ease the workload in the steel industry to a certain point, with the main burden still resting on a labour pool where there is a palpable shortage of the requisite skills. With this issue in mind, states Erling, the SAISC has placed a strong emphasis ontraining and is involved in offering a numberof specialised courses to the steel industry. In order to remedy the current lack of draughtsmen, the SAISC is involved in the process of launching a quality-registerednational diploma in structural steel draughting. Using previous curricula from technicalcolleges as a model, the SAISC has focused on the theoretical aspect of the qualification and reduced on-the-job training from four years to two years.
“We have students signed up for the course next year.” The institute has alsorecognised that the number of properly trained shop floorartisans, otherwise known as boilermakers, is severely low.As a short-term solution to this problem, it will be launching short-term training for‘structural steel assemblers’.
Anybody on the workshop floor who shows enthusiasm will be afforded the opportunity of this training.
Once trained, the worker will be able to conduct basic boiler-making tasks, leaving theboilermaker free to do thingsrequiring more skill.
“We are looking at starting similar programmes for welders and steel erectors,” says Erling. On the question of importing skills, De Clercq says that as long as the skills aretransferred to local people, there is nothing wrong with the process.
“To ensure the transfer of skills, however,it should be stipulated that the contractors and not the end-users be the ones who bring in skilled personnel from beyond the borders.” However, despite a skills shortage, it isundeniable that, as the SAISC celebrates its fiftieth anniversery, the mood has never been more positive.
“The early 1980s were seen as a peak time for the steel construction industry, but the current construction boom is fast surpassing this. We are in an exciting phase of flux and growth,” De Clercq concludes.